Archive for the ‘pielke jr.’ Category

Republicans (Sen. Lindsey Graham & others) give Dems a climate deal? In exchange for streamlining for nukes, "clean coal" subsidies, offshore drilling, carbon price ceiling & import taxes

October 12th, 2009 No comments

Senate Dems, who lack sufficient votes on their own to approve a cap-and-trade bill over a possible Republican fillibuster, have sought help from sympathetic Republicans, who have apparently used this leverage to broaden the bill and to extract key concessions on various issues; such  concessions are sure to please a wide range of lobbying groups, and it looks like there may be a good chance that they will be sufficient to slip a cap-and-trade bill past opposition from coal-producing and -burning states.

The framework of the bi-partisan package was spelled out on Sunday, October11, in a joint NYT op-ed, “Yes We Can (Pass Climate Change Legislation)”,  by liberal Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) and conservative Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

While details are sketchy (and details sure to still be fought over), it looks like Pres. Obama will have, if not final legislation, then at least high prospects for a cap-and-trade bill that he can use for the negotiations that will start in a few weeks in Copenhagen (over the shape of a global climate treaty to replace the expiring Kyoto Protocol).

Excerpts from the Kerry-Graham op-ed are here (emphasis added; with a few comments in brackets):

Many Democrats insist on tough new standards for curtailing the
carbon emissions
that cause global warming. Many Republicans remain
concerned about the cost to Americans relative to the environmental
benefit and are adamant about breaking our addiction to foreign sources
of oil
[Republicans are so easily jerked around over “energy security”].

However, we refuse to accept the argument that the
United States cannot lead the world in addressing global climate
change. [but do China, India and others want to follow?] We are also convinced that we have found both a framework for
climate legislation to pass Congress and the blueprint for a
clean-energy future that will revitalize our economy, protect current
jobs and create new ones, safeguard our national security and reduce
pollution. …

First, we agree that climate change is real and threatens our
economy and national security. That is why we are advocating aggressive
reductions in our emissions of the carbon gases
that cause climate
change. We will minimize the impact on major emitters through a
market-based system that will provide both flexibility and time for big
polluters to come into compliance without hindering global
competitiveness or driving more jobs overseas. [cap-and-trade]

Second, while we
invest in renewable energy sources like wind and solar, we must also
take advantage of nuclear power, our single largest contributor of
emissions-free power. Nuclear power needs to be a core component of
electricity generation if we are to meet our emission reduction
targets. We need to jettison cumbersome regulations that have stalled
the construction of nuclear plants in favor of a streamlined permit
that maintains vigorous safeguards while allowing utilities to
secure financing for more plants. We must also do more to encourage
serious investment in research and development to find solutions to our
nuclear waste problem

Third, climate change legislation is an
opportunity to get serious about breaking our dependence on foreign
. For too long, we have ignored potential energy sources off our
coasts and underground. Even as we increase renewable electricity
generation, we must recognize that for the foreseeable future we will
continue to burn fossil fuels. To meet our environmental goals, we must
do this as cleanly as possible. The United States should aim to become
the Saudi Arabia of clean coal.
For this reason, we need to provide new
financial incentives for companies that develop carbon capture and

In addition, we are committed to
seeking compromise on additional onshore and offshore oil and gas
— work that was started by a bipartisan group in the Senate
last Congress. Any exploration must be conducted in an environmentally
sensitive manner and protect the rights and interests of our coastal

Fourth, we cannot sacrifice another job to competitors
overseas. China and India are among the many countries investing
heavily in clean-energy technologies that will produce millions of
jobs. There is no reason we should surrender our marketplace to
countries that do not accept environmental standards. For this reason,
we should consider a border tax on items produced in countries that
avoid these standards
. This is consistent with our obligations under
the World Trade Organization and creates strong incentives for other
countries to adopt tough environmental protections
.[probably just a signal to China & India; any bill would have to leave flexibility to the Administration.]

Finally, we
will develop a mechanism to protect businesses — and ultimately
consumers — from increases in energy prices. The central element is the
establishment of a floor and a ceiling for the cost of emission
This will also safeguard important industries while they
make the investments necessary to join the clean-energy era. We
recognize there will be short-term transition costs associated with any
climate change legislation, costs that can be eased. But we also
believe strongly that the long-term gain will be enormous. …

If Congress does not pass legislation
dealing with climate change, the administration will use the
Environmental Protection Agency to impose new regulations. Imposed
regulations are likely to be tougher and they certainly will not
include the job protections and investment incentives we are proposing. 

The message to those who have stalled for years is clear:
killing a Senate bill is not success; indeed, given the threat of
agency regulation, those who have been content to make the legislative
process grind to a halt would later come running to Congress
in a panic
to secure the kinds of incentives and investments we can pass today.
Industry needs the certainty that comes with Congressional action.

Joe Romm on the left applauds the proposed deal (though there is sure to be disagreement about support for coal, nuclear power and offshore oil & gas exploration), and Bill Scher says “Sen. Lindsey Graham Crosses the Climate Rubicon” and thus “made a deal all but inevitable”.

On the right, Michelle Malkin reports that she was right to warn about Republican turn-coats, the National Review `s Gore-haters are dispirited, and MasterResource, the coal-funded “free market” energy blog by libertarian Rob Bradley, has nothing to say.

Political scientist Roger Pielke, Jr. notes the lack of precision and suggests that Republicans now have the upper hand in negotiating the bill.

More reaction and background that readers may find useful is here:

Let’s Try This Again: Are There GOP Senators Who Will Back The Climate Bill? (Bill Scher, Campaign for America`s Future, October 7, 2009)
Senators link drilling with cap-and-trade (Houston Chronicle, October 6, 2009)
Is Lieberman at it again? (Politico,


On the Climate Bill Fence: How Sen. Graham Got There by Bill Chameides (Dean of Duke U`s school of the environment) | Aug 27, 2009

– More on other senators by Bill Chameides

From a libertarian perspective, I ask other libertarians and those on the right whether it is not too late to get a leaner climate/energy bill, that would:
  • instead of a cap-and-trade program (that hands out emissions permits free to existing fossil fuel users, with costs being borne regressively by energy users), use upstream carbon taxes, with the revenues rebated per capita to all Americans;
  • allow limited use of offsets in lieu of taxes (effectiveness of eligible offsets to be insured for a period of 50 years) by Lloyd`s of London);
  • eliminate subsidies for all energy technologies (including ethanol and biofuels)
  • provide that at least half of all revenues taken in by the federal
    government and state government for offshore oil & gas leases and for coal leases will be paid per capita to citizens (and state residents);
  • allow nuclear fuel reprocessing and breeder plants, while eliminating federal insurance for nuke plants;
  • eliminate the grandfathering of dirty coal-burning plants under the Clean Air Act;
  • allow immediate tax deduction of a ll capital expenditures (eliminating multi-year amortization limits);
  • eliminate mandates that public utilities increase use of green, renewable fuels, in favor of the removal of antitrust protection for the grant of local monopolies (and other measure that introduce real competition into the retail power sector), and application of Commerce Clause protection to those who want to sell power out-of-state;
  • establishes energy efficiency targets, as opposed to mandates, with awards to category winners, and publishes results;
  • privatize the TVA (by distributing shares per capita to all who are served by TVA);
  • publish information on the locations of coal fly-ash storage sites;
  • make it clear that federal and state licenses for energy facilities and mines are not licenses to pollute, do not extend any immunity for actual damages caused, and do not prevent injunctions for facilities identified as causing particular damage; and
  • to dampen NIMBYism, establish compensation schedules for federally-licensed facilities, and encourage states to do the same (based on distance and like wind and water flow).

Overlooked by those warmed by climate rhetoric ("alarmist" or "denialist") – the fact that our most important commons have NO property rights rules

March 12th, 2009 1 comment

Roger Pielke, Jr., a political scientist who rather persistently blames politically naive climate scientists for the very natural fact that there is a politicized debate over climate policy,  posted last week at his Prometheus website a guest commentary by Michael Zimmerman, Professor and Director, Center for the Humanities and Arts at the University of Colorado.  Zimmerman’s post, “Coal Trains, Death Camps, and Recent Anti-Modernism,” which only recently came to my attention, apparently addressed politically-oriented remarks and actions by climate scientist Jim Hansen.  “Apparently”, I say, because the essay itself has been taken down by the author in light of factual errors and other criticism made of it, both at Prometheus and around the blogosphere (which sometimes does not lap so strongly at my distant shores).

But having finally been drawn toward Roger’s site by the fuss and taking a look through comments, I felt compelled to make a few comments, despite my inability to read the actual post.  I felt particularly struck by the commonness of a refrain we are hearing from various pundits who prefer to question the good will or sanity of environmentalists over the harder work of engaging in a good faith examination and discussion of the underlying institutional problem of ALL “environmental” disputes:  namely, a lack of property rights and/or a means to enforce them. 

We can see this not only in George Will‘s recent piece about sea ice, but also in the ongoing series of posts by the supposedly “free market” libertarian Rob Bradley and his co-bloggers at MasterResource.

With that as background, here is what I posted at Roger’s (emphasis added):

I’m sorry I missed the fun; did anyone happen to archive Mr. Zimmerman’s work, apparently so flawed that it required a withdrawal rather than an update or two?

Roger, I note the criticisms of you and Mr. Zimmerman at Things Break, and have to say I agree with them: Perhaps Mr. Zimmerman has never carefully read the man whom he attacks in his piece, but you have, and it’s crystal clear that Hansen has ALWAYS been talking about coal’s relationship to species extinctions, not coal’s impact on humans. I’m surprised that you would post such an obvious misreading of Hansen.

I think I can agree with tomfid and Len Ornstein without the benefit of reading Zimmerman’s piece. It’s clear that we have no ability to instantly replace coal, but it’s also clear that even without the climate change issue, coal is not even now bearing its environmental costs – witness the roughly $1 billion TVA flyash spill, the 25,000 or so annual deaths that the American Lung Assn attributes to coal, etc – w/o even getting to China and India. Investors make profits, while losses are shifted to others. There’s hardly anything conservative or socially beneficial in that business model.

It’s also very clear that, far from wanting to return to a golden age, environmentalists (largely a well-to-do/wealthy slice of America) have quite legitimate concerns about the future, and about our uncontrolled, widespread and large-scale experiments with our planet. Find me someone ranting about “Malthusians” or somesuch, and I’ll show you someone who doesn’t understand – or refuses to acknowledge – the difference between wealth-creating markets based on private property / contracts protected by law, and the tragedy of the commons situations that result when there are NO property rights (atmosphere, oceans) or when the pressures of markets swamp indigenous hunter-gather community rules.

Just look at how the oceans are being trashed and strip-mined of fish, for an alternate example. It is a first order priority of mankind to grapple with the problem of managing our commons, before we irreversibly impoverish them. For the atmosphere, the handwriting has long been on the wall, though those who profit by externalizing risks have done a pretty good job of scribbling all over it.

Of course, while on the one hand the “skeptics” manage to so completely ignore their supposedly much greater understanding of markets, on the other hand, we hear very little talk about markets from most of the enviro pundits.   Even if scientists have a right to be worried, that doesn’t really tell us what we should do. 

So what’s the deal?  Here’s a perfect opportunity for skeptics to educate the supposedly market ignorant, but they refuse, preferring to focus instead on why concerned scientists must be wrong, how concerns about climate have become a matter of an irrational “religious” faith, or that those raising their concerns are “misanthropes” or worse.

Both sides, it seems, prefer to fight – and to see themselves as right and the “others” as evil – rather than to reason. 

While we should not regret that we cannot really constrain human nature very well, at least Austrians (a breed of libertarian-linked economists, for any visitors not already familiar with these pages or the great LvMI organization that hosts them) ought to be paying attention to the inadequate institutional framework that is not only poisoning the political atmosphere, but posing risks to important globally and regionally shared open-access commons like the atmosphere and oceans (which are probably are in much more immediate and grave threat than the climate).  And they also ought to recognize that there are important economic interests that profit from the current institutional framework and have quite deliberately encouraged the current culture war.

(One such economically interested party, Exxon, has recently stopped funding one culture war outfit, Rob Bradley‘s climate “skeptic” shop – “MasterResource” – which remains dedicated to trumpeting relentlessly pro-coal talking points – e.g., civilization will collapse if we try to substitute nuclear, gas or other technologies for coal, or try to make coal investors pay for the climate and other environmental risks that they shift to society as a whole!)


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.”


[Update: Comments added] Iain Murray: Another libertarian makes climate policy proposals!

June 17th, 2008 No comments

Thank goodness!  Another libertarian/conservative (see my previous posts on Bruce Yandle and Gene Callahan, and see Jon Adler`s 2000 piece) wants to seize the day and promote useful policies in the face of popular/legislative concerns over climate change.

This time, it’s Iain Murray, the CEI policy analyst, polemicist and sharp-tongued scourge of enviros (his book, The Really Inconvenient Truths, and ongoing “Planet Gore” posts at NRO blame enviros for many problems).

While Iain helpfully spells out on his blog a number of areas where deregulation is needed, he also surprising provides quite an extensive (and expensive) list of statist, big-government initiatives.  The statist agenda Murray suggests is certainly worth considering, but where have all the true libertarians – the ones who think that government is best ignored, and not redirected – gone?

Iain’s proposals come from a longer blog post, as part of a dialog with Roger Pielke, Jr.  who has recently made some policy proposals of his own.  Here are Iain`s proposal`s, with a thought or two from me in brackets (and some formatting tweaks to enhance readability):


Here’s what I think a global warming policy acceptable to most conservatives would comprise of.

Title I: Technology & Mitigation

a) Remove regulatory barriers to innovation and deployment

– remove barriers to new or upgraded facilities that would reduce emissions eg New Source Review

– remove regulatory performance standards that act as a barrier to developing better performance

– remove barriers to developing & introducing biotechnology that could significantly increase food supplies in the developing world and create greater yield per acre in the US, allowing cropland to return to nature

– remove barriers to developing & introducing nanotechnology

[Um, Iain, could you be a little more clear about what barriers you specifically have in mind, so we can examine them more closely and help push on them?  Are these different from allowing accelerated or immediate depreciation, or lowering capital gains taxes?]

b) Reform and expand federal energy R&D program (this would form and should be sold as a major part of the “mitigation effort” of the program)

– replace current federal grant system with a program based on prizes, thereby removing political patronage, obviating the “picking winners” problem and removing what amount to subsidies to established energy firms

[I`m with Iain on this, and it deserves to be said more loudly and with as much support as possible.  We need a spotlight on our Congresscritters and regulators if we want to have any hope of controlling the wasteful, great pork machine.]

– expand energy R&D to $6-7 billion, paid for by budget cuts elsewhere (eg by privatizing Amtrak) and use “matching funds” program to begin to attract private money

[How is this consistent with Iain`s previous point?  Sure, his proposal is careful to offset new programs with cuts from others, but how likely is that?  In any event, why should the government be choosing what energy technologies to favor?]

c) Institute geo-engineering research program separate from energy R&D and climate science research program. Concentrate climate research in areas of improving predictive capacity of models.

[Is Iain implying that the problem is so urgent that geo-engineering is going to be required, and that government should do it?  And why should government, rather than the private sector, be working on improving the predictive capability of models?]

d) Abolish all subsidies to energy companies, reducing emissions quickly without introducing carbon tax

[It would be nice if Iain could clarify what subsidies he has have in mind.  And if the government should do ANYTHING other than deregulate, I have have a hard time understanging why CEI does not simply come out in favor of fully-rebated carbon taxes, like AEI and others]

e) Repeal corn ethanol program in its entirety as likely to increase GHG emissions and contributing to increased hunger; redirect subsidies to new energy R&D program

f) Abolish barriers to sugar ethanol imports

[I agree on the above two]


Title II: Adaptation

a) Institute Adaptation Fund/Program to be based on successful AIDS/communicable disease aid program to fund worthwhile “no regrets” adaptation efforts in developing world; increase contribution to malaria control in the disease project.

[Um, how much money are we talking here, Iain?  Are you conceding that the West somehowhas an obligation to help developing countries – which are expected to bear the brunt of climate change costs, even as they are least prepared to adapt?  Or is providing such help in our self-interest?  And what gives you any confidence that such development assistance will actually make any difference, and not be wasted or siphoned off by elites?]

b) Institute domestic adaptation research program to assess feasibility of projects to stem effects of sea level rise etc

[Why is this a task for government?  Do we think government will handle these programs better than the Army Corps of Engineers handles levees and other moral-hazard generating boodoggles?]

c) Abolish “moral hazard” federal programs like coastal flood insurance etc that create incentives to live in/develop vulnerable areas

[Fine, but see b)]

d) Free up transportation market

– reform Air Traffic Control system to allow ‘free flight’ and ‘green landings,’ saving up to 25% of airline emissions

– remove regulatory barriers to highway construction to reduce congestion and associated “wasted” emissions

[Not sure what barriers you`re referring to, Iain.  How about getting the government out of the road-building and owning businesses completely, and letting private firms build, own and operate them, including levying market-clearing fees that will speed traffic and manage capacity?]

– reform zoning regulations to reduce barriers to telecommuting


– reduce barriers to construction of heavy rail infrastructure to allow more shipping by rail and reduce highway congestion

[What barriers?  If we simply stopped public subsidies to highway construction we`d likely see great rail demand, but what “barriers” are there that we need government to do anything about?  There are lots of underused rights-of-way already, aren`t there?]

e) Free up electricity market

– remove regulatory barriers to new construction of nuclear plants; allow reprocessing or open Yucca Mountain

[Perhaps we should start by removing the insurance subsidy for nuclear power?  Eliminating the NRC isn`t going to happen, so you need to be more specific.  And why should citizens be paying for permanent waste storage, instead of the utlities?]

– eliminate local and national monopoly franchises

– remove barriers to distributed generation such as microturbines

[I agree on the above two]

f) Free up domestic energy exploration

– End restrictions in ANWR and OCS as an energy security measure

[The key is to end politicized control, not to run roughshod over conservationists.  If we are serious about ANWR, we ought to simply cede it to the Sierra Club or The Nature Conservancy.  They would certainly pump from it AND protect it, and use the revenues to support more important conservation projects.   As for the OCS, exploration is limited only because states don`t want to bear the burden of pollution risks with a slim share of revenues.  With more generous revenue sharing, more OCS development will occur.]

– Allow exploitation of Rocky Mountains gas reserves etc as viable competitor to coal

[This is already happening, at the expense of ranchers and other rights owners, with inadequate compensation for damages. Developers should bear all risks of environmental claims.]

Title III: Resiliency

a) Set up Global Resiliency body to incorporate/replace Millennium Challenge Corporation and concentrate on spreading property rights, rule of law etc around world. Utilize Hernando de Soto’s expertise in setting this up. Particular responsibilities should include encouraging institutional reforms on disease, food supplies, water supplies, coastal defense and biodiversity.

[Kinda thin on justification, detail and burden-sharing Iain.  What grounds do you have for thinking that ANY state-directed “development” programs will not be hijacked by elites or mismanaged by bureacrats?  Are you becoming a soft-hearted enviro/liberal?]

b) Create a Global Free Trade Area by a provision allowing GFTA members free access to US markets on the condition that they reciprocate to the US and other GFTA members. USTR would certify. GFTA membership would be granted on the basis of an objective analysis of the country’s commitment to free trade (eg Heritage Index). Tspotlighthis will enprogramscousomehow hasboondogglesrage trade liberalization and tutilitieshereby resiliency.

c) Expand Asia-Pacific Partnership to encourage and facilitate technology transfer to developing world.

[Kinda thin on justification, detail and burden-sharing Iain.  What grounds do you have for thinking that ANY state-directed “development” programs will not be hijacked by elites or mismanaged by bureaucrats?  Are you becoming bureaucratsa soft-hearted enviro/liberal?]

Climate change, is democracy enough?

January 28th, 2008 No comments

So runs the title of a recent op-ed by David Shearman (professor of medicine in Australia) who recently co-authored the book The Climate Change Challenge and the Failure of Democracy, with Joseph Wayne Smith (a US lawyer), in a series from the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy. 

The op-ed and the book make a muddle-headed case for the need for “authoritarian decisions based on consensus science”; the op-ed applauds the recently announced decision of the Chinese government to ban plastic bags as an example of the type of decisve action on climate change that authoritarian governments seem more capable of than Western democracies.  The op-ed is here:; a link to the book description is here:

Somehow this caught the eye of Roger Pielke, Jr., a political scientist and climate change commentator at the University of Colorado/Boulder.  Roger has summarized Shearman and Smith’s thesis and his reactions to it over at his Prometheus blog;  I copy below my comments that I posted at Roger’s blog:

Roger, perhaps a more appropriate and fairer title would have been “the naivete of experts”.

David Shearman sees a problem that he thinks needs urgent action (on which he might be absolutely right), but he despairs when he sees the nations of the world – and primarily the wealthy Western democracies – dawdling, and suggests that it is liberal democracy itself that is at fault. Is he wrong to be frustrated? I’d say not. However, Shearman clearly misunderstand the reasons for the delay, which lie not with the nature of democracy or its supposed deficiencies vis-a-vis an authoritarian order, but simply with the nature of our interaction with the atmosphere.

Simply, the problem is a classic tragedy of the commons resulting from the incentives that face multiple users of a resource that none of them own and from which they cannot easily exclude others. The current lack of process has nothing at all to do with the political structure of any of the countries of the world, but rather with the difficulty that all nations face in reaching a shared understanding of the problem and in negotiating an enforceable agreement of how to balance potential collective future gains and future costs in controlling emissions of and bringing down atmospheric levels of GHGs. Even if all the countries of the world were authoritarian, they would still have the same difficulty in reaching a joint decision, and none of Shearman’s wishful thinking would make things any different.

Of course, form of government matters in various ways, all of which cut against Dr. Shearman. Like the natural world, governments themselves are a form of commons in which different interest groups compete. While the Western governments are still plagued by rent-seeking from powerful insiders and elites who more or less effectively manipulate politicians and bureaucrats to obtain gains, authoritarian systems are orders of magnitude worse. Pollution problems in dictatorships are much worse, because the elites can live by fiat and have very little effective check from others in terms of property rights or laws/regulations. , and Shearman should be embarrassed to wish any of that kind of corruption on anyone.

But perhaps Shearman has a slight glimpse of the real problem, which is that there are no effective owners of the atmosphere, and thus no one (or even a few) who can say hey! I like the world’s thermostat right where it is, any I’m willing to suffer the consequences of paying more for sequestration, conservation or different energy sources.

Instead, we are stuck with the twin problems of international negotiations between a multiplicity of governments that have different interests (with no one from the future voting) and, across all nations, domestic struggles between interest groups to persuade government to choose the policies that benefit their interest group the most.

Shearman’s not wrong to speak out, but he needs to do a little more reading on externalities and prisoners’ dilemmas. 

Categories: climate, commons, pielke jr. Tags: