Archive for the ‘AGW’ Category

UK jury approves damage to power plant in defense of a commons/ other private property; libertarians and conservatives freak out

September 12th, 2008 6 comments

See this surprising decision in the UK, letting climate-change protesters/trespassers off the hook for damages resulting from spray-painting a coal plant smokestack, on the grounds that a UK law “allows damage to be caused to property to prevent even greater damage.”

Why is this single jury verdict supposedly the end of the world (as Iain Murray of CEI, blogging at NRO’s Planet Gore would have it)?  Libertarians (Rothbard, Block, Bratland, Cordato) have long argued that:

– we should move away from the statist regulation of polluters and return to a simpler world of a resort towards common law and courts (permitting injunctions on industrial activity for the slightest damage) to defend property; and that

– the issuance of a license allowing a firm lawfully “to pollute and, hence, invade or damage property of other parties” “entail[s} a fundamental and pervasive violation of property rights”; that

– one “observes that any detectable man-made climate change has occurred during periods of inadequate or nonexistent tort protection from air pollution”; and that

– “A sensible and thoughtful first crucial step in assuring a sustainable atmosphere for future generations is to assure adequate tort protection of the personal property rights for current generations“?

It is clear that I am on firm ground in expecting in response to this decision a rush by “skeptical” libertarians and conservatives to demand MORE action by government, rather than less of it.  After all, the defense offered by the greenies in the UK was based on a statute that can be simply amended, and thereby order restored (with nary a pang of concern for fusty old common-law doctrines).

And if this is what we get from libertarians, is there any wonder that greenies – including radicals like Austrian Ed Dolan and libertarians Jon Adler and Ron Bailey – think that resort to some sort of globally coordinated multi-state action is needed to deal with a global issue?

Oh, and let me add – it seems like a “wrong” decision to me, too.

[Update:] The 1979 JASON and Charney Reports

September 8th, 2008 No comments

[UPDATE:  Unfortunately I’ve confused the 1979 JASON report with the Charney report that followed it (and referred to it) later that year.  My bad!  The Charney report is available online and is summarized in item 2 below; I could not find a copy of the JASON report online, but report some available info on it in item 1]

1.   The 1979 JASON report: “The Long Term Impact of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide on Climate”

The bibliography to the Charney report provides the following information on the JASON report:

MacDonald, G.F., H.Abarbanel, P.Carruthers, J.Chamberlain, H.Foley, W.Munk, W. Nierenberg, O.Rothaus, M.Ruderman, J.Vesecky, and F.Zachariasen (1979). The long term impact of atmospheric carbon dioxide on climate, JASON Technical Report JSR-78-07, SRI International, Arlington, Virginia.

There are two slightly different descriptions of this report in government publication databases here:

“Title Long term impact of atmospheric carbon dioxide on climate. Technical report JSR-78-07

Publication Date 1979 Apr 01
OSTI Identifier OSTI ID: 5851500
Report Number(s) SAN-115/136-2
DOE Contract Number EY-76-C-03-0115 P.A. 136
Resource Type Technical Report
Research Org SRI International, Arlington, VA (USA)

Format Pages: 184
Availability Dep. NTIS, PC A09/MF A01.

“Description/Abstract  If the current growth rate in the use of fossil fuels continues at 4.3% per year, then the CO/sub 2/ concentration in the atmosphere can be expected to double by about 2035 provided the current partition of CO/sub 2/ between the atmosphere, biosphere, and oceans is maintained as is the current mix of fuels. Slower rates of anticipated growth of energy use lead to a doubling of the carbon content of the atmosphere sometime in the period 2040 to 2060.

“This report addresses the questions of the sources of atmospheric CO/sub 2/; considers distribution of the present CO/sub 2/ among the atmospheric, oceanic, and biospheric reservoir; and assesses the impact on climate as reflected by the average ground temperature at each latitude of significant increases in atmospheric CO/sub 2/. An analytic model of the atmosphere was constructed (JASON Climate Model). Calculation with this zonally averaged model shows an increase of average surface temperature of 2.4/sup 0/ for a doubling of CO/sub 2/. The equatorial temperature increases by 0.7/sup 0/K, while the poles warm up by 10 to 12/sup 0/K. The warming of climate will not necessarily lead to improved living conditions everywhere. Changes in sea level, in agricultural productivity, and in water availability can be anticipated, but the dimensions of their economic, political, or social consequences can not.”

“Title JASON. Long term impact of atmospheric carbon dioxide on climate. Technical report

Publication Date 1979 Apr 01
OSTI Identifier OSTI ID: 5829641
Report Number(s) SRI-5793;JSR-78-07
DOE Contract Number EY-76-C-03-0115-136
Resource Type Technical Report
Research Org SRI International, Arlington, VA (USA)

Format Pages: 197
Availability Dep. NTIS, PC A09/MF A01

“Description/Abstract  The questions of the sources of atmospheric carbon dioxide are addressed; distribution of the present carbon dioxide among the atmospheric, oceanic, and biospheric reservoirs is considered; and the impact on climate as reflected by the average ground temperature at each latitude of significant increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide is assessed.

“A new model for the mixing of carbon dioxide in the oceans is proposed. The proposed model explicitly takes into account the flow of colder and/or saltier water to great depths. We have constructed two models for the case of radiative equilibrium treating the atmosphere as gray and dividing the infrared emission region into nine bands. The gray atmosphere model predicts an increase of average surface temperature of 2.8/sup 0/K for a doubling of CO/sub 2/, a result about a degree less than the nine band model. An analytic model of the atmosphere was constructed (JASON Climate Model). Calculation with this zonally averaged model shows an increase of average surface temperature of 2.4/sup 0/ for a doubling of CO/sub 2/. The equatorial temperature increases by 0.7/sup 0/K while the poles warm up by 10 to 12/sup 0/K. The JASON climate model suffers from a number of fundamental weaknesses. The role of clouds in determining the albedo is not adequately taken into account nor are the asymmetries between the northern and southern hemisphere.(JGB)”

Naomi Oreskes and Jonathan Renouf describe the 1979 JASON report as follows in The Sunday Times:

“In 1979 they produced their report: coded JSR-78-07 and entitled The Long Term Impact of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide on Climate. Now, with the benefit of hind-sight, it is remarkable how prescient it was.

“Right on the first page, the Jasons predicted that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere would double from their preindustrial levels by about 2035. Today it’s expected this will happen by about 2050. They suggested that this doubling of carbon dioxide would lead to an average warming across the planet of 2-3C. Again, that’s smack in the middle of today’s predictions. They warned that polar regions would warm by much more than the average, perhaps by as much as 10C or 12C. That prediction is already coming true – last year the Arctic sea ice melted to a new record low. This year may well set another record.

“Nor were the Jasons frightened of drawing the obvious conclusions for civilisation: the cause for concern was clear when one noted “the fragility of the world’s crop-producing capacity, particularly in those marginal areas where small alterations in temperature and precipitation can bring about major changes in total productivity”.

2.  Here is basic information on the Charney Report, which Orsekes and Renouf also mention

The Charney report appears to basically have been a “summary for policymalers” of the Jason report.  I’ve clipped below relevant summary parts from the .pdf that is available at the National Academies Press:

Carbon Dioxide and Climate: A Scientific Assessment

Report of an Ad Hoc Study Group on Carbon Dioxide and Climate, Woods Hole, Massachusetts, July 23-27, 1979, to the Climate Research Board, Assembly of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, National Research Council

ISBN: 978-0-309-11910-8,34 pages, 6 x 9, paperback (1979)

“NOTICE:  The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the Councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the Committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competencies and with regard for appropriate balance.

This report has been reviewed by a group other than the authors according to pro­cedures approved by a Report Review Committee consisting of members of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine.”

Ad Hoc Study Group on Carbon Dioxide and Climate

Jule G. Charney, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Chairman

Akio Arakawa, University of California, Los Angeles

D. James Baker, University of Washington

Bert Bolin, University of Stockholm

Robert E. Dickinson, National Center for Atmospheric Research Richard M. Goody, Harvard University

Cecil E. Leith, National Center for Atmospheric Research

Henry M. Stommel, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Carl I. Wunsch, Massachusetts Institute of Technology


John S. Perry

Robert S. Chen

Doris Bouadjemi

Theresa Fisher


Climate Research Board

Verner E. Suomi, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Chairman

Francis P. Bretherton, National Center for Atmospheric Research Dayton H. Clewell, Mobil Oil Corporation (retired)

Thomas Donahue, University of Michigan

Herbert Friedman, Naval Research Laboratory

J. Herbert Hollomon, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Charles W. Howe, University of Colorado

John Imbrie, Brown University

Robert W. Kates, Clark University

John E. Kutzbach, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Cecil E. Leith, National Center for Atmospheric Research

William A. Nierenberg, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Roger R. Revelle, University of California, San Diego

Joseph Smagorinsky, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Frederick E. Smith, Harvard University

Karl K. Turekian, Yale University

John Waelti, University of Minnesota

Sylvan H. Wittwer, Michigan State University

Warren Wooster, University of Washington



Eugene W. Bierly, National Science Foundation John G. Dardis, Department of State

Edward Epstein, National Climate Program Office, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Steven Flajser, Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, U.S. Senate

Elbert W. Friday, Department of Defense

Lawrence R. Greenwood, National Aeronautics and Space Administration Galen Hart, Department of Agriculture

Keith Howard, Department of the Interior

Gerald J. Kovach, Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, U.S. Senate

Ian Marceau, Subcommittee on Natural Resources and Environment, U.S.

House of Representatives

Lloyd J. Money, Department of Transportation

Douglas H. Sargeant, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration David Slade, Department of Energy

Herbert L. Wiser, Environmental Protection Agency



John S. Perry, National Research Council, Executive Secretary

Robert S. Chen, National Academy of Sciences, Resident Fellow


Summary and Conclusions

“We have examined the principal attempts to simulate the effects of increased atmospheric CO2 on climate. In doing so, we have limited our considerations to the direct climatic effects of steadily rising atmospheric concentrations of CO2 and have assumed a rate of CO2 increase that would lead to a doubling of airborne concentrations by some time in the first half of the twenty-first century. As indicated in Chapter 2 of this report, such a rate is consistent with observations of CO2 increases in the recent past and with projections of its future sources and sinks. However, we have not examined anew the many uncertainties in these projections, such as their implicit assumptions with regard to the workings of the world economy and the role of the biosphere in the carbon cycle. These impose an uncertainty beyond that arising from our necessarily imperfect knowledge of the manifold and complex climatic system of the earth.

“When it is assumed that the CO2 content of the atmosphere is doubled and statistical thermal equilibrium is achieved, the more realistic of the modeling efforts predict a global surface warming of between 2°C and 3°C, with greater increases at high latitudes. This range reflects both uncertainties in physical understanding and inaccuracies arising from the need to reduce the mathematical problem to one that can be handled by even the fastest avail­able electronic computers. It is significant, however, that none of the model calculations predicts negligible warming.

“The primary effect of an increase of CO2 is to cause more absorption of thermal radiation from the earth’s surface and thus to increase the air tem­perature in the troposphere. A strong positive feedback mechanism is the accompanying increase of moisture, which is an even more powerful absorber of terrestrial radiation. We have examined with care all known negative feed­back mechanisms, such as increase in low or middle cloud amount, and have concluded that the oversimplifications and inaccuracies in the models are not likely to have vitiated the principal conclusion that there will be appreciable warming. The known negative feedback mechanisms can reduce the warming, but they do not appear to be so strong as the positive moisture feedback. We estimate the most probable global warming for a doubling of CO2 to be near 3°C with a probable error of :i: 1.5°C. Our estimate is based primarily on our review of a series of calculations with three-dimensional models of the global atmospheric circulation, which is summarized in Chapter 4. We have also reviewed simpler models that appear to contain the main physical factors. These give qualitatively similar results.

“One of the major uncertainties has to do with the transfer of the increased heat into the oceans. It is well known that the oceans are a thermal regulator, warming the air in winter and cooling it in summer. The standard assumption has been that, while heat is transferred rapidly into a relatively thin, well-mixed surface layer of the ocean (averaging about 70 m in depth), the trans­fer into the deeper waters is so slow that the atmospheric temperature reaches effective equilibrium with the mixed layer in a decade or so. .It seems to us quite possible that the capacity of the deeper oceans to absorb heat has been seriously underestimated, especially that of the intermediate waters of the subtropical gyres lying below the mixed layer and above the main thermocline. If this is so, warming will proceed at a slower rate until these inter­mediate waters are brought to a temperature at which they can no longer absorb heat.

“Our estimates of the rates of vertical exchange of mass between the mixed and intermediate layers and the volumes of water involved give a delay of the order of decades in the time at which thermal equilibrium will be reached. This delay implies that the actual warming at any given time will be appreciably less than that calculated on the assumption that thermal equilibrium is reached quickly. One consequence may be that perceptible temperature changes may not become apparent nearly so soon as has been anticipated. We may not be given a warning until the CO2 loading is such that an appreciable climate change is inevitable. The equilibrium warming will eventually occur; it will merely have been postponed.

“The warming will be accompanied by shifts in the geographical distributions of the various climatic elements such as temperature, rainfall, evaporation, and soil moisture. The evidence is that the variations in these anomalies with latitude, longitude, and season will be at least as great as the globally averaged changes themselves, and it would be misleading to predict regional climatic changes on the basis of global or zonal averages alone. Unfortunately, only gross globally. and zonally averaged features of the present climate can now be reasonably well simulated. At present, we cannot simulate accurately the details of regional climate and thus cannot predict the locations and intensities of regional climate changes with confidence. This situation may be expected to improve gradually as greater scientific understanding is acquired and faster computers are built.

“To summarize, we have tried but have been unable to find any overlooked or underestimated physical effects that could reduce the currently estimated global warmings due to a doubling of atmospheric CO2 to negligible propor­tions or reverse them altogether. However, we believe it quite possible that the capacity of the intermediate waters of the oceans to absorb heat could delay the estimated warming by several decades. It appears that the warming will eventually occur, and the associated regional climatic changes so important to the assessment of socioeconomic consequences may well be significant, but unfortunately the latter cannot yet be adequately projected.” 

That danged hockey stick makes another appearance

September 8th, 2008 2 comments

Hockey-stick artist Michael Mann is back, along with the rest of his team from Penn State’s Earth System Science Center, with his hockey stick, this time supported by more proxy data.  

Although McIntyre and McKitrick had some valid criticisms of Mann’s initial work, the National Academy of Sciences and others have essentially supported him, both with respect to the blade of the hockey stick and the longer-term handle.

Unlike Mann’s initial paper, which was based on temperature reconstructions from tree-ring data, Mann’s latest version of the “hockey stick” has been upgraded by a greatly expanded set of proxy data for decadal-to-centennial climate changes and recently updated instrumental data, and has been extended to cover temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere for the past 1,700 years.  

The results?  As the Christian Science Monitor notes:  

And the graph illustrating the take-home message? It still looks a lot like the much-battered, but still rink-ready stick of 1998. Today the handle reaches further back and it’s a bit more gnarly. But the blade at the business end tells the same story.

The latest hockey stick paper appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (the revised hockey stick chart appears as Figure 3).

The relative sharpness of the hockey stick blade is even more apparent in a 10,000 year view of temperature changes.

A discussion of the relevance of the temperature reconstructions is here.

Lomborg misapplies the "Copenhagen Consensus" to ignore carbon pricing and yet argue for massive government investments in clean energy

September 4th, 2008 No comments

I copy below comments I made on a related thread at Roger Pielke, Jr.’s Prometheus science policy blog, regarding recent duelling op-eds on climate change policy between the left-leaning Danish political scientist Bjørn Lomborg and economist Gary Yohe.

Lomborg has stirred up discussions of environmental issues with his books, The Skeptical Environmentalist (2004) and Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming (2007), and conceived, organized and directs the Copenhagen Consensus Centre at the Copenhagen Business School, where Lomborg is now an adjunct professor.  Yohe, on the other hand, is a professor of economics at Wesleyan University (Ph.D. Yale), is a leading economist on climate change an one of the Lead Authors of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s Third and Fourth Assessment Reports.

At issue in the dust-up between Lomborg and Yohe were discrepancies in interpretation of (1) the conclusions of the 2008 Copenhagen Consensus – by which a panel of leading economists tried to prioritize various government policies for improving welfare in the developing world – and (2) the challenge paper on climate change that Yohe, Richard Tol and others prepared and submitted to the Copenhagen Consensus panel.

My remarks were as follows; for more context, please see Pielke’s post and thread (linked above), as well as his follow-up post (here) (minor edits and emphasis added):

Round 1:

If I may venture a few comments:

“1. It seems to me that Tol and Yohe have a point that Lomborg has confused his readers as to what Yohe and Tol concluded, but fail to focus on the point of confusion – only Roger seems to have caught the drift, but doesn’t identify any responsibility for Lomborg in it.

Lomborg first mentions Yohe as “one of the lead economists of the IPCC” who “For the Copenhagen Consensus … did a survey”. But in concluding what climate policy should be, Lomborg completely ignores the strong recommendation of Yohe and Tol (for a policy that focusses on mitigation, with R&D investments to be primarily market driven and some limited government-funded efforts to aid adaptation in developing countries) for “the best climate solution from the top economists from the Copenhagen Consensus”, without making any effort to clearly distinguish Yohe/Tol from those who voted on the CC ranking.

Says Lomborg, “if we are to find a workable and economically smart solution, we would do well to look at the best climate solution from the top economists from the Copenhagen Consensus. They found that, unlike even moderate CO2 cuts, which cost more than they do good should focus on investing in finding cheaper low-carbon energy. This requires us to invest massively in energy research and development (R&D). Right now, we don’t – because the climate panic makes us focus exclusively on cutting CO2.”

But none of these conclusions can be derived from the Yohe/Tol work, and since Lomborg first refers to them, it is a puzzle that he did not do a better job of distinguishing their conclusions from those of the CC voting panel of economists.

2. The disjunction between Lomborg scoffing at Tickell’s concerns about the immediate and long-term effects of a global average warming by 2100 in the range of 3-4 degrees C (with costs to global GDP of only a few %) and but then nevertheless insisting that climate risks “requires us to invest massively in energy research and development (R&D)” is more than a bit much.

If there’s no serious problem, why should our governments do anything about it? If there is – and a global average temperature increase of 3-4 degrees C sounds EXTREMELY serious to me – why is having governments throw money at the best solution? Why does Lomborg think the CC ranking means we should ignore what the entire economics profession has been telling us for decades about pricing carbon, and about letting private markets determine where investment funds should flow and what other behavior changes are warranted?

3. Lomborg’s assertion that “climate panic” makes us focus exclusively on cutting CO2, at the expense of R&D, is not merely unsupportable but manifests a fundamental misconception – apparently also embedded in the CC process – as to what drives (and who makes) investment in market economies.

Absent a serious concern about climate change, there is simply little justification for government funding of low-carbon energy R&D investments. That we are finally seriously talking about such investments in the US (Warner-Lieberman was full of such pork) is only a result of what Lomborg dismisses as “climate panic”. Clearly, then, mitigation and government R&D funding can go hand-in-hand and in fact are intimately linked.

But the more basic confusion is that R&D of the type Lomborg and the CC calls for is in fact already underway – in the private economy. Because there is really little justification for the government to directly be making such investments, it is wrong to somehow lump this R&D into government expenditures, in the manner that both Lomborg and the CC do. Rather, the vast bulk of such investments can be made by the private economy once carbon pricing mechanisms – which are really a form of factor pricing with respect to what has until now been a valued but unpriced open-access resource – are in place.

For purposes of the CC valuations, the only real governmental cost that should be measured is the cost of establishing measures to administer carbon prices; these can be extremely cheap if carbon taxes are used, or more expensive if politicians prefer opacity and side deals for rent-seekers (cap and trade). In either case, the administrative costs will be much less than the level of private R&D that carbon pricing will elicit from markets.


Round 2:

 “I would agree with davidacoder: the misrepresentation here lies in the silly rules of the CC exercise and the liberties Lomborg takes in describing the conclusions.

The whole premise of the CC is that if governments are going to spend a limited pot of money, what would they spend it on? The economists’ panel recognized the foolishness of this in part by putting Doha at second to the top – and explained that freeing trade costs nothing and in fact improves GDP. Much the same for climate change – although in this case the economists didn’t focus on the question of whose pocket the money was coming from. To pose the issue starkly, if governments imposed and fully rebated carbon taxes, what do the carbon taxes cost the governments? Nothing, but an effective mitigation industry nevertheless springs up. Meanwhile, governments remain free to spend on other priorities.

Of course, an observer might note that if governments DON’T rebate carbon taxes or permit revenues, they actually have MORE revenues to spend on a Copenhagen Consensus agenda, not less.

Accordingly, the CC ranking tells us almost nothing about climate change policy.

Thomas Schelling’s explanation for the low ranking for climate change specifically confirms that they were looking only at government dollars spent, for which one looks at mitigation only if it is the government paying industry/utilities to mitigate:

“The reasons why climate change measures came out so low on the list of priorities are that, for one, the Conference tried to look at cost-benefits, and, for another, its original idea was to rank things in terms of priority for immediate expenditure of money. Therefore, we proposed to eliminate poverty over and above anything else. The trade liberalization ranked fairly high. This was expected, whenever economists got together to talk about a variety of things including trade liberalization. The climate issue became lower ranks, because the paper on climate advocated for the project that stretched out to the year 2250 with the estimated costs to be in many trillions of dollars. We did not see how spending any part of 50 billion dollars on climate change measures would make a difference, although putting way down the list did not necessarily mean that we considered it as not an urgent subject. We put climate way down the list of priorities, because we did not see how spending a little bit of money over next few years would significantly improve the cost effectiveness.”

Further, as I and others have noted, the papers presented and the conclusions of the economists panel certainly don’t tell us, as Lomborg would have it in his editorial, that mitigation strategies “cost more than they do good”. This is a liberty too far, not only from the Yohe/Tol paper, but from Chris Green’s as well. Green specifically suggests using a mitigation-spurring carbon tax to raise the pot of money for government-spent R&D:

“If the $60 billion were raised by a carbon tax, then even a tax with a 25% cost of public funds would stay within the CC budget constraint ($60 + 25(60) = $75 billion). A tax of $4 per ton CO2 on just 50% of the approximately 30 GtCO2/yr (~8GtC/yr) currently emitted would raise 60$ billion/yr. But frankly, if it were politically feasible, I cannot see why we cannot do better by starting with a more robust $8-10/tonne CO2, and then allow the tax to rise gradually over time. To keep within CC ground rules the extra revenues could be used to reduce other taxes that have even higher marginal costs of public funds.”


Round 3:

 “Roger, as to justifications for government R&D soending, I think my main point stands; namely, that Lomborg is wrong to blame “climate panic” and a focus on mitigation for stymieing low-carbon energy R&D investments.

In market economies, it is the private economy that makes investment decisions and drives wealth, not the government. While there is plenty of low-carbon energy R&D investments already underway, one of the the most effective ways to get more research done is to send the market carbon pricing signals. The government may of course decide to drive research by spending for it itself, but this is money that has to come out of the pockets of the private economy.

In either case, the government can only act in a meanful way if politicians are supported by a sufficiently serious concern about climate change. Those who argue for mitigation are NOT getting in the way, but are obviously pushing things along. If Lomborg believes that the best way to move policy along is to bash his putative allies and throw government money/pork to those are blocking policy change, then even while I oppose pork I’d at least be able to understand where he is coming from.

In response to my position that “Absent a serious concern about climate change, there is simply little justification for government funding of low-carbon energy R&D investments,” you argue that “The costs of energy, energy demand, energy security, and non-climate environmental concerns all provide solid justifications for such investments.” In this, apparently I am even more of a “non-skeptic heretic” than you, who take a classic big-government position (hard to say whether your position is liberal or conservative these days, after we’ve just wasted trillions in Iraq on an “energy security” fantasy).

The market addresses all of these concerns well. The only items I have sympathy for are some you haven’t listed – but which Jim Manzi argues for at Cato:

“improved global climate prediction capability, visionary biotechnology to capture and recycle carbon dioxide emissions, or geo-engineering projects to change the albedo of the earth’s surface or atmosphere”

We should leave decisions on particular investments in energy technologies with private markets. Governments will never have more knowledge than markets do, and they tend to give us pork-barrel boondogles instead, like synfuels and corn-fed ethanol.”


Pickens, with "a mission" as a wind crusader, shakes John Kerry’s hand

September 2nd, 2008 No comments

More from the National Review‘s “Planet Gore” corner.

My reaction?  While we do need investments in power transmission infrastructuredo it with your own money, T. Boone.

While I, along with many others, could support a rebated carbon tax that would spur investments in energy efficiency and in GHG-lite technologies, we certainly don’t need the government to be picking and choosing technologies, a la synfuels, ethanol or “clean coal”.  But there probably is a role for the federal government in encouraging the states to deregulate local power generation and transmission (and to take other actions that encourage capital investments, such as allowing immediate depreciation).


Solar vs. deserts; or how "public" ownership of resources produces zero-sum political fights over preferences

September 1st, 2008 No comments

Ron Bailey, Science Correspondent of Reason Online, reported recently “how some environmental
groups are fighting the development of utility-scale solar power in the
Mojave Desert.”

As I have posted elsewhere on the role our government plays in compounding our disputes over differing preferences, I copy my comments on Bailey’s thread here:

TokyoTom | August 18, 2008, 6:34am | #

real problem with many of these environmental fights is that either
governments own the resources or the economic actor is highly
With the deserts privatized and freer markets, we’d see
solar if it made economic sense (including the costs of paying off

While we are unlike to see complete privatization of state or federal
lands, we’d see greater citizen enthusiasm if the states and the feds
would be so kind as to rebate a hefty chuck of the land-use royatly
payments to us (with a cut to the related bureacrats
to incentivize
them to get good rates and to make sure proceeds are actually
collected; citizens and public prosecutors would be similarly

It is the lack of sufficient revenue sharing by a greedy federal
government that has led state governors to block further OCS leasing,
and has given enviros no incentives to agree on ANWR drilling
(as I
note in the linked blog post).

Likewise, a rebated carbon tax would be a million times better than the
ethanol mandates, renewable mandates, the Warner Lieberman pork and the
Pickes’ ad blitz for solar hand-outs. The problem is a government that
wants to have a finger in every pie – citizens ought to be insisting on
a direct cut, instead of letting politicians direct all of the spoils

(which is the REAL cause of the constant deadlock).

(emphasis added)

Categories: AGW, ANWR, federal land, OCS, royalties, solar Tags:

Jim Manzi/Cato: Climate progressives?

August 31st, 2008 No comments

Jim Manzi has just posted the close-out essay in the online forum (at Cato Unbound) that the Cato Institute has devoted recently to the issues of climate change risks and policy.  I alerted readers to the Cato effort and provide comments here, here and here.

My thoughts on Manzi`s final essay?  Briefly, while there`s much here to warm the cockles of any climate hysteric, misanthropic enviro-fascist or their dupes and co-religionists throughout the business and policy world [snark, to those not familiar with me or LvMI], I`m disappointed that Manzi has not tried to seriously explore libertarian approaches – involving serious de-regulation and tax changes – to climate change.

But let me let Jim Manzi speak for himself (emphasis added):

“I’d also like to thank Joseph Romm, Indur Goklany, Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus for their extensive efforts in considering and responding to my essay and subsequent comments.  It’s always inspiring to me to see people who’ve devoted so much time, work, and intellect to analyzing hard problems.

“Mr. Romm and I, in particular, have disagreed quite directly about the likely impacts of carbon dioxide emissions, and I’ll just refer interested readers to the series of detailed exchanges between us ….  I’d like to try to establish what I think is common ground between us.  I think that vigorous, but respectful and fact-based, disagreement is almost always a precondition for practical progress on complicated issues, but that ultimately some consensus needs to be achieved to get anything done.

“It seems to me that all contributors believe that anthropogenic global warming is real and poses a serious risk.  We all agree that an R&D program of the type that I have proposed is a component of a solution, and I hope that we all can get behind this idea.  I think that we would all support adaptation to weather problems that may arise as a wise investment of resources.  Most adaptation measures have the advantage that, in comparison with R&D or mitigation efforts, they can be executed in fairly short order and only in response to problems as they become manifest, and hence would likely have very attractive cost-benefit ratios.  Finally, I think that we would all agree that the ongoing efforts to analyze physical and economic trade-offs involved in various proposals through the IPCC and similar bodies are valuable and should be supported.   (In fact, I would like to see such processes incorporate case-by-case analyses of the kinds of incremental R&D/technology-deployment ideas that Messrs. Shellenberger and Nordhaus have proposed).  Improved science, along with increased structure and rigor in the debate of its implications, should enable further progress.”


Categories: AGW, Cato, climate change, government, Jim Manzi Tags:

More on Manzi/Cato on climate

August 22nd, 2008 4 comments

A few days ago I concluded that Jim Manzi’s lead essay in Cato Unbound’s new climate issue exhibited rather weak “libertariarian sinews”.

Allow me to note a few additional remarks on Manzi`s arguments.

1.  It’s clear from Manzi’s essay that (i) he is actually quite concerned about the risks posed by anticipated climate change, even while he dismisses the “scare stories” and the “precautionary principle” and (ii) he believes that the risks warrant even greater investments by government in climate science and carbon sequestration/geo-engineering efforts. 

While I commend Manzi for addressing at close to face value the IPCC’s warnings (even while climate science does not provide a firm basis for precise temperature or climate change prognostications) and the advice offered by economists such as William Nordhaus and Martin Weitzman, it is puzzling that he does not see in climate change concerns the opportunity for a positive agenda of deregulation and tax reform that would liberate our economy and help to spur changes in capital investments.

2.  Manzi has underplayed both the possible degree of climate change under “business as usual”/non-aggressive policy scenarios and the absolute and relative magnitude of the concomitant risks and costs.

Manzi notes that the “current IPCC consensus forecast is that, under fairly reasonable assumptions for world population and economic growth, global temperatures will rise by about 3 °C by the year 2100.” Note that this implies a an AVERAGE global temperature increase of 5.4 °F, with even greater temperature increases in the US and elsewhere the further one gets away from the equator. The IPCC does not make “forecasts”, but has analyzed and released a number of projections based on various scenarios, most of which assume aggressive actions to deploy clean energy technologies.

As fellow contributor Joe Romm (undergrad and Ph.D. in physics at MIT, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, where he writes and maintains the Climate Progress blog, and author of “Hell and High Water: Global Warming–the Solution and the Politics–and What We Should Do” ) argues, Manzi has seriously understated the risks of much higher temperatures by 2100 that the IPCC has noted.  Joe Romm notes that, in fact, the growth of actual global carbon emissions since 2000 has exceeded the IPCC’s most extreme A1F1 scenario, and argues that 

“the latest IPCC report finds that, absent a sharp reversal of BAU trends, we are headed toward atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide far exceeding 1,000 parts per million by 2100. IPCC’s “best estimate” for temperature increase is 5.5°C (10°F), which means that over much of the inland United States, temperatures would be about 15°F higher.” (emphasis in original)

Further, even using a very optimistic projection, Manzi has also seriously understated the impact and costs that the IPCC suggests may be felt in the US. Manzi, assuming that global temperatures rise “only” by 3 °C increase by 2100, refers to an IPCC summary that states that such a temperature increase would cause total estimated economic losses in the low end of a range of 1–5 percent of global GDP (and later uses an estimate of 3% of GDP). This ignores not only the much higher costs that will be faced if warming is even greater, but also ignores:

(1) that as global GDP is expected to substantially grow, the absolute magnitude of the annual GDP loss may be very large, indeed,

(2) that measures of “economic” losses include adaptation costs as a part of GDP but do not cover non-market damages, the risk of potential extreme weather, socially contingent effects, or the potential for longer-term catastrophic events and

(3) that the greatest negative effects of climate change are expected to be felt in developing countries that have a relatively insignificant share of GDP.

3.  Manzi notes that even with the low-ball assumptions, mainstream economists like Yale’s William Nordhaus have long argued on a standard cost-benefit analysis basis that the gains from implementing an escalating carbon tax would outweigh the costs (Nordhaus has for many years been at the low end of the benefits to be gained), but even so Manzi argues that “the real world of geostrategic competition and domestic politics” one leads him to greatly discount the basis for a policy the difficulties with implementing a carbon tax or similar policy.

But it looks like Manzi has put his thumb on the scale again. Manzi asserts that in order to have an effective GHG mitigation policy, we would have to agree to, and enforce, “for hundreds of years” a “global, harmonized tax on all significant uses of carbon and other greenhouse gases in any material form” that “would run directly contrary to the narrow self-interest of most people currently alive on the planet” and that “all the side deals that would be required to get this done would create enough economic drag to more than offset the benefit.” Manzi also points to the ineffectiveness of the Kyoto Protocol, the apparent unwillingness of developing nations to agree to GHG restrictions and the penchant for politicians for loading down climate change legislation with special deals as reasons to think that a globally-coordinated climate policy is not worth while.

But while these are serious concerns, it is relatively easy to counter that:

– the Kyoto Protocol is no failure, but that the Europeans have been waiting for the US to agree to similar action rather than blindly biting any bullet unilaterally;

– it is clear that China, India, Brazil and other developing countries are seriously concerned about climate change, but their initial participation is not needed for the developed nations to commence a meaningful mitigation deal, and there are trade and other levers (including a desire for cleaner energy technologies) to eventually bring them on boar;

– Manzi later acknowledges this in his own plan for an agreement among developed nations to invest in technology that can then be shared with developing ones;and

– effective climate policy can be initiated and implemented domestically without external coordination, such as power market deregulation, allowing immediate depreciation of capital investments, and replacement of income taxes with resource taxes.

Further, it’s clear that Manzi`s assertion that climate policies “run directly contrary to the narrow self-interest of most people currently alive on the planet” is simply an unfounded and unjustifiable conclusion.

All of mankind shares the atmosphere, as an open-access but indispensable commons. We are approaching the point that the costs and risks of inaction (or rather, the costs of continuing free use without responsibility for costs/risks shifted to others) merit the costs of shifting to a system of shared rules (and other investments) with respect to its management – the efforts in which people and firms of many nations are voluntarily engaging in this regard are themselves evidence that even narrow self-interest justifies coordination with our neighbors (even as gamesmanship remains).

4.  Manzi next, rightly, considers the “inherently unquantifiable possibility that our probability distribution itself is wrong,” so that “the case for a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade emissions rationing system is really that it would be a hedge against the risk that actual damages from warming would be much, much worse than current risk-adjusted projections indicate,” with the primary purpose of such a tax or rationing system being “not to encourage conservation per se, but rather to induce the development of new technologies that can de-link economic growth from damaging accumulations of atmospheric carbon dioxide”.

Oddly, though, Manzi simply concludes, with no analysis, that any carbon pricing program would be “insanely expensive” and yet even then “would very likely not be high enough to successfully incentivize the creation of the desired technologies.” One would like to know on what basis he concludes that markets do not respond to incremental changes in prices – so that the governments of developed nations ought to directly make certain climate change technology investments (or incentivize them via prizes, etc.)

5.  It is also odd that Manzi then turns immediately from the dismissal of a gradualist pricing approach to a focus on “rapid, aggressive emissions abatement” that would only be justified if “the outer edge of the probability distribution of our predictions for global-warming impacts is enormously conservative, and disaster looms if we don’t change our ways radically and this instant,” in which case Manzi agrees that “we really should start shutting down power plants and confiscating cars tomorrow morning.”

Manzi seems to be as alarmist as many enviros, and to have even less faith in the market than they do.

Manzi then briefly addresses – and conflates with the table-pounding of Al Gore and others – the more sophisticated argument (advanced by Harvard’s Marty Weitzman) that “the risk that actual damages from warming would be much, much worse than current risk-adjusted projections indicate” is quite large. Says Manzi, “any rationale for rapid emissions abatement that confronts the facts in evidence is really a more or less sophisticated restatement of the precautionary principle: the somewhat grandiosely named idea that the downside possibilities are so bad that we should pay almost any price to avoid almost any chance of their occurrence.” 

Manzi believes that worrying too much about climate change is “to get lost in the hothouse world of single-issue advocates, and become myopic about risk,” while ignoring “lots of other unquantifiable threats of at least comparable realism and severity”. Well, I beg to disagree. While we can certainly deal with more than one risk at a time, why is it that conservatives like throwing trillions at “defense” and can focus on bird flu, but need to write off climate change? Could it have anything to do with what industries are in favor with Republicans and the White House?

Climate change differs from the other risks Manzi raises in that it is a risk that our own activities generate (not an “external” threat) – and one that we can manage by focussing on who is generating risk and asking them to bear some of the cost. Like the others, though, action is in some ways a collective choice problem, but unlike blowing trillions unilaterally on “defense”, climate change is a risk that other developed nations have shown they are willing to co-invest in heading off.

So why is continuing to be the spoiler in our national self-interest? Manzi provides the answer with a strawman:

“The loss of economic and technological development that would be required to eliminate literally all theorized climate change risk would cripple our ability to deal with virtually every other foreseeable and unforeseeable risk.”

Those who are concerned about climate change have long concluded that we are already facing ongoing climate change, with further unavoidable change in the pipeline, so simply nobody is talking about “eliminate[ing] literally all theorized climate change risk”.

6.  Finally, Manzi trots out his own proposal, after against dismissing any carbon pricing policies (and ignoring all others, like deregulation) with un-established suppositions:

“IF there is a real, though unquantifiably small, possibility of catastrophic climate change, and IF we would ideally want some technological hedges as insurance against this unlikely scenario, and IF raising the price of carbon to induce private economic actors to develop the technologies would be an enormously more expensive means of accomplishing this than would be advisable, then what, if anything, should we do about the danger?”

Apparently, Manzi has introduced these suppositions to tone down the much firmer and more extensive proposals he has made and justified elsewhere:

“There is, however, massive uncertainty (rather than mere risk) in our ability to predict the impacts of AGW, and recognizing this reality should lead us to take at least two actions: (1) improve the science to better-specify these extreme risks, and (2) hedge this uncertainty by making “insurance-type” investments today that would provide protection if an extreme AGW scenario ends up happening.”

Manzi`s proposals? To avoid the “failed game of industrial policy” by creating a climate change DARPA with a “a very high-IQ staff” to make many small (but collectively substantial) investments related to “detecting or ameliorating the effects of global warming” that “serve a public rather than a private need” (viz., that provide “no obvious potential source of profit to investors if successful”). Manzi thinks investments of the following types are merited: “improved global climate prediction capability, visionary biotechnology to capture and recycle carbon dioxide emissions, or geo-engineering projects to change the albedo of the earth’s surface or atmosphere”. Does Manzi not see that carbon pricing, if structured to allow offsets, would encourage private investments in all of these areas?

Ironically, Manzi concludes that “attempt[ing] to use the government to control the evolution of the energy sector of the economy” is not a “prudent reaction” to risk, but “the opposite: an impractical, panicky reaction unworthy of a serious government”.

Well, Jim, nice try, and thanks for your impractical, imprudent and panicky reaction.

Cato … takes climate change seriously, and devotes latest online issue to it

August 19th, 2008 No comments

The Cato Institute has dedicated its entire current monthly issue of Cato Unbound, its online forum, to discussing policy responses to ongoing climate change. 

The issue, entitled “Keeping Our Cool: What to Do about Global Warming“, contains four relatively balanced essays from a wide range of authors and perspectives.  Here are excerpts from their lead in:

“While virtually no one doubts the reality of climate change, assessing its extent and crafting a prudent and proportional response raises problems of its own. …

“Which approaches offer the best value in terms of protecting property and natural resources, while generating the fewest risks and side effects of their own? In short: How much would we or should we pay today for a future without global warming?

“The problem grows more difficult when we realize that proposed global warming solutions have often been victims of the domestic political process — rightly or wrongly — or else have been unacceptable to developing nations. …

“To discuss the way forward on this complex and truly global issue, we have invited Jim Manzi, statistician and Chief Executive Officer of Applied Predictive Technologies, whose proposals to conservatives on the issue have generated significant discussion. In response to his essay, we have invited environmental expert and frequent Cato Institute author Indur Goklany; climate scientist Joseph J. Romm, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress; and Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, the co-founders of The Breakthrough Institute, a think tank whose mission includes encouraging an ‘equitable and accelerated transition to the clean energy economy.'”

Unfortunately, Cato has no online blog.  Feel free to leave comments here; I will also try to post my thoughts on the essays.

Categories: adaptation, AGW, Cato, climate change, mitigation Tags:

Jim Manzi/Cato on climate: with flabby "libertariarian sinews", he advocates no panic, but domestic climate science and technology investments

August 18th, 2008 4 comments

[UPDATE:  See my follow-up post.]

Cato Unbound’s new climate issue features a lead essay by Jim Manzi, who is an MIT- and Wharton-trained statistician and CEO of Applied Predictive Technologies (which uses pattern recognition and optimization models for sales and marketing).

Manzi is a newcomer to the climate commentary scene, but has made a splash in conservatives circles over the past year or so through a series of articles in the National Review and The American Scene.  Manzi’s bio at Cato states that Manzi’s position is that “global warming, while real, is a problem of limited magnitude, deserving a proportional response, not overreaction“.

Manzi’s essay at Cato is a polished rehashing of points that he has made elsewhere, tweaked shamelessly to appeal to libertarians, as in this lead-off paragraph:

“The danger of potentially catastrophic global warming is an almost paradigmatic case of decisionmaking under conditions of extreme uncertainty.  Of course, this is just another way of saying that many of the intellectual sinews of libertarianism are central to thinking through this problem.” (emphasis added)

While the essay is worth consideration, aside from this initial mention, it is painfully evident that Manzi’s “libertarian sinews” are rather flimsy; indeed, Manzi:

  •  makes no mention of basic Lockean-based libertarian principles (rights to property in one’s own person, in the fruits of one’s own labor, and in resources taken from nature when mixed with one’s own labor; and duties to abstain from harming others, from taking property of others, and to leave enough and as good for others when taking from the commons) that are relevant to environmental and public policy issues (see Rothbard; Edwin Dolan has laid an application of Lockean principles to climate change here; );

  • fails to acknowledge “environmental” problems as cases where resources are not clearly or effectively owned, either individually or on a community basis, so that some economic actors do not bear the costs or risks of their actions, which costs or risks are shifted to others against their will (see Cordato; Jon Adler makes similar points here); and

  • provides only a rudimentary discussion of public choice issues that, while noting both the difficulties of reaching a global agreement and that government policies to prepare for climate change may be both inefficient and hijacked special interests, disregards the possibilities that effective international steps can be taken by just a few countries and completely fails to consider the role that special interests have played to date in manipulating government policies and in protecting the “GHG emissions/risk-shifting is free” status quo.

Rather, Manzi:

(1) argues that the estimates for future damages that the IPPC derives from models appear rather modest,

(2) downplays the widespread agreement by economists (like Nordhaus) and others that standard cost-benefit analysis provides ample support for carbon pricing (particularly in the form of carbon taxes) now,

(3) argues that we cannot adequately gauge the “massive uncertainties” regarding the “danger of potentially catastrophic global warming” (addressing but failing to mention Weitzman),

(4) argues that the US should not adopt “insanely expensive” measures to “force massive change in the economy” via “rapid, aggressive emissions reductions”,

(5) lumps climate change in with other, external risks (like pandemics and rogues states, which risks, oddly, we actually try to manage), and

(6) and tones down his earlier pieces by presenting an artificially weakened case that,

if there is a real, though unquantifiably small, possibility of catastrophic climate change, and if we would ideally want some technological hedges as insurance against this unlikely scenario, and if raising the price of carbon to induce private economic actors to develop the technologies would be an enormously more expensive means of accomplishing this than would be advisable,” (emphasis added)

THEN the government might be justified in investing in “improved global climate prediction capability, visionary biotechnology to capture and recycle carbon dioxide emissions, or geo-engineering projects to change the albedo of the earth’s surface or atmosphere”.

Manzi concludes with a mix of a case for a surprisingly large government climate program (even if “rife with inefficiencies”) and a bashing of the worst case, while ignoring the middle ground:

“But consider that its costs would be on the order of 1/100th of the costs of imposing a large U.S. carbon tax. It could be massively inefficient and we would still be far better off in actually developing the long–lead-time technologies that we would want if faced with a currently unanticipated emergency.

Hedging against the risk to future generations of potential unanticipated impacts from global warming is a legitimate job for the U.S. government. Ideally, it would be tackled by the governments of the small number of countries with a sophisticated technology development capability acting in some kind of coordinated fashion. A massive carbon tax, a cap-and-trade rationing system, and the attempt to use the government to control the evolution of the energy sector of the economy are all billed as prudent reactions to this risk, but each is the opposite: an impractical, panicky reaction unworthy of a serious government.

I hope to address later various aspects of Manzi’s piece, but I think it is fair to conclude initially that it is not libertarian nor, ultimately, a balanced discussion, but rather a somewhat strange conservative position that we ought to worry about climate change and so the government should throw even MORE money at it, while refusing to harness markets to accomplish the research tasks Manzi wishes to fund or to ask those who are generating climate risks to internalize or shoulder any of the burden.

While this stance might please fossil fuel interests and their defenders, it’s hard to see what, exactly, in Manzi’s analysis – other than his opposition to “massive” carbon taxes – will appeal to libertarians.