Archive for January, 2008

April Fools?! WSJ starts an enviro blog!

January 30th, 2008 No comments

“No, your computer isn’t misfiring. Welcome to a new Wall Street Journal blog, Environmental Capital.”

So says the WSJ’s announcement of its new blog, which replaces its Energy Roundup blog and, in addition to continue to track daily energy news, will “go further, analyzing how the energy world, and all of business, is adapting to mounting concern about the planet.”  The blog description states that: “Environmental Capital provides daily news and analysis of the business of the environment. It tracks how growing green concern, particularly over climate change, is roiling established industries and spurring new ones – and how that shift is affecting investors, consumers and the planet.”

What’s up with the WSJ?  Is it growing dotty and green, like its new owner, Rupert Murdoch*?  Or is it struggling for market share as industry changes to reflect a changing environment? 

Inquiring minds want to know!

The new blog is here:

h/t to Andrew Revkin of the New York Times, who warmly welcomes the competition:


* Murdoch, owner of Fox News, has made a personal commitment that his businesses will become climate neutral. In a recent speech, he stated his reason plainly. “I am no scientist. But I do know how to assess a risk — and this one is clear. Climate change poses clear, catastrophic threats. We may not agree on the extent, but we certainly can’t afford the risk of inaction.”

Categories: climate, enviros, Murdoch, nyt, rent-seeking, wsj Tags:

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:

Is Atmospheric CO2 is Already Beyond Safe Limit?

January 22nd, 2008 No comments


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The History of Climate "Alarmism"

January 22nd, 2008 No comments
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Interview about Vampires – Wealthy Elites Misuse Government

January 22nd, 2008 No comments

In an interview, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston refers to “Corporate socialism for the politically connected rich” and discusses how the politically connected rich have gamed the system to line their pockets from the public purse and at the expense of free and open competition – the theme of his new book, Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (And Stick You with the Bill).

The interview is here:


“I hope we shall crush … in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”
–Thomas Jefferson, 1816.


Not Climate Change Welfare, But Capitalism and Free Markets

January 21st, 2008 No comments

… is what poor countries need.  So corrrectly argues Keith Lockitch of the Ayn Rand Institute, in a new article that responds to the agreement, by the delegates of industrialized nations at the December climate change conference in Bali, to activate an “adaptation fund” that would help undeveloped nations cope with projected climate change threats (such as disruptions to agriculture and decreased water availability).

But while thought-provoking, Lockitch fails to explore his chief premises and wastes his insights by falling into enviro-bashing – suggesting that failed development is all enviros’ fault, and that these do-gooders want to waste our tax dollars while keeping the poor in their place.  This might gratify his emotions but generates considerably more heat than light.

Lockitch correctly observes that:

  • The world’s poorest can barely cope with day-to-day survival, let alone with unproven threats projected to occur over decades. Imagine having no electricity or access to clean drinking water. Imagine having to cook your meals over an open fire, breathing smoke and ash every day. Billions around the world survive at a subsistence level because they lack the elements of industrial capitalism that we in the developed world take for granted: power plants, factories, modern roads and hospitals, cars, refrigerators, and countless time- and labor-saving devices.
  • What poor countries need is not climate adaptation welfare … ; what poor countries need is to become rich countries. They need to embrace free markets and private property rights and attract the investment of profit-seeking entrepreneurs to create wealth and drive economic growth.”

This last point is Lockitch’s most powerful, as it is clear that it has been corrupt, kleptocratic governance and the lack of clear and enforceable property rights that has hamstrung development in the third world.

However, Lockitch’s analysis is disappointing in several regards:

1.  He fails to explain that “climate change welfare”, in the form of transfer payments to developing nations and funding of particular “adaptation” projects, is just as likely to be wasted and diverted to the pockets of local elites and First World contractors as have been the past several decades of “development aid”.  Clearly, simply throwing good money after bad is no solution.  It is puzzling that Lockitch fails to affirmatively make his strongest case.

2.  He falls prey to “Enviro Derangement Syndrome” and unfairly lays the suggestion of “climate change welfare” at the feet of enviros, even though it has long been a part of the mainstream discussion that developing nations, while being least prepared to cope with climate change and having made only minor contributions to it, are likely to bear the greatest brunt of climate changes. 

Says Lockitch:  

“If environmentalists were really concerned about people in undeveloped countries, they would be helping them to bring about what they really need: industrial development. … Yet, it is precisely the adoption of industrial capitalism by undeveloped countries that environmentalists reject. Not only do they not want poor countries to become rich, they are trying hard to force rich countries to become poor by capping carbon emissions and abandoning industrialization. Despite their feigned concern for the world’s poor, the measures proposed by environmentalists pose a far greater threat than any possible changes to the earth’s climate.”

The charge of pushing “climate change welfare” as a means of keeping developing nations down is a rather grotesque one to lay at the feet of environmentalists, many of who for decades have been working at helping local groups to protect their property rights against governments and powerful elites.

While Lockitch is certainly correct to note the ambivalence that some enviros express regarding to further development in the poorer nations, such ambivalence reflects real problems, as noted below.  But obviously it is governments, and not enviros, who are running the international climate discussions.  “Environmentalists” are certainly players, but that there are plenty of others with agendas of their own surely can’t escape the thinking man’s attention, can it?

Further, “conservative” and “skeptical” analysts like Bjorn Lomborg ( and Indur Goklany ( have also prominently argued that the wealthy world, in lieu of establishing carbon prices at home, should be making investments in helping the third world to adapt and develop.  Even further, libertarian analysts like Jonathan Adler (law prof. at Case U. and blogger at the Volokh Conspiracy) have argued that since the developed nations are chiefly responsible for climate change, they owe an obligation to compensate the developing world for damages (  Adler’s conclusion flows directly from Lockean property rights principles.

In addition, Lockitch’s assertion that “the measures proposed by environmentalists pose a far greater threat than any possible changes to the earth’s climate” is unexplained and unsupported – what measures?  How are they a threat to the world’s poor?  The general shape of the international discussion (and certainly under Kyoto) is that the developed nations will act first, to be followed by developing nations as their wealth (and climate contributions) grow.  How are unilateral actions by wealthy nations to address climate change hamstringing the poor?  The chief policy tool discussed so far – pricing carbon emissions in the developed world – should dampen demand for fossil fuels in the wealthier countries, thereby dampening price pressure and resulting in a net price subsidy to developing nations.  In response to such measures, industry in wealthy nations will develop more efficient energy technologies and reduce the costs of such technologies, for the indirect benefit of the developing nations, which will not shoulder any burdens for their growing carbon emissions until later.  Aren’t these net subsidies to poorer nations?

And far from “forc[ing] rich countries to become poor”, figuring out how to manage a global commons like the atmosphere, while it may have the effect of imposing a cost on the release of carbon, is basically aimed at privatising externalities, with the intention of increasing the efficiency of private transactions and net wealth.  Climate change is, of course, just one of a broad range of pervasive problems that occur when markets encounter resources that are not clearly or effectively owned or managed.

3.  Most importantly, while Lockitch correctly diagnoses the illness – poor countries need to “embrace free markets and private property rights and attract the investment of profit-seeking entrepreneurs to create wealth and drive economic growth” – he simply fails to address what wealthy nations SHOULD be doing, if anything, to assist the cure.  This, of course, is the main dodge, because Lockitch fails to own up to the true difficulties involved in trying to help the developing nations. 

Trying to build “soft” infrastructure in the form of rule of law and property rights (ending kleptocracy and theft of “public” resources) is tremendously difficult – perhaps a problem that is even more difficult than the wealthy nations deciding how to share the pain of GHG reductions (as I noted in comments to a post on Amazonian deforestation here:, the wealthy nations have a hard enough time doing the easiest things to speed development of poorer nations, which is simply to open import markets by removing domestic tariffs, import restrictions and subsidies.  Rather, it seems that the richer nations have to feed their more powerful elites first, while hamstringing competition from poorer nations in products for which they should be able to exploit a comparative advantage.  If Lockitch was truly interested in helping the poor of developing nations, you’d think he’d note how enduring rent-seeking at home serves to keep the poorer nations down.

And if the wealthy nations should do something to help poorer nations, which seems implicit in Lockitch’s analysis (if not conventional aid, then aid to build soft, governance infrastructure), then can’t some of those efforts easily dovetail with efforts to establish carbon pricing in the wealthy countries?  Why couldn’t aid budgets be funded by carbon taxes at home, for example?  And can’t demand for “carbon credits” help to establish incentives to improve governance infrastructure in poorer nations?  In other words, “mitigation” (efforts to limit climate change) in developed nations need not conflict with any efforts to help poorer nations “adapt” to climate change or otherwise become wealthier.

4.  Lockitch asserts that the concern of enviros for the world’s poor is “feigned”, but this is a cheap and unproductive ad hominem – and one that can easily be turned around.  While some enviros may not understand the institutional sicknesses that hinder development, this illness has been fed much more by governments and corporations at home than by enviros, many of who have been involved in the long, hard effort to build local infrastructure and to protect traditional private and community property rights. 

On the other hand, just what is it that evidences that Lockitch himself – or other skeptics – have any “real” concern for the world’s poor?  Does the wheel of this concern ever hit the road, or is it simply spinning noisily, to welcoming nods from  domestic special interests who benefit from the continuation of climate externalities?

A key insight of Austrian economics relating to the environment is that man does not harm the environment per se, but that social welfare or efficiency problems arise because of interpersonal conflict associated with irresolvable inefficiencies – inefficiencies that cannot find a solution in the entrepreneurial workings of the market process because of institutional defects associated with the lack of clearly defined or well enforced property rights.  (See Roy Cordato,  It is both ironic and disappointing that many Austrians and others similarly minded, rather than focussing on the difficult task of conflict resolution in the case of the climate, seem to prefer the emotional rush of conflict itself over analysis and bridge- and consensus-building.  But this is nothing new (and is certainly tempting, given our tribal nature)( 

No one owns the world’s atmosphere, so all are entitled to their opinions about managing it.  And clearly the world continues to struggle with the rapid exploitation of other unowned, “public” or poorly defined or protected physical resources, in the face of growing populations, growing markets and technological advances that lower the costs of access to the commons.  I suggest that rather than ad hominems, we would be better served by frankly acknowledging problems of this nature and starting to build shared understandings.  The writings of Elinor Ostrom are a good place to start:

In honestly engaging on these issues, it is perfectly appropriate – nay, essential – to be aware of the self-interests of various participants and to caution against the problems of rent-seeking, “rent-farming” by politicians, and frequently unaligned incentives of bureaucracies.

5.  Finally, this is a quibble, but Lockitch is wrong to assert thay developing nations need to “industrialize”.  What they need to do is to better govern themselves by protecting investments, markets and human rights, and then getting out of the way of their people.  What results will be these countries’ own path, which will naturally differ from Western industrialization (leapfrogging it in some ways).

Harold Bloom: "The Fall of America"

January 18th, 2008 3 comments

There’s a short but good interview here of Harold Bloom, Yale literature professor and cultural critic (update: NOT to be confused with the long late Allan Bloom, author of Closing of the American Mind; my bad!):

Categories: Harold Bloom, state, war 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. ( 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:

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