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Rent-seeking: CEI’s Chris Horner comes clean and acknowledges that climate denialists and alarmists are peas in the same pod

January 14th, 2009 2 comments

In an earth-shaking 😉 essay in today’s Human Events, CEI‘s Chris Horner comes clean and acknowledges that climate denialists and alarmists are peas in the same rent-seeking pod. 

We have encountered Horner,  former lawyer and now full-time scourge of envirofascists on behalf of the firms that fund the Competitive Enterprise Institute (and author of “Red Hot Lies: How Global Warming Alarmists Use Threats, Fraud, and Deception to Keep You Misinformed), a number of times here previously.  I consider Chris to be very knowledgeable and insightful, but it seems to me that his passion paints him into a corner as a spokesman for one side of the commercial interests seeking to influence policy, hinders a broader self-awareness, and leaves him with little ability to reach out to persuade others.

Says Horner:

Further, the premise behind most alarmist slurs, of the “tobacco scientist” variety and the ritual claims of “ties” to “big oil” or “industry,” is that a scientist’s convictions and those of other dissenters are for sale. Yet it is illogical to assume that dissenters can be bought but alarmists cannot. Looking at the balance sheets on both sides, their logic would conclude that the greatest amount of corruption occurs on the alarmist side.

With federal expenditures on climate-related research soaring above $5 billion annually – more than we spend on AIDS or the National Cancer Institute – and hundreds of billions in “rents” to corporations pushing these schemes should the alarmist campaign succeed, the potentially corrupting factor of money cannot be ignored.

Someone saw a good investment in giving Al Gore $300 million for his “climate crisis” re-branding campaign. Gore’s advisor (and, officially, NASA astronomer) James Hansen and other activists receive enormous sums of money underwriting their alarmist activities, sums that no “skeptic” has ever been accused of receiving. Meanwhile Gore—the king of claiming that those who disagree are merely in it for the money—makes millions annually from all manner of enterprises premised upon the climate crisis, and his lucre will increase several fold upon passing the laws his alarmism demands.

The difficult truth is that the alarmists cannot logically fault the skeptics’ credibility without also faulting Gore’s credibility, and that of their heavily compensated alarmist mouthpieces. Yet no “skeptic” receives as much as Gore or even Hansen from shouting falsities about the issue.

The delicious irony found in the global warming alarmists’ claims is that it is they who closely resemble the “tobacco scientists” they accuse those who oppose them of being, and are quite plainly the ones stuck on “denial”.

Several thoughts occur to me:

First, most of Horner’s points are perfectly fair, but it’s interesting that he can make them while ignoring what they imply about himself and others who are denialists (since Horner calls those concerned about the effects of releasing all of the fossil carbons “alarmists”, for the sake of balance, let’s call him and others “denialists”, as opposed to “dissenters” or “skeptics”).

Second, Horner fails to distinguish between amounts spent by governments and amounts spent by rent-seekers directly.  While large government expenditures are “potentially corrupting”, such expenditures clearly do NOT directly corrupt the results of scientific investigations, nor do they directly influence decision-making by government, politicians or others.  As a result, such expenditures are certainly in a different class than direct and indirect rent-seeking (via paid mouthpieces, contributions to think tanks, campaign contributions, junkets and the like) by special interests.

Third, while Horner is right to note that there are large amounts flowing to support rent-seeking via alarmist mouthpieces like Gore, there is nothing really new here – this is just plain old garden-variety rent-seeking of the same type that we have seen from the denialists (fossil fuel interests and others who have different preferences regarding rights to the atmosphere and science/defense-budget priorities).  In one sense this is a relief – as it clarifies that the chief financiers of the alarmism are not out to destroy capitalism – but  one is left wondering WHO, precisely, is doing the funding and what precisely are their objectives.  While some may be looking for favors from government, others may be sincerely concerned about the potential consequences of releasing all of the fossil carbon stored up since the Age of Dinosaurs and the lack of any market mechanisms to express their preferences.

Fourth, while more information on rent-seekers is needed, it’s clear that most of them are commercial interests, whom our laws say are legal persons and our courts have declared to have the same Constitutional rights to spend freely to influence government via “free speech” as do you or I.  While a discussion of the merits of legal personhood is beyond the scope of of this post, I wish to draw attention to the role of limited liability, in fuelling the growth of (i) the corporate form, (ii) rent-seeking (at all branches of government) by corporations, and (iii) public pressure by citizens’ groups (and faux-citizens’ groups) to fight over the wheel of government.

Finally, Horner oversteps when he argues that the alarmists’ views must be based on a premise that “scientist’s convictions and those of other dissenters are for sale”. I think a little more nuance is called for.  W e are cognitively wired as tribal animals.  That means we are inclined to see “our side” as right, and the other side as lying and scheming. While very clever rent-seekers know this and try to use it to jerk us around, this does not mean that any particular group – or its spokesmen – has consciously sold itself out.  Rather, as William Butler Yeats famously noted, “the worst are full passionate intensity” – and each of us is good at the self-deception needed to provide the requisite conviction and self-righteousness.  Perhaps not only Al Gore, Jim Hansen and Horner’s frequent sparring partner Joe Romm share this quintessential human trait, but also Chris Horner himself?

Lomborg’s brilliant climate plan: leave GHG externalities alone and let governments spend 0.05% of GDP on picking winning low-carb technologies!

June 29th, 2008 No comments

The folly practically speaks for itself

Why does Bjorn Lomborg think that governments can better determine worthy investments than private firms?  And that such investments should be borne by ordinary taxpayers rather than those who are generating the externalities that are the basis for his concern?  And why does he think governments around the world will each bear their fair share of such expenditures, instead of free riding?

Lomborg’s policies will simply lead to more politically directed pork (wasted money) while doing nothing to discourage GHG emissions or to encourage private investments in GHG-lite technologies. 

h/t Don Boudreaux, who startlingly calls Lomborg’s post “great good sense”!

(Jim Hansen’ “carbon tax – 100% rebate” proposal (noted in my preceding post) – which is much along the lines of the revenue-neutral carbon tax/income tax rebate that kicks in July 1st in British Columbia – makes much more sense than having the government try to micromanage investments and other private decisionmaking.)

 

Peabody Coal is VERY concerned about how Jim Hansen is "cheapening the dialogue"

June 28th, 2008 No comments

In response to Jim Hansen’s recent expressed desire for “public trials” for fossil fuel executives if, despite being “aware of long-term consequences of continued business as usual,” they continue their “campaigns” “to spread doubt about global warming” in order to “blocked [the] transition to our renewable energy future”, Andy Revkin of the The New York Times has received and posted on the NYT’s “Dot Earth” blog a note from Vic Svec of Peabody Energy, which Revkin notes is the largest private coal producer in the world.

Vic Svec’s note at “Dot Earth” is here.

In response, I posted a few comments to Mr. Svec on the Dot Earth blog thread, which I copy below [with some links added]:

Vic Svec
Senior Vice President, Investor Relations and Corporate Communications
Peabody Energy
(314) 342-7768
[email protected]

Dear Vic:

Nice try with your letter addressing Jim Hansen’s criticism of fossil fuel firms such as yours.

1.  You say that Hansen’s “Holocaust analogies [are] outrageous and demeaning.”

Hansen’s latest criticism of coal and oil firms contains ZERO Holocaust analogies.  So who is it who prefers not to address his actual remarks, but to “cheapen the dialogue and invite ridicule”?

Yes, Hansen did warn last year that rapid climate change may very well threaten the extinction of many species – a claim supported by many prominent biologists – and in that context said that further increases in coal plants could in effect be “death trains … loaded with uncountable irreplaceable species”.  http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/2007/IowaCoal_20071105.pdf.  You obviously don’t like his rhetoric, but do you care to explain why either his facts or his imagery are wrong?

2.  “The suggestion that a dissemination of ideas be criminalized –- coming from a government employee no less –- does hearken back to World War II.”

First, what was that you just said about cheapening debate?

Second, Hansen has not said that the speech of any fossil fuel executives should be restricted or criminalized.  Rather, he is making a stronger version of the argument that the British Royal Academy made last year to Exxon, when it sought to clarify if Exxon was going to continue to provide support to groups that deny what EXXON itself has conceded: that human GHG emissions present sufficient worry for public policy action now.

Like Exxon, your firm has publicly acknowledged that concerns about climate change are legitimate and, indeed, that massive investments are needed in new infrastructure to ensure that coal is burned more cleanly and that CCS (carbon capture and storage) technologies are employed (as you note in the projects listed in your item 4).  The only real differences between your firm’s position and Hansen’s is that you think that the government should subsidize your change in business model by (a) having Uncle Sam pay the bulk of capital costs for IGCC (integrated gas combined cycle plant) [something like $1 billion for the first one with CCS] and (b) giving you a further break (reduced royalties) on the sweet deals you already have for stripping coal from public lands, while Hansen proposes a carbon tax (rebated to citizens) to motivate changes in demand and a moratorium on new coal plants until CCS is in place.

While Peabody has every right to conduct its business as it sees fit, so does Hansen have the right to hope that fossil fuel firms will be called to public account for the years of delay that they have purchased, not by openly arguing with the science, but by back door channels/contributions and third-party proxies – tactical activities that are hardly subject to dispute.  THAT, and not open disputes on science or policy, is what Hansen is criticizing.

3.  “Blaming big oil and big coal for the broad array of opinions about climate change is disingenuous.”

Is that at all what Hansen has done, or do you just find strawmen to be irresistible?

“If he would imprison those who don’t march in lockstep with his views, the jails would be very, very big.”

Ahh, here we go with more cheap and shameful metaphors of the very type that you yourself decry, plus another great strawman.  Hansen hasn’t suggested jailing anyone who disagrees with him, as I previously noted.  He’s just castigating the fossil fuel firms for what is rather pedestrian (and undeniable) in the modern world – that powerful economic interests have no qualms about ignoring public and common interests for the sake of private gain, or about employing whatever tool they can to influence government action via both politicians and public opinion.  Hansen, whose views on science you conspicuously refuse to address, is now obviously trying to play the same game of influencing political discourse by putting pressure on you.  As a scientist, Hansen obviously has only a political bark and no formal bite.

Your aim now is simply to discredit the barker, the better to get government subsidies, cheaper coal from the government by lowering royalties, and to continue commercial activities that shift the costs and risks of GHG emissions to others and to the future.  That, of course, is the “serious work” for which Peabody employs you as SVP of Investor Relations and Corporate Communications.

As for the “thousands of scientists and university professors” who have opinions that differ from Hansen’s, I’ll wager that, like Exxon, your scientists tend to agree with Dr. Hansen and that your only connection with any of the other thousands is via funding for PR efforts.  Maybe you could clarify this?

Thanks so much for your sound bites.

Why top demagogues (Jim Hansen, Florida Power, RAND, Exxon, AEI, Margo Thorning, major economists, George Will) prefer rebated carbon taxes

June 27th, 2008 2 comments

[Note to first-time readers: the title is tongue-in-cheek.]

I have previously blogged on libertarian, non-state approaches to climate change; allow me to use this post to pull together for diligent readers various recent sources of opinion and information on carbon taxes – which are much more transparent, easier to implement and, if rebated, are much more likely to both be ethically fairer to citizens (and thus more poltically sustainable) and involve much less pork than cap and trade policy proposals:

–  Dr. James (“PublicTrials”) Hansen “Carbon Tax and 100% Dividend” proposal (dated June 6, 2008) (be sure to check out his many lucid posts on scientific aspects of climate change as well):

“Carbon tax and 100% dividend” is spurred by the recent “carbon cap” discussion of Peter Barnes and others. Principles must be crystal clear and adhered to rigorously. A tax on coal, oil and gas is simple. It can be collected at the first point of sale within the country or at the last (e.g., at the gas pump), but it can be collected easily and reliably. … The entire carbon tax should be returned to the public, with a monthly deposit to their
bank accounts ….

The worst thing about the present inadequate political approach [cap and trade] is that it will generate public backlash. Taxes will increase, with no apparent benefit. The reaction would likely delay effective emission reductions, so as to practically guarantee that climate would pass tipping points with devastating consequences for nature and humanity.

Carbon tax and 100% dividend, on the contrary, will be a breath of fresh air, a boon and boom for the economy. The tax is progressive, the poorest benefitting most, with profligate energy users forced to pay for their excesses. …

Special interests and their lobbyists … will fight carbon tax and 100% dividend tooth and nail. They want to determine who gets your tax money in the usual Washington way, Congress allocating money program-by-program, substituting their judgment for that of the market place. …  Helping Washington figure out how to spend your money is a very lucrative business.

I note that Hansen has drawn on Peter Barnes, who has long advocated the “Sky Trust” concept, which asserts that citizens are the owners of the atmospheric commons and involves the state in charging and collecting revenues.  Barnes has more recently backed similar proposals, such as Hansen’s “Carbon Tax and 100% Dividend” and the “Cap and Dividend” approach floated last winter by James Royce and Matt Riddle.

Spin analyst George Lakoff has recently examined and compared the moral and cognitive footings of the Warner-Lieberman-style cap and and trade and the Cap and Dividend approaches in “Comparing Climate Proposals: A Case Study in Cognitive Policy”

–  Lewis Hay, III, Chairman and CEO of FPL Group, Inc. – speech to the 2008 Florida Summit on Global Climate Change in Miami (June 25, 2008):

[It is] an undeniable reality … that global climate change is real, that human activity is one of the causes, and that we must take action to slow, stop, and reverse the emission of greenhouse gases into the Earth’s atmosphere. …
The United States has been debating climate change at least since the first congressional hearings on the topic were held in the mid-1980s by a little-known Representative from Tennessee named Al Gore. More than 20 years later, it is time for the country to take meaningful action. Every day we delay, another 18 million tons of CO2 are released into the atmosphere, most of which will remain there for close to a century. And with every year of inaction, the carbon reductions needed to deal successfully with climate change become larger and harder to achieve.

There are still a few global warming skeptics left in the world – often big emitters of CO2 – who continue to hope that the science is wrong and advocate taking little or no action toward reducing carbon. They want to keep freely emitting CO2 like there is no tomorrow. We cannot let these people have their way, or there might not be a tomorrow.

So how do we go about reducing the amount of carbon that our economy pumps into the atmosphere? … In the process of producing various goods and services – including electricity – carbon dioxide is released with potentially huge costs on society. But the producers and consumers of goods and services don’t pay those costs. They are external to the transaction, which is to say that society pays them. The goal of public policy toward climate change must be to push those costs back onto the parties responsible for carbon emissions. In short, we must “put a price” on carbon, which will create powerful incentives to emit less of it.

Will that price impose an undue burden on the U.S. economy? The global warming skeptics say yes, but I disagree. If we do nothing to reduce the amount of CO2 pouring into the atmosphere, we are not avoiding the cost. We are simply pushing both the cost associated with the growing consequences of global warming and the future cost of CO2 reductions down the road, onto our children and grandchildren. And if we do take action, I am confident the cost will be far lower than projected. America’s economy is driven by a fierce entrepreneurial spirit. Tell a capitalist there’s money to be made in finding cost-effective CO2 reductions, and watch the market burst with cost-effective solutions.

Now I happen to believe that the simplest and most effective way to start putting a price on carbon is with a continuously escalating fee – or a “tax” as the big carbon emitters like to call it. Under a carbon fee that starts modestly and rises steadily over time, companies will find it more and more expensive to use dirty fuels. And if there’s one way to get the attention of America’s CEOs and their boards of directors, it’s to hit them in the bottom line. Equally important, if there’s one way to get Americans to consume less high-carbon energy, it’s to steadily raise the price of goods and services produced with high-carbon fuels. Eventually, everyone will embrace conservation and switch to low-carbon energy alternatives. …

Under any cap-and-trade program that would give away most of the allowances to emit carbon based on historical emissions, the biggest emitters – the very same companies that have seriously harmed our environment and done nothing to reduce their carbon footprint – could reap unearned windfall profits, just as has happened in parts of Europe. To put it bluntly: They would be paid to pollute, turning cap-and-trade into what I call “cap-and-evade.” …

When carbon carries a cost, power companies will also work a lot harder to clean up their fossil fuel fleets. … Of course, the real gains are to be had by shutting down old, inefficient coal plants across the country. Those dinosaurs, which have operated way beyond their intended useful life, account for more than 480 million tons of the CO2 pumped into the atmosphere every year and should be taken offline. And if carbon is priced appropriately, they will be.

I refuse to believe that we are powerless to change the future. On the contrary, I believe that through commitment, effort and intelligence, we will not only come up with the right policy response to climate change, but that our innovation-driven economy will find the best technological solution to climate change – one that curbs emissions even as it controls costs. Some of us in the electric power industry are ready to lead the charge into a clean energy future. To those who stubbornly cling to a carbon-based past that cannot last, we kindly ask that you step out of the way.

Keith Crane, senior economist and James Bartis, senior policy researcher at the RAND Corporation, On Carbon Dioxide, a Better Alternative (Washington Post, November 29, 2007):

The only effective way to begin reducing greenhouse gas emissions and slow global climate change is to make it more expensive to emit carbon dioxide. Unless businesses and consumers pay a price for carbon dioxide, neither will make the investments in technology and changes in energy use needed to dramatically reduce emissions.

Most of the climate change legislation currently before Congress proposes a complicated “cap-and-trade” system. This would set a limit on emissions below current levels and then allocate permits to pollute that could be bought and sold. The alternative would be to impose a direct tax on carbon dioxide emissions. …

The attraction of cap and trade for its supporters is that the cap sets a limit on emissions of carbon dioxide. But it’s difficult to get the limit right. The cap may be set too high to induce firms to make the large investments needed to reduce emissions. Or it may be set so low that costs skyrocket and political support to combat climate change falters.

The major disadvantage to cap and trade is that the price tag for reaching the target is highly uncertain. In contrast, a tax on emissions provides businesses and consumers with certainty about costs, while leaving the size of the reduction less certain. …

Instead, we suggest a tax on carbon dioxide in which all the proceeds collected by the government would be returned to Americans each year when they file income taxes. In contrast to current congressional proposals for cap and trade, a tax on carbon dioxide refunded directly to individuals would cut emissions while cushioning the impact on the pocketbooks of American families. ...

A carbon dioxide tax with refund is fair because the people responsible for the most emissions would pay the most. The tax would also be progressive. Many Americans with lower incomes would find the refund would more than defray the higher costs of gasoline and electric power.

A tax is simple and can be phased in quickly. It encourages individuals and businesses to make long-term decisions with confidence, rather than trying to guess what the future price of permits will be. With a tax and refund, consumers would only pay the extra costs associated with carbon abatement measures.

A carbon dioxide tax with refund can be implemented easily. It can be collected at a few key links in the supply chain: refineries, power plants or pipelines. …

A carbon dioxide tax can be easily adjusted as lower-cost means of reducing emissions are tapped and new technologies become available to tackle more difficult sources. The tax could be started low, but with a clear schedule of increases so that individuals, local governments and businesses will begin now to make the changes and investments required to dramatically reduce emissions within 15 years. …

U.S. consumers and industry need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. A refunded carbon dioxide tax is the best way to achieve reductions. It is simple, good for the planet, and imposes the least additional costs on the American economy as compared to any other policy alternative. Most importantly it can be crafted to ease the burden on families and protect industries from unfair competition in the global marketplace.

–  Ken Cohen, vice-president for public affairs, ExxonMobil“ExxonMobil’s top executives on climate-change policy” (February 14, 2007):

[T]here are two debates that one can be participating in right now. One is: is climate change real? What is the cause? Call it the blame game or whatever you want. And the other discussion is: what we do about it?

We prefer to be involved in the second discussion, which is what do we do about climate change – what policies make sense to both produce the energy which the world absolutely has to have and do it in a way that starts us on a path to reduce emissions associated with the production and use of energy. …

Some have said for instance that we need to stabilise CO2 emissions at 550 parts per million. But that is more of a political conclusion than a scientific conclusion. It may be that we’ll learn that 550 ppm is not an aggressive enough target. It may be that science will tell us that the target needs to be something lower than 550 ppm. …

So yes, the policies need to be adjusted. Or conversely, it could be that the anthropogenic contribution can be mitigated somehow by sinks or what have you as we learn more. So, what we are trying to convey is: we know enough now to say that we need to be on a path to start addressing anthropogenic emissions. But we also need to keep the science effort going and we need to keep in mind the economic impacts of the policies. …

We are believers in the market system as the most efficient allocator of resources. We believe for example that markets do a much better job of picking winners and losers on the technology side than governments. So we believe that when we design policies we need to harness the power of the market system as best as we can within the policy that we are designing. … We are not saying, ‘laissez-faire’, just let the market operate. …

Politicians know this very well, one of the elements on our first principles is not political attractiveness. You don’t hear much discussion for example about a carbon tax. Yet most economists who look at this issue say that the most effective way to address carbon emissions would be with a carbon tax.

In fact, from an efficiency standpoint, from spreading the cost of carbon across the economy in an efficient and uniform and predictable way, as a way to maximize the use of markets, as someone who studied economics, yes I think that a carbon tax ought to be looked at with equal force as the other options.

Now, as we said before, the devil is in the details and there are a number of questions. Whether it is going to be a regressive tax? What would the rate of the tax be and making sure you don’t exclude people from it; what is the revenue going to be used for; are we going to take out another regressive tax? Or are we going to take that money and use it for some other purpose? So there are major issues that would need to be addressed, but from an economist’s standpoint and in fact, this is the favored option.

Ken Green, Steven Hayward and Kevin Hassett of AEI (The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research ), “Climate Change: Caps vs. Taxes” (June 2007):

Most economists believe a carbon tax (a tax on the quantity of CO2 emitted when using energy) would be a superior policy alternative to an emissions-trading regime. In fact, the irony is that there is a broad consensus in favor of a carbon tax everywhere except on Capitol Hill, where the “T word” is anathema. Former vice president Al Gore supports the concept, as does James Connaughton, head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality during the George W. Bush administration. Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute supports such an initiative, but so does Paul Anderson, the CEO of Duke Energy. Crossing the two disciplines most relevant to the discussion of climate policy— science and economics—both NASA scientist James Hansen and Harvard University economist N. Gregory Mankiw give the thumbs up to a carbon tax swap.

There are many reasons for preferring a revenue neutral carbon tax regime (in which taxes are placed on the carbon emissions of fuel use, with revenues used to reduce other taxes) to emissions trading. Among them are: [the following are paragraph headings only]:

–        Effectiveness and Efficiency
–        Incentive Creation
–        Less Corruption
–        Elimination of Superfluous Regulations
–        Price-Stabilization 
–        Adjustability and Certainty
–        Preexisting Collection Mechanisms
–        Keeping Revenue In-Country 
–        Mitigation of General Economic Damages

A cap-and-trade approach to controlling GHG emissions would be highly problematic. A lack of international binding authority would render enforcement nearly impossible, while the incentives for cheating would be extremely high. The upfront costs of creating institutions to administer trading are significant and likely to produce entrenched bureaucracies that clamor for ever-tighter controls on carbon emissions. …

A program of carbon-centered tax reform, by contrast, lacks most of the negative attributes of cap-and-trade, and could convey significant benefits unrelated to GHG reductions or avoidance of potential climate harms, making this a no-regrets policy. A tax swap would create economy-wide incentives for energy efficiency and lower carbon energy, and by raising the price of energy would also reduce energy use. At the same time, revenues generated would allow the mitigation of the economic impact of higher energy prices, both on the general economy and on the lower-income earners who might be disproportionately affected by such a change. Carbon taxes would be more difficult to avoid, and existing institutions quite adept at tax collection could step up immediately.  Revenues would remain in-country, removing international incentives for cheating or insincere participation in carbon-reduction programs. Most of these effects would remain beneficial even if science should determine that reducing GHG emissions has only a negligible effect on mitigating global warming. …

Coal-based energy prices would be affected more strongly, which is to be expected in any plan genuinely intended to reduce GHG emissions. A number of possible mechanisms are available to refund the revenues raised by this tax. On net, these tools could significantly reduce the economic costs of the tax and quite possibly provide economic benefits.

Margo Thorning, Senior Vice President and Chief Economist at the American Council for Capital Formation (November 1, 2007 interview on E&E TV):

Margo Thorning: I think Senator Lieberman and Warner are to be commended for their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, because I think we’re all united that that’s a goal we need to put a lot of resources into.

Q: One of the bill’s ideas is to set up a financial board of sorts that would oversee the new greenhouse gas market. What’s your take on setting up a board of regulators?

Margo Thorning: I think the idea of expecting regulators to know what the price of carbon should be is probably not very well grounded. It does serve as a backstop in that I assume if prices got so high that producers and households were experiencing severe economic pain they could say, well, just go ahead and emit. But it creates uncertainty, because for someone trying to invest in new equipment, if they don’t know what the price of carbon will be, that adds to the risk of the investment. That’s the problem with a cap-and-trade system and that’s what’s happening in Europe. Investors don’t know what the price of carbon will be from one month to the next or one year to the next and it’s been very volatile. So that makes the cost of capital higher, investment more uncertain, and produces less investment. An advantage of a carbon tax, if you want to impose some sort of penalty on carbon use, is that an investor knows, given the projected say set of increases in carbon prices from one year to the next, he knows what the carbon price will be and he can factor that in to what kind of capital equipment he buys, what sort of transport fleet he puts in place, and it provides more certainty. And it also, a carbon tax, provides a stream of revenue for the government to spend on new technology or to pay for offsetting the burden on low income individuals of higher energy prrevenue-neutralices.

Q:So, if you were given the opportunity to sort of write your own proposal of how the U.S. should reduce emissions and not hurt itself economically, you’d go with the carbon tax?

Margo Thorning: I would go with the carbon tax and more incentives for new technology development. And I would change the U.S. tax code, because we have the slowest depreciation allowances for new energy investment of 12 countries that we compared recently. We have very high capital costs for new investment because depreciation is so slow and our effective tax rate is very high, because our corporate tax rate is the highest in the industrial world. So our companies are disadvantaged vis-à-vis our trading partners because of our tax system.

Q: So, if a cap and trade is not the way to go as you’re saying, why has the business community come out in support of a cap and trade?

Margo Thorning: Well, a significant portion of the business community would prefer a carbon tax and there’s beginning to be more discussion about that. So I think one reason some in the business community have supported a cap and trade is they expect to make money on it. They’ve maybe made emission reductions or expect to be able to make emission reductions. They expect to be winners. On the other hand, new companies or companies that are expanding that need more credits will be losers. So the winners under a cap-and-trade system, as is for example in Europe, the big electric utilities have been winners because they’ve been able to pass forward to consumers the price of the carbon credit even though they were given those credits by the government. So people who expect to make money on it naturally are supportive.

– major economists:

• Terry Dinan of the Congressional Budget Office’s Microeconomic Studies Division – “Policy Options for Reducing CO2 Emissions” (outside reviewers were Billy Pizer (Resources for the Future) and Martin Weitzman (Harvard)(Feb. 2008):

Given the gradual nature of climate change, the uncertainty that exists about the cost of reducing emissions, and the potential variability of the cost of meeting a particular cap on emissions at different points in time, a tax could offer significant advantages. If policymakers chose to specify a long-term target for cutting emissions, a tax could be set at a rate that could meet that target at a lower cost than a comparable cap. In addition, if policymakers set the tax rate at a level that reflected the expected benefits of reducing a ton of emissions (which would rise over time), a tax would keep the costs of emission reductions in balance with the anticipated benefits, whereas a cap would not. …

CBO draws the following conclusions:
A tax on emissions would be the most efficient incentive-based option for reducing emissions and could be relatively easy to implement.

Analysts generally conclude that a tax would be a more efficient method of reducing CO2 emissions than an inflexible cap. The efficiency advantage of a tax stems from the contrast between the long-term cumulative nature of climate change and the short-term sensitivity of the cost of emission reductions. Climate change results from the buildup of CO2 in the atmosphere over several decades; emissions in any given year are only a small portion of that total. As a result, limiting climate change would require making substantial reductions in those emissions over many years, but ensuring that any particular limit was met in any particular year would result in little, if any, additional benefit (avoided damage). In contrast, the cost of cutting emissions by a particular amount in a given year could vary significantly depending on a host of factors, including the weather, disruptions in energy markets, the level of economic activity, and the availability of new low-carbon technologies (such as improvements in wind-power technology).

Relative to a cap-and-trade program with prespecified emission limits each year, a steadily rising tax could better accommodate cost fluctuations while simultaneously achieving a long-term target for emissions. Such a tax would provide firms with an incentive to undertake more emission reductions when the cost of doing so was relatively low and allow them to reduce emissions less when the cost of doing so was particularly high. In contrast, an inflexible cap-and-trade program would require that annual caps were met regardless of the cost, thereby failing to take advantage of low-cost opportunities to cut more emissions than were required by the cap and failing to provide firms with leeway in years when costs were higher.

The efficiency advantage of a tax over an inflexible cap depends on how likely it is that actual costs will differ from what policymakers anticipated when they set the level of the cap. Given the uncertainties involved, such differences are likely to be large—and, therefore, analysts generally conclude that the efficiency advantage of a tax is likely to be quite large. Specifically, available research suggests that in the near term, the net benefits (benefits minus costs) of a tax could be roughly five times greater than the net benefits of an inflexible cap. Put another way, a given long-term emission-reduction target could be met by a tax at a fraction of the cost of an inflexible cap-and-trade program. …

Administering an “upstream” tax or cap-and-trade program for CO2 emissions would involve taxing or regulating the suppliers of fossil fuels—such as coal producers, petroleum refiners, and natural gas processors. Compared with a “downstream” design, which would tax or regulate users of fossil fuels, an upstream approach would have two administrative advantages. It would involve regulating a limited number of entities, and it would not require firms to monitor actual emissions. Rather, each firm’s tax payment or allowance requirement could be based on the carbon content of its fuel and the amount it sold.

An upstream tax may be somewhat easier to implement than an upstream cap-and-trade program because many of the entities that would be covered by either policy are already subject to excise taxes. A CO2 tax could build on that existing structure. …

With harmonized taxes, lax monitoring or enforcement by any one country could reduce the incentives for emission reductions in that country. But with linked cap and-trade programs, laxity in one area could undermine the integrity of allowances throughout the entire system. …

A tax would have significantly lower start-up costs than a cap-and-trade program with grandfathering provided that policymakers did not decide to grant exemptions based on historical production or emissions data. Further, implementing a tax would not require the government to set up a process for auctioning allowances.

• CLIMATE CHANGE: Expert Opinion on the Economics of Policy Options to Address Climate Change, US GAO (Government Accounting Office) (May 2008)

• Greg Mankiw, “One Answer to Global Warming: A New Tax” (September 16, 2007) (Mankiw also keeps a list of other economists who are in his pro-tax “Pigou Club”, for which the anti-statist “No Pigou Club” is a useful counter-tonic):

Using a Pigovian tax to address global warming is also an old idea. It was proposed as far back as 1992 by Martin S. Feldstein on the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal. Once chief economist to Ronald Reagan ….

Those vying for elected office, however, are reluctant to sign on to this agenda. Their political consultants are no fans of taxes, Pigovian or otherwise. Republican consultants advise using the word “tax” only if followed immediately by the word “cut.” Democratic consultants recommend the word “tax” be followed by “on the rich.”

Yet this natural aversion to carbon taxes can be overcome if the revenue from the tax is used to reduce other taxes. By itself, a carbon tax would raise the tax burden on anyone who drives a car or uses electricity produced with fossil fuels, which means just about everybody. Some might fear this would be particularly hard on the poor and middle class.

But Gilbert Metcalf, a professor of economics at Tufts, has shown how revenue from a carbon tax could be used to reduce payroll taxes in a way that would leave the distribution of total tax burden approximately unchanged. …
The case for a carbon tax looks even stronger after an examination of the other options on the table. … [T]he history of cap-and-trade systems suggests that the allowances would probably be handed out to power companies and other carbon emitters, which would then be free to use them or sell them at market prices. In this case, the prices of energy products would rise as they would under a carbon tax, but the government would collect no revenue to reduce other taxes and compensate consumers.

The international dimension of the problem also suggests the superiority of a carbon tax over cap-and-trade.

Robert J. Shapiro, chairman of Sonecon, LLC, “Addressing Climate Change Without Impairing the U.S. Economy: The Economics and Environmental Science of Combining a Carbon-Based Tax and Tax Relief” (June 2008):

This study examines one such approach: Apply a tax or charge to fuels based on their carbon content, at the levels required to reduce emissions sufficiently to move to a path that over time would stabilize GHG concentrations in the atmosphere at sustainable levels; and use most of the revenues to reduce other taxes for people and businesses. This strategy would change the relative price of different forms of energy based on their carbon content, so that people and businesses have strong incentives to shift to alternative and less carbon-intensive fuels, and more energy-efficient technologies. The consequent economic burden on individuals and businesses would be largely offset by reductions in payroll taxes or in their effective burden, increasing the public’s willingness to accept a carbon-based tax.

Our analysis found that this strategy can reduce GHG emissions in the United States to levels consistent with substantially lowering the risks and threats of climate change, without slowing economic growth or reducing gains in people’s incomes to a significant degree, or imposing a regressive burden on low- and moderate-income Americans. …

Many economists support this approach to climate change, because it would directly and predictably raise the relative price of goods and services based on their carbon intensity, and so directly encourage consumers to prefer less carbon-intensive fuels, and products and businesses to adopt or develop less carbon or energy-intensive materials, technologies, production processes and fuels. Economists and governance experts also note that a carbon tax would not create the new price volatilities, administrative burdens, and large opportunities for evasion and fraud that could characterize a cap-and-trade program. By setting a predictable price for carbon emissions, it also creates clear and known incentives to develop and deploy more climate-friendly technologies and fuels.

Critics argue that it would raise costs and prices, and would dampen economic growth. They further note that no one favors higher taxes or the economic distortions they can cause, and consequently voters will resist paying a substantial new tax simply to avert unknown, adverse effects decades from now. We propose to address these shortcomings by returning the revenues from a carbon-based tax to households and businesses through other forms of tax relief, so that economic growth and the incomes of most households would be much less affected.

This carbon-based tax policy design should be preferable economically and politically to top-down regulation or cap-and-trade programs. To begin, traditional regulation and cap-and-trade programs treat a plant or industry’s initial carbon emissions as effectively “free,” up to the point of the regulatory ceiling or cap, while a carbon-based tax extracts a cost for emissions from the first part per million. In addition to the economic costs of introducing new volatility in energy prices, cap-and-trade programs and regulatory caps would impose other administrative and monitoring costs on consumers and businesses that would be generally comparable to a carbon-based tax, only in less obvious ways and in many cases with no additional revenues that could be rebated to offset their effects. … [C]onsumers and businesses also will end up paying the billions of additional dollars required to administer, monitor and enforce a cap and trade or regulatory system. … Moreover, much as voters would likely oppose significant new, climate-related taxes without offsetting tax relief, they will likely resist climate change regulation or a cap-and-trade program when they recognize the actual costs. …

Using the NEMS modeling system, we test the proposition that applying a new tax package on energy sources based on their carbon content, and using 90 percent of the revenues to reduce payroll taxes or their equivalent could bring down projected CO2 emissions to a path that should stabilize their atmospheric concentrations at levels safe for the global climate, and without materially affecting most people’s incomes or the economy’s capacity to grow and create jobs. 

• others, as summarized by The Wall Street Journal(Feb. 9, 2007),

George Will (as previously blogged)

Jim Hansen: As CO2 climbs, what are the long-term warming effects of CURRENT CO2 levels?

April 7th, 2008 No comments

What do climate scientists say that recently obtained data about our past climate tells us about the consequences of long-term increases in atmospheric CO2 (and other GHGs)?  They tell us that we are already at levels that, if sustained (and at current sink rates it seems that CO2 has an atmospheric half-life of fifty years or so), the result will be an Earth without ice caps if we are about 350 ppm – which we already are, and heading north rapidly.

At the December 2007 meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), according to the Washington Post NASA’s Jim Hansen “offered a simple, straightforward and mind-blowing bottom line for the planet: 350, as in parts per million carbon dioxide in the atmosphere”.  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/12/27/AR2007122701942.html.  The WaPo report provided further background:

Twenty years ago, Hansen kicked off this issue by testifying before Congress that the planet was warming and that people were the cause. At the time, we could only guess how much warming it would take to put us in real danger. Since the pre-Industrial Revolution concentration of carbon in the atmosphere was roughly 275 parts per million, scientists and policymakers focused on what would happen if that number doubled — 550 was a crude and mythical red line, but politicians and economists set about trying to see if we could stop short of that point. The answer was: not easily, but it could be done.

In the past five years, though, scientists began to worry that the planet was reacting more quickly than they had expected to the relatively small temperature increases we’ve already seen. The rapid melt of most glacial systems, for instance, convinced many that 450 parts per million was a more prudent target. That’s what the European Union and many of the big environmental groups have been proposing in recent years, and the economic modeling makes clear that achieving it is still possible, though the chances diminish with every new coal-fired power plant.

But the data just keep getting worse. The news this fall that Arctic sea ice was melting at an off-the-charts pace and data from Greenland suggesting that its giant ice sheet was starting to slide into the ocean make even 450 look too high. Consider: We’re already at 383 parts per million, and it’s knocking the planet off kilter in substantial ways. So, what does that mean?

It means, Hansen says, that we’ve gone too far. “The evidence indicates we’ve aimed too high — that the safe upper limit for atmospheric CO2 is no more than 350 ppm,” he said after his presentation. Hansen has reams of paleo-climatic data to support his statements (as do other scientists who presented papers at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco this month). The last time the Earth warmed two or three degrees Celsius — which is what 450 parts per million implies — sea levels rose by tens of meters, something that would shake the foundations of the human enterprise should it happen again.

Hansen later released a paper online that discusses his views (including his policy suggestions, which I reserve for later – but readers should feel free to take a peek).  The paper is posted at Hansen’s Columbia University webpage (along with others of possible interest):  http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/2008/TargetCO2_20080407.pdf

What does Hansen conclude?  Here are some key excerpts:

  • The approximate equilibrium characterizing most of Earth’s history is unlike the current situation, in which GHGs are rising at a rate much faster than the coupled climate system can respond.
  • Paleoclimate data show that long-term climate has high sensitivity to climate forcings and that the present global mean CO2, 385 ppm, is already in the dangerous zone (including substantial effects that are “built-in” but yet to be felt).
  • Paleoclimate data show that climate sensitivity is ~3°C for doubled CO2, including only fast feedback processes. Equilibrium sensitivity, including slower surface albedo feedbacks, is ~6°C for doubled CO2 for the range of climate states between glacial conditions and icefree Antarctica.
  • No additional forcing is required to raise global temperature to at least the level of the Pliocene, 2-3 million years ago, a degree of warming that would surely yield ‘dangerous’ climate impacts.
  • If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm.  If the present overshoot of this target CO2 is not brief, there is a possibility of seeding irreversible catastrophic effects. 
  • Stabilizing atmospheric CO2 and climate requires that net CO2 emissions approach zero, because of the long lifetime of CO2.

Further background discussion includes the following:

  • Paleoclimate data and ongoing global changes indicate that ‘slow’ climate feedback processes not included in most climate models, such as ice sheet disintegration, vegetation migration, and GHG release from soils, tundra or ocean sediments, may begin to come into play on time scales as short as centuries or less.
  • Rapid on-going climate changes and realization that Earth is out of energy balance, imply that more warming is ‘in the pipeline’, add urgency to investigation of the dangerous level of GHGs.
  • GHG and surface albedo changes are mechanisms causing the large global climate changes in Fig. 1, but they do not initiate these large climate swings. Instead changes of GHGs and sea level (a measure of ice sheet size) lag temperature change by typically several hundred years.  GHG and surface albedo changes are positive climate feedbacks. Major glacial-interglacial climate swings are instigated by slow changes of Earth’s orbit, especially the tilt of Earth’s spinaxis relative to the orbital plane and the precession of the equinoxes that influences the intensity of summer insolation. Global radiative forcing due to orbital changes is small, but ice sheet size is affected by changes of geographical and seasonal insolation [e.g., ice melts at both poles when the spin-axis tilt increases, and ice melts at one pole when perihelion, the closest approach to the sun, occurs in late spring]. Also a warming climate causes net release of
    GHGs. The most effective GHG feedback is release of CO2 by the ocean, due partly to temperature dependence of CO2 solubility but mostly to increased ocean mixing in a warmer climate, which acts to flush out deep ocean CO2 and alters ocean biological productivity. GHG and surface albedo feedbacks respond and contribute to temperature change caused by any climate forcing, natural or human-made, given sufficient time.
  • Paleoclimate data permit evaluation of long-term sensitivity to specified GHG change. Plotting GHG forcing from ice core data against temperature shows that global climate sensitivity including the slow surface albedo feedback is 1.5°C per W/m2 or 6°C for doubled CO2 (Fig. 2), twice as large as the Charney fast-feedback sensitivity.  This long-term climate sensitivity is relevant to GHGs that remain airborne for centuries-tomillennia. GHG amounts will decline if emissions decrease enough, but, on the other hand, if the globe warms much further, carbon cycle models and empirical data find a positive GHG feedback. Amplification of GHGs is moderate if warming is kept within the range of recent interglacial periods, but larger warming risks greater release of CH4 and CO2 from methane
    hydrates in tundra and ocean sediments.
  • Human-made global climate forcings now prevail over natural forcings. Earth may have entered the Anthropocene era 6-8 ky ago, but the net human-made forcing was small, perhaps slightly negative, prior to the industrial era. GHG forcing overwhelmed
    natural and negative human-made forcings only in the past quarter century.
  • How long does it take to reach equilibrium temperature? Response is slowed by ocean thermal inertia and the time needed for ice sheets to disintegrate.
  • The expanded time scale for the industrial era (Fig. 2) reveals a growing gap between actual global temperature (purple curve) and equilibrium (long-term) temperature response based on the net estimated forcing (black curve). Ocean and ice sheet response times together account for this gap, which is now 2.0°C.  Climate models, which include only fast feedbacks, have additional warming of
    ~0.6°C in the pipeline today because of ocean thermal inertia.  The remaining gap between equilibrium temperature for current atmospheric composition and actual global temperature is ~1.4°C. This further 1.4°C warming to come is due to the slow surface albedo feedback, specifically ice sheet disintegration and vegetation change.
  • Present-day observations of Greenland and Antarctica show increasing surface melt, loss of buttressing ice shelves, accelerating ice streams, and increasing overall mass loss. These rapid changes do not occur in existing ice sheet models, which are missing critical
    physics of ice sheet disintegration. Sea level changes of several meters per century occur in the paleoclimate record, in response to forcings slower and weaker than the present human-made forcing. It seems likely that large ice sheet response will occur within centuries, if human-made forcings continue to increase. Once ice sheet disintegration is underway, decadal changes of sea level may be substantial.
  • GHGs other than CO2 cause climate forcing comparable to that of CO2, but growth of non-CO2 GHGs is falling below IPCC scenarios and the GHG climate forcing change is determined mainly by CO2. Net human-made forcing is comparable to the CO2
    forcing, as non-CO2 GHGs tend to offset negative ice-free aerosol forcing.
  • Theory and models indicate that subtropical regions expand poleward with global warming. Data reveal a 4-degree latitudinal shift already, larger than model predictions, yielding increased aridity in southern United States, the Mediterranean region, Australia and parts of Africa. Impacts of this climate shift support the conclusion that 385 ppm CO2 is already deleterious.
  • Alpine glaciers are in near-global retreat. After a flush of fresh water, glacier loss foretells long summers of frequently dry rivers, including rivers originating in the Himalayas, Andes and Rocky Mountains that now supply water to hundreds of millions of people. Present glacier retreat, and warming in the pipeline, indicate that 385 ppm CO2 is already a threat.
  • Equilibrium sea level rise for today’s 385 ppm CO2 is at least several meters, judging from paleoclimate history. Accelerating mass losses from Greenland and West Antarctica heighten concerns about ice sheet stability.
  • Stabilization of Arctic sea ice cover requires restoration of planetary energy balance. Climate models driven by known forcings yield a present planetary energy imbalance of +0.5-1 W/m2, a result supported by observed increasing ocean heat content. CO2 amount must be reduced to 325-355 ppm to increase outgoing flux 0.5-1 W/m2, if other forcings are unchanged. A further reduced flux, by ~0.5 W/m2, and thus CO2 ~300-325 ppm, may be needed to restore sea ice to its area of 25 years ago.
  • Coral reefs are suffering from multiple stresses, with ocean acidification and ocean warming principal among them. Given additional warming ‘in-the-pipeline’, 385 ppm CO2 is already deleterious.

 

 

 

 

Categories: AGW, climate change, CO2, hansen Tags:

Did global warming stop in 1998? Jim Hansen says NO.

January 15th, 2008 No comments

Inquiring minds might want to take a quick look at what Dr. James E. Hansen of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies has to say:



The year 2007 tied for second warmest in the period of instrumental data, behind the record warmth of 2005, in the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) analysis. 2007 tied 1998, which had leapt a remarkable 0.2°C above the prior record with the help of the “El Nino of the century”. The unusual warmth in 2007 is noteworthy because it occurs at a time when solar irradiance is at a minimum and the equatorial Pacific Ocean is in the cool phase of its natural El Nino – La Nina cycle.


“Global warming stopped in 1998” has become a recent mantra of those who wish to deny the reality of human-caused global warming. The continued rapid increase of the five-year running mean temperature exposes this assertion as nonsense. In reality, global temperature jumped two standard deviations above the trend line in 1998 because the “El Nino of the century” coincided with the calendar year, but there has been no lessening of the underlying warming trend.


Solar irradiance will still be on or near its flat-bottomed minimum in 2008. Temperature tendency associated with the solar cycle, because of the Earth’s thermal inertia, has its minimum delayed by almost a quarter cycle, i.e., about two years. Thus solar change should not contribute significantly to temperature change in 2008.


La Nina cooling in the second half of 2007 (Figure 2) is about as intense as the regional cooling associated with any La Nina of the past half century, as shown by comparison to Plate 9 in Hansen et al. (http://pubs.giss.nasa.gov/docs/1999/1999_Hansen_etal.pdf) and updates to Plate 9 on the GISS web site. Effect of the current La Nina on global surface temperature is likely to continue for at least the first several months of 2008. Based on sequences of Pacific Ocean surface temperature patterns in Plate 9, a next El Nino in 2009 or 2010 is perhaps the most likely timing. But whatever year it occurs, it is a pretty safe bet that the next El Nino will help carry global temperature to a significantly higher level.


Competing with the short-term solar and La Nina cooling effects is the long-term global warming effect of human-made GHGs. The latter includes the trend toward less Arctic sea ice that markedly increases high latitude Northern Hemisphere temperatures. Although sea ice cover fluctuates from year to year, the large recent loss of thick multi-year ice implies that this warming effect at high latitudes should persist.


Based on these considerations, it is unlikely that 2008 will be a year with an unusual global temperature change, i.e., it is likely to remain close to the range of (high) values exhibited in 2002-2007. On the other hand, when the next El Nino occurs it is likely to carry global temperature to a significantly higher level than has occurred in recent centuries, probably higher than any year in recent millennia. Thus we suggest that, barring the unlikely event of a large volcanic eruption, a record global temperature clearly exceeding that of 2005 can be expected within the next 2-3 years.


In other words, despite cooling factors such as the ongoing La Nina and our position at the lowest point on the solar irradiation cycle, global temperatures remain high (and the five-year running average continues to climb) because of anthropogenic forcing factors, and unless there is a major volcanic eruption like Pinatubo in the new few years, we can expect that the next el Nino will bring new global high temperature records.


More here:  http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/mailings/20080114_GISTEMP.pdf

Categories: AGW, climate, hansen, James Hansen Tags:

The Arch-Warmer, James Hansen

November 6th, 2007 No comments

Jim Hansen keeps his articles, commentary and presentations here:


http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/


 It is worth taking a look from time to time.

Categories: climate, hansen Tags: