Archive for July, 2008

Ron Bailey/Reason: Gore’s proposal to generate all power carbon-free in 10 years requires trillion$ on nukes

July 30th, 2008 6 comments

On July 17, Al Gore challenged our nation to produce “100 percent of our electricity from renewable energy and truly carbon-free sources within 10 years“.

Ron Bailey, science correspondent of Reason online, has examined whether Gore’s proposal is at all practically achievable.  Bailey reviews the main options mentioned by Gore (solar, wind and geothermal) and the chief option implied but unmentionable – nuclear power – and concludes that low ball estimates of the costs for realizing Gore’s target are on the scale of $1 trillion to $6 trillion, with nuclear being by far the cheapest.  Concludes Bailey:

Curiously, nowhere does the “N-word”—nuclear—appear in Gore’s speech. Currently, 104 nuclear power plants generate about 20 percent of America’s electricity. Once a nuclear plant is up and running, it is essentially carbon-free. Westinghouse claims that it can build a third generation 1,000 megawatt nuclear power plant for around $1.4 billion. Assuming this estimate is right, all U.S. carbon-emitting electricity generation plants could be replaced with nuclear power at a cost of about $1.2 trillion by 2018.

“Of course there are those who will tell us this can’t be done,” warned Gore. I am not one of those people. I am sure it can be done. But before embarking on his “generational challenge to re-power America,” I would like the former vice-president to sketch out a few more details on how it’s going to be paid for and who’s going to be stuck with the bill.

These numbers – roughly on the scale of our out-of-pocket and committed costs for our Iraq and Afghanistan adventures (largely corporate welfare for the defense/logistics industry, good friends of Republicans) – help us get a bit of a handle on the opportunity costs of those wars, which have undermined rather than improved our security and jacked up oil costs.

Bailey also comments on the costs of shifting our automobile fleet to one that is powered by electricity.

Bailey’s piece is here: “Al Gore’s Curiously Cost-Free Plan to Re-Power America“. 


More carbon tax advocacy, this time from Jerry Taylor/Cato, in a piece criticizing Pickens’ plan

July 30th, 2008 3 comments

Jerry Taylor, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, published a pithy criticism in last week’s Financial Post of T. Boone Pickens’ plan to get wind subsidies and other favors from Congress;  said Taylor:  “Virtually every claim made by T. Boone Pickens to justify the lavish subsidies he is seeking for his wind energy investments is flat wrong.”

Jerry also had a few interesting things to say about about carbon taxes:

Fourth, if reducing our carbon footprint is the goal, then the most direct and efficient means of reducing that footprint is to impose a tax on carbon emissions and then leave it to the market to sort out how to most efficiently order affairs under those new prices. Maybe it will mean windmills and CNG [compressed natural gas], but maybe not. Perhaps it will mean more nuclear power, new hydrogen-powered fuel cells, “clean” coal, the emergence of cellulosic ethanol, battery-powered cars or hybrids — or a continuation of the existing energy base but less consumption as a consequence.

(emphasis added)

I agree with Jerry, but note that Jerry he has not explicitly accepted that reducing our carbon footprint SHOULD be a goal.  Rather, he has simply concluded that, should such a goal be adopted,  that carbon taxes are the best policy tool.  And that might be as much as we can expect, from the time being, from a long-time advocate of limited government such as Jerry.

Jerry Taylor joins Ron Bailey (Reason), George Will, AEI and a long list of others in favoring carbon taxes over any other AGW-directed policies.


Bootleggers and Baptists in Texas and DC: Texas sells Pickens eminent domain powers and wind power transmission rights for his personal 8-acre "water district", while Sierra Club helps to push wind subsidies

July 30th, 2008 2 comments

[Update:  David Zetland at his Aquanomics blog has linked to my piece, astutely noting that if one applies Bruce Yandle`s “Bootleggers and Baptists” metaphor to Pickens’ campaign for wind power and transmission subsidies, Pickens as Bootlegger now has the Sierra Club (as the Baptists) dancing to his tune.  I`ve updated my title accordingly.]

I previously reported on T. Boone Pickens’ plan to suck down half of the water from that part of the Ogallala aquifer that underlies the Texas Panhandle, sell it to Dallas and put the money in his pocket – other users of the aquifer be damned.  Pickens’ has subsequently launched a publicity blitz to get the federal government to subsidize his wind farm power scheme.

It’s now becoming clear how Pickens’ water plan and wind plan are tied together, greased by corrupt Republican legislators in Texas and the apparent willingness of environmentalist leaders – anxious for “clean” energy, to turn a blind eye to Pickens’ water plan.

First, let me note that Pickens and the Republican-dominated Texas legislature have just put on a marvelous display of how government, in Texas at least, is by the rich and for the rich, who are allowed to ride roughshod over the “property rights” of others.  

Last year the Texas legislature, greased by $1.2 million in campaign contributions by Pickens over the previous election cycle, modified its laws who can create a “fresh water supply district” that has powers of eminent domain – powers to forcibly take land from others –  and authorized such water districts to use their rights of way to carry power transmission lines.  Such water districts are authorized to raise cheap money by issuing tax-exempt bonds.  By securing rule changes in his favor, a Pickens-controlled district covering eight acres in the Panhandle acquired the power to issue tax-exempt bonds and to condemn private land for a pipeline and power transmission lines all the way to Dallas.  In Texas, money talks and money rules – and “property rights” means nothing more than the right to collect reasonable value in compensation for what the rich want to take from you.  According to one report,

Going into the 2006 election that preceded this legislative fix, Pickens personally contributed $1.2 million to state candidates and political committees. Recipients of his largesse included each of the 16 senators who faced election in 2006 and one third of the 150-member House. Republicans received 94 percent of all the money that Pickens doled out to state candidates.

Promptly upon the changes in law, Pickens deeded eight acres in Roberts County to five of his employees – two of them the only residents/locally-registered voters within the parcel – to form a water district, which was then approved by Roberts County last November.  Before the change in law, as reported by Business Week, “a district’s five elected supervisors needed to be registered voters living within the boundaries of the district. Now, they only had to own land in the district; they could live and vote wherever.”   In the past, petitions to create a water district required the support of a majority of the registered voters within the proposed district’s borders; the recent changes allow a district to be formed with the backing of whoever owns the majority of the appraised land value within its proposed borders.

As further reported by Business Week,

On Nov. 6, Roberts County held an election to decide whether to form the new district. Only two people were qualified to take part: Alton and Lu Boone [the couple who manage the Pickens’ ranch from which the eight acres were sold]. The vote was unanimous. With that, Pickens won the right to issue tax-free bonds for his pipeline and electrical lines as well as the extraordinary power to claim land across swaths of the state.

The water district also approved “$101 million in revenue bonds to acquire the rights-of-way through up to 12 counties for delivering water and wind-generated electricity.”  Earlier this years, the new water district and Mesa Power (Pickens’ power company) together sent letters to about 1,100 landowners along part of the proposed 320-mile path through 11 Panhandle and Central Texas counties, telling them their “property may be affected” as the water district obtains rights of way for construction of the underground pipeline and aboveground electrical transmission lines, and hosted a number of public meetings telling landowners in Pickens’ way how “fair” Pickens wants to be with them as he lays pipe and power lines across 250 foot swathes of their land.

Construction of the pipeline and transmission lines is expected to begin in 2009, to the tune of roughly $2 billion each.  Pickens is set to spend $12 billion on the world’s largest wind farm in the Texas panhandle, while he expects his water investment in the area — around a $100 million so far – will earn him about $1 billion.

A second, and interesting, aspect of Pickens’ development plans is that Pickens has seemed to have found a way to buy off environmental opposition to his unsustainable, get-rich-quick-at-the-expense-of-others water mining scheme by combining it with an aggressive development of wind power – also turning environmentalists into a foil for his bid for public subsidies for wind power.  Carl Pope, executive for the Sierra Club – which has for the past few years prominently opposed Pickens’ Ogallala reservoir development plans – now jets about with Pickens and lauds him as his new “friend”; Pickens, says Pope, “is out to save America.”  It’s just that Pickens is going to need the help of government and taxpayers: “How to recruit the necessary public support? This would take, it seems to me, a government mandate to get the distribution network in place. … Pickens says he has a game plan, and will announce it next week.”

We obviously need big ideas and big investments, both to deal with water shortages and to replace dirty and GHG emitting energy usage; Pickens’ plans may offer us a way forward.  But we definitely don’t need developers like Pickens using government to force these projects down our throats (and misusing government authority to take property from unconsenting landowners) or to get public subsidies.  Let his plans stand on their own two feet, and let him (and the Sierra Club) keep his hands off of my wallet.  I am also not in favor of water plans that accelerate a race to draw down shared but unowned resources – has the Sierra Club really changed it’s stance on this?

Pickens, the Republicans in Texas and the Sierra Club should all be ashamed of their behavior.

h/t Steven Milloy (it is a bit interesting that FOX, which was a big fan of Pickens when he funded the Swift Boaters, seems to be turning aginst him now.)

Breaking the impasse on ANWR and OCS exploration and development Part II; a response to Bob Murphy

July 29th, 2008 No comments

On the main Mises blog, Bob Murphy has just advocated opening ANWR and the OCS to oil and natural gas exploration and development, for the purpose of providing “rapid relief at the pump”.  As my comment has been held up – it only had two links for Pete’s sake! – I’ve decided to post a back-up copy here.

My comment (with minor tweaks) follows:

Bob, I agree generally with your analysis, but you really fail to address or answer the question of WHY the government should open up ANWR or the OCS – you state that the best reason to do so is because opening up more federal lands for drilling will “alter current behavior, leading to rapid relief at the pump.”

Interesting, but unexamined.  Is it the government’s job to open up lands that political decisions, on the basis of competing values, have kept off the market, simply to provide relief to the complaining parts of the market (fuel users)?  If so, should the government also open up the SPR whenever markets climb and users complain?  Are there other markets that the government should also try to manage for the benefit of consumers?  And how do we choose between what markets and market segments to listen to – what happens if, say, environmental demands rise suddenly after an oil spill – should the government then rapidly move producing areas off lease and into reserves?

You also conclusorily state that it is an “absurd situation where 94 percent of federal land, and 97 percent of federal offshore waters, are not being leased by energy companies.”  How is it that you have the wisdom to know how much and where the unidentified oil and gas resources lie, so you know what percentage of federal lands SHOULD be under an energy company lease?  And what about the small consideration of other values for the land in question – have you decided that energy trumps all?

Finally you conclude that “the ideal solution would be to completely privatize federal lands, so that the decision of whether or not to drill would no longer be a political one.”  As my initial questions to you may indicate, I actually agree with you on this, but the reason for privatization is NOT to provide relief to consumers and other users at the pump, but in order to end incompetent and politicized and sometimes logjammed federal management, while improving management of both environmental and other resource values.

Not only have I done a more thorough job of explaining WHY the feds and our Congresscritters ought to open up ANWR and the OCS, I’ve also explained HOW we can move past the existing deadlock – in a proposal I laid out last week in my blog here:  “Breaking the senseless impasse on ANWR and OCS exploration and development – a tax and rebate proposal”.

A deal on OCS seems easier to do than ANWR, because all that is needed to get the coastal states to agree is greater revenue-sharing with the states.

An ANWR deal should happen just out of fairness to the Inuit who own some land that is now bottled up in ANWR. [If they were given fee simple, then they could start drilling immediately, and while they’d have a right to access and transport across the wildlife reserve, they’d carry the liability for all environmental damage.  Sitting on ANWR makes it more likely that environmentally riskier OCS exploration and development in the Arctic Ocean will proceeed.]

By the way, has it ever occurred to you to wonder how much COAL leasing would occur if private parties and not the federal (and state) government owned the Western lands on which production is occurring?  With all of the royalties flowing into the coffers of federal and state governments?

Or to wonder how much extremely destructive coal production would occur in West Virgina and the rest of the Appalachians, if the governments were not being paid tremendous sums to turn a blind eye and to deny justice to those who are suffering all of the costs of the ongoing violation of private health and property rights and the transfer of costs and risks?  I addressed some of those issues here:  Almost levelled, West Virginia: Crooked justice allows mountain-top removal practices to freely injure homes and health“.



As I noted on my related post, enviros should move on ANWR because they can get a better deal – on federal resource management generally, and even on climate change – than by sitting pat.  And Austrians and others ought to support both such movement, and the type of changes in federal resource management that I’ve outlined.

Roger Pielke Jr. blames scientists for getting upset at corporate disinformation/polemics

July 27th, 2008 No comments



because many of the complainants are scientists, some not even British,
another important perspective on this debate is the role of scientists
and other academics in efforts to limit the freedom of expression.
Arguably, the global scientific community shares a set of norms on the
free exchange of information that, while shaped by each of our national
and cultural settings, also transcends those situational factors.


On climate change however, some in the scientific community have
departed quite radically from support for freedom of expression. For
example, recently NASA’s James Hansen
has famously called for trials of those who have provided support for
the dissemination of skeptical perspectives on climate change, singling
out executives in energy companies.

These examples of formal and informal sanctions are all used to try
to limit the freedom of expression on the subject of climate change.

Should scientists and other academics be working for restrictions on
the freedom of expression on climate change, or perhaps sanctions for
those expressing or allowing the expression of certain views? It is troubling to see academics and scientists working hard to
sanction certain people because of what they say, rather than taking on
the arguments on their merits, as frustrating and difficult a task that
might seem to be at times.

So while I don’t really have an informed or relevant position on UK
media regulations or even on the substance of the Swindle program, I do
feel strongly that the current wave of climate blasphemy that seems to
be popular among prominent scientists involved in the climate issue is
one day going to be looked back upon as a low point in this debate.

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Destroying the salmon; the socialized commons and climate change (Part II)

July 23rd, 2008 3 comments

I briefly commented previously on the perilous state of the West Coast salmon fishery, which is crashing due not only to climate change-related stresses in the ocean and in stream flows, but also to our government’s destruction of Indian-held private and community property rights to salmon and substitution by a classic tragedy of the commons, bureaucratized mismanagement and political favoritism.  I made related remarks in connection with an article by George Monbiot, who bemoaned the role that European governments were playing in subsidizing the destruction of regional and global fisheries.

I expanded further on this in a comment on the NYT’s “Dot Earth” blog run by Andy Revkin.  I copy below my remarks, including the portion of a comment by another to who I was responding (emphasis added):

#62 Mike Roddy:

” I lived in the Northwest for many years, where clearcut logging muddied rivers and destroyed salmon runs. This caused serious damage to drinking water and wildlife, and a major economic group was damaged: salmon fishermen.

Even with the combined effects of ecosystem damage and hardship in another sector, nothing changed. The timber industry did not pay for this damage due to their political clout, and continued to be handed subsidies in the form of roads and favorable tax rates. Destruction of salmon runs continued, and does to this day.”

Mike, you are spot on about subsidies and cost-shifting, but are missing the chief cause, as documented by the free market environmentalists at PERC and others – the state and federal governments essentially removed the salmon from ownership/management by Indians and substituted, first, and open-access commons, with the resulting tragedy of the commons, that the government then tried to manage bureaucratically (essentially socializing the ownership of salmon).

Because no one has any vested rights (other than the Indians to net a portion of the take left after catches at sea), no one has an incentive to invest in maintaining the resource, and no rights to stop those damaging it like loggers (or otherwise making deals with them).  Instead, we have a bureaucracy that thinks it knows better than everyone, substitutes its judgment for everyone’s and becomes the battleground for parties who have legitimate interests but are unable to conclude any deals. 

Government has consistently benefitted from this situation, while everyone else has been frustrated, though insiders of course also benefit – as when Cheney single-handedly killed tens of thousands of salmon in Oregon by ordering water diverted from federal dams to farmers (during a time of low streamflows).

Mismanagement and the destruction of the great salmon runs has what we’ve purchased.  We need to privatize the salmon, so their owners can protect habitats and returns on the respective rivers, and stop free-for-all ocean takes.

Alarmists (scientists and the Bush administration) claim "climate change" is causing Western wildfires and stressing watersheds

July 22nd, 2008 No comments

[Warning:  Snarky.  Sorry, but as I got going I couldn`t resist.]

1.  As I noted on several Mises wildfire threads last year, a 2006 study showed that the wildfire season in the West has increased on average by 78 days over the past three decades (1987-2003 vs. 1970-1986), with the average total area burned increasing by six and a half times.

According to the 2006 study,

“At higher elevations what really drives the fire season is the temperature. When you have a warm spring and early summer, you get earlier snowmelt,” said [Anthony] Westerling [of Scripps Oceanography]. “With the snowmelt coming out a month earlier, areas then get drier earlier overall and there is a longer season in which a fire can be started–there’s more opportunity for ignition.” …

“I see this as one of the first big indicators of climate change impacts in the continental United States,” said research team member Thomas Swetnam, director of the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research at The University of Arizona in Tucson. “We’re showing warming and earlier springs tying in with large forest fire frequencies. Lots of people think climate change and the ecological responses are 50 to 100 years away. But it’s not 50 to 100 years away–it’s happening now in forest ecosystems through fire.”

2.  A March 2008 study based on NOAA data shows that the 11 Western states have, over the five-year period 2003-2007 as compared to the 20th Century, heated up twice as fast as the global average.  The average temperature in the Colorado River Basin, which stretches from Wyoming to Mexico, was 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than the historical average for the 20th Century.  Of course this particular analysis was prepared by an environmental group, so we can hope it will be quickly debunked by a reasonable skeptic organization.  But since us skeptics know that the Earth has been cooling over the past 10 years, it does seem a bit puzzling that such a large jump in temperatures could still be found in government data. 

The report, in Science Daily, further noted:

The Colorado River Basin is in the throes of a record drought, shrinking water supplies for upwards of 30 million people in fast-growing Denver, Albuquerque, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Diego. Most of the Colorado River’s flow comes from melting snow in the mountains of Wyoming, Utah and Wyoming. Climate scientists predict even more and drier droughts in the future as hotter temperatures reduce the snowpack and increase evaporation.

To date, the governors of Arizona, California, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Washington have signed the Western Climate Initiative (WCI), an agreement to reduce global warming pollution through a market-based system, such as cap-and-trade. The WCI calls for states to reduce their global warming emissions 15 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.

Surely someone will rise to the occasion, soon, to contest these pernicious “facts”?  The data fudging must be pretty blatant.  Hopefully, at least we can get a policy analysis that we are better off not merely hiding this information from the American public (like Bush nobly did), but that affirmatively adopts the view that a “do nothing” approach – other than to build massive new public infrastructure to catch early mountain runoff and continuing to give an open checkbook (now $1+ billion annually) to USFS and BLM to fight fires – will clearly serve the public interest better than taking any mitigation measures, since the effects of climate change are already upon us?  Why should we pay even an ounce for prevention if we’ll be long dead before our children regret any further pain we might bestow on them?

3.  Unfortunately, a report released in February 2008 by an alarmist group of “scientists” from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Scripps Institution of Oceanography reached similar conclusions:  that the “Rocky Mountains have warmed by 2 degrees Fahrenheit. The snowpack in the Sierras has dwindled by 20 percent and the temperatures there have heated up by 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit” over the past 30 years. further have pinpointed the cause of that diminishing water flow on a regional scale: humans.  What’s worse is that these alarmists had the gall to link such warming to human actions:

“We looked at whether there is a human-caused climate change where we live, and in aspects of our climate that we really care about,” said Benjamin Santer of LLNL and co-author of the paper. “No matter what we did, we couldn’t shake this robust conclusion that human-caused warming is affecting water resources here in the Western United States.”

“It’s pretty much the same throughout all of the Western United States,” said Tim Barnett of Scripps and a co-author of the paper.*  “The results are being driven by temperature change. And that temperature change is caused by us.”

The team scaled down global climate models to the regional scale and compared the results to observations over the last 50 years. The results were solid, giving the team confidence that they could use the same models to predict the effects of the global scale increase in greenhouse gases on the Western United States in the future.

The projected consequences are bleak.

By 2040, most of the snowpack in the Sierras and Colorado Rockies would melt by April 1 of each year because of rising air temperatures. The earlier snow melt would lead to a shift in river flows.

What a joke!  We all know that puny man, with his massive, mighty industrial economies, has no ability to affect the climate.  These “scientists” should get real jobs.  Models?  Ridiculous!  We are fortunate that God made the world too complicated to ever think about anticipating consequences to our actions.  And risks?  Pah – we laugh at them!  We just build many, many more dams (covering them to limit evaporation) when the time comes.  Who needs rivers, anyway?

4.  Fortunately, a new July 2008 study by more “scientists” helps to understand while the melting of Western snowcaps is occurring sooner:  an “albedo” feedback, whereby earlier melting leads to sooner ground warming, which then leads to more early melting.  So maybe all of this warming and melting is just due to a natural feedback to a natural warming cycle!  And we can even counter it technically by covering our mountaintops with white paper or other highly reflective materials!  Even if we do nothing the albedo feedback will of course start to reverse even if we do nothing – as we burn off of our forested mountains, the resulting dead zone will have much higher reflectivity that the prior green forests!  Sadly, the scientists could not resist polluting this useful information with more hysteria:

Noah Diffenbaugh, senior author of the paper and an associate professor of earth and atmospheric sciences at Purdue, said the influence of melting snow on regional climate is far greater than that of increased greenhouse gases alone.

“The heat trapping from elevated greenhouse gases triggers the warming, but the additional warming caused by the loss of snow is what really creates the big changes in surface runoff,” said Diffenbaugh, who also is a member of Purdue’s Climate Change Research Center. “Scientists have known about this general effect for years. The big surprise here is how much the complex topography plays a role, essentially doubling the threat to water resources in the West.”

Sara A. Rauscher, visiting scientist at the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy, and lead author on the paper, said the melting snow contributes to a feedback loop that accelerates warming.

“Because snow is more reflective than the ground or vegetation beneath it, it keeps the surface temperatures lower by reflecting energy from the sun,” Rauscher said. “When snow melts or does not accumulate in the first place, more solar energy is absorbed by the ground, warming the surface. A feedback loop is created because the warmer ground then makes it more difficult for snow to accumulate and perpetuates the effect.”

The amount and timing of the runoff from snowmelt is critical to the success of water management in the western United States. Water resources for the area are reliant on snow acting as a natural reservoir during the cold season that melts and releases water in the warm season.

Changes in this timing could create problems in meeting the increasing demand for water in large urban and agricultural areas during the hottest summer months, Diffenbaugh said.

“If the snow melts earlier or if it comes as rainfall instead, it would create a strain on infrastructure,” he said. “The current system relies on water being stored in the mountains as snow. So earlier runoff could mean too much water for the reservoirs early in the year and not enough available later in the year.”

Gregg M. Garfin, deputy director for science translation and outreach at the Institute for the Study of Planet Earth at the University of Arizona, said dry summers could lead to more severe wildfires and changes in the ecosystems of the West.

Early snowmelt and warmer soil temperatures could result in further massive forest mortality and an increased risk of wildfire activity,” Garfin said. “If these projections become reality, then the ecosystems of the northern and central Rockies will undergo dramatic changes with ramifications for wildlife habitat, fire potential, soil erosion and tourism.”

The study suggests a substantial change in the runoff season, with the peak date more than two months earlier than today in some regions, Diffenbaugh said.

“Ecosystems”?  Bah – we toy with them!  It’s just our release of GHGs from our fossil fuel economy that we can’t do anything about.  Too bad these weak-kneed scientist have no faith in our ability to IMPROVE every ecosystem that we disrupt!

Anyway, I’m hot on the path of these obvious misanthropists, who are barely disguised enviro-Nazi/commies.  They like their cushy academic/government jobs, but want the rest of us to live as primitive hunter-gatherers.  For those of you who think it’s high time we do SOMETHING about these man-haters, I have previously noted that Czech scientist Lubos Motl, concerned about the present wave of irrational hysteria, has incipient plans to take action, before it’s too late.


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Marlo Lewis/CEI laughs at the ice sheets and Gore; Lloyd’s and other insurers do not. Hmmm.

July 16th, 2008 No comments

Andy Revkin of the NYT recently posted at his “Dot Earth” blog an update by a scientist to the effect that apparently the increasing summer melt in Greenland is not markedly lubricating glacier flow.  While this doesn’t alter the fact that the Greenland melt (and outlet glaciers)continues to accelerate, it does abate some concerns that the thawing Greenland ice sheet could make a very rapid contribution to rising sea levels by more quickly offloading icebergs. 

To Marlo Lewis of CEI, this posed an irresistible opportunity to fire off a clever but skewed attack on Al Gore and on serious warnings raised by scientists about the possibility of ice sheet collapse.  Says Lewis:

The core issue for policymakers is not whether global warming is affecting the Greenland ice sheet (of course it is), nor even whether the Greenland is in negative mass balance and contributing to sea level rise (it is). Rather, the key question is whether half the ice sheet is in danger of breaking off and sliding into the sea, as Al Gore warned in An Inconvenient Truth.

In AIT, Gore presented as a serious scientific possibility the simultaneous crackup of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets. That would raise sea levels 18 to 20 feet, with the consequence, Gore said, that 100 million people would “be displaced,” “forced to move,” and “have to be evacuated.”

The recent Science study exposes Gore’s doomsday scenario (or half of it, anyway) as unscientific. …

Gore and his allies seek the political power to reprogram the U.S. and global economies. To justify this risky experiment, they depict global warming as a “planetary emergency, a crisis threatening the survival of civilization and the habitability of the Earth.” They claim to speak for the “consensus of scientists,” but what they actually present is science fiction. No child should go to bed worrying about a 20-foot wall of water sweeping across the globe. Neither should the child’s parents.

(emphasis added)

With this, Marlo deftly misstates the core issue for policy makers, distracts us from what scientists have long stated are the much greater risks posed in Antarctica, shifts our attention from the risks that our unmanaged activities are posing to the risks that Al Gore (and others who believe policy changes are needed) is posing and raises a strawman disaster scenario.  With slick work like this, maybe the folks backing Gore’s climate publicity campaign should consider making substantial contributions that could bring CEI over to his side!

Allow me to elaborate a bit (based on comments I posted on the same Dot Earth thread).

1.  ML:  “the key question is whether half the ice sheet is in danger of breaking off and sliding into the sea, as Al Gore warned”

I strongly disagree. The chief question is whether the existing and growing GHG forcing and albedo feedbacks will COMMIT us to a rapid pulse of ice sheet melting on scales that we can see in the paleo record: several meters per century for a few centuries (for forcings smaller than the BAU scenario). This possibility was noted back in 1978, and all we’ve seen since then is an accelerating expansion of melt areas and mass loss.  If such a melt pulse is in the cards, related questions are how to deal with the rising sea levels (both the continued shift of cities and infrastructure and the related losses, costs and upheaval) and whether mitigation efforts can head off or materially slow such a melting.

Presumably Lewis is aware, as Jim Hansen and other climate scientists have been making this point frequently, that the models of ice loss reviewed by the IPCC simply don’t include the mechanisms for such actual, rapid ice loss, and so probably underproject the loss that we are likely to see this century.  In fact, as well, we have seen net mass loss in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) due to melting and calving, despite expectations in the IPCC that increased snowfalls brought by warming temperatures would result in WAIS gaining mass.

2.  ML:  “In AIT, Gore presented as a serious scientific possibility the simultaneous crackup of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets. That would raise sea levels 18 to 20 feet, with the consequence, Gore said, that 100 million people would “be displaced,” “forced to move,” and “have to be evacuated.” The recent Science study exposes Gore’s doomsday scenario (or half of it, anyway) as unscientific.”

If Gore referred to a rapid loss of the Greenland Ice Sheet, he was not reflecting scientists’ concerns (other than the concern for a geologically rapid melting over centuries), because Greenland’s ice is all on land and cannot simply collapse into the ocean.  However, that is NOT true of the WAIS, which is not walled in, much of it sits on land that is actually below sea level and can quickly lose mass into the sea, and is at present held back only floating ice sheets that are now rapidly crumbling.  There is significant scientific literature on this point, and a significant increase in alarm just over the past few years.  The WAIS is now referred to as an “awakening giant”.  Gore is right that scientists are concerned that the WAIS may rapidly lose mass into the sea – rather quickly raising sea levels by 12 to 18 feet – that scientists believe that human activities have kicked off a number of changes in Antarctica, and that scientists believe AGW may also initiate and accelerate the collapse of the WAIS.

It is a puzzle that Lewis does not mention these concerns, as he appears to be well aware of them.  In own his paper criticizing AIT, Lewis specifically noted that the process of retreat in glaciers such as WAIS whose base is below sea level, once initiated, “cannot be stopped”.  Lewis quoted one scientific paper as follows:

“Increased pressure at these greater depths lowers the melting point of this ice, increasing the melting efficiency of the warmer water. Rapid melting results.”

“Retreating glaciers lengthen the distance warmer water must travel from any sill to the grounding line, and eventually tidewater glaciers retreat to beds above sea level. This might limit the retreat in Greenland but will save neither West Antarctica, nor the equally large subglacial basin in East Antarctica where submarine beds extend to the center of the ice sheet.”

Here are links to just a few of the discussions by scientists of WAIS:

3.  ML:  “Gore and his allies seek the political power to reprogram the U.S. and global economies. To justify this risky experiment, they depict global warming as a “planetary emergency, a crisis threatening the survival of civilization and the habitability of the Earth.”

Certainly there are risks associated with the climate strategy being offered by Mr. Gore, as well as with any kind of climate strategy – including doing nothing.  We should certainly evaluate the comparative benerfits, costs and risks of all policy options.  But Mr. Lewis instead offers us loaded statements.  There are equally honest ways to rephrase these loaded statements.  For fun, I offer the following to Mr. Lewis:

“You and your allies (fuel producers and consumers) seek to use political power to protect the benefits accruing to you as a result of the failure of market economies to require you to bear the full costs and risks generated by your economic activities, so that you reap gains while shifting those costs and risks to others. To justify continuing with this risky experiment with the Earth’s climate, you depict Gore as being on an unhinged, yet hypocritical and cunning Jeremiad, downplay the risks that even Exxon says merit present action, and paint everyone who agrees with them – from the world’s scientific bodies and major investors to Pope Benedict – as part of a cabal or cult of irrational believers or as malevolent man-haters out to poison our precious bodily fluids/destroy the market system itself, while you decline to straightforwardly address obvious externalities, risks or policy options.”

Just how seriously does Mr. Lewis want us to take him?

4. ML:  “They claim to speak for the “consensus of scientists,” but what they actually present is science fiction. No child should go to bed worrying about a 20-foot wall of water sweeping across the globe.”

I’ve seen no reference by Gore or other “alarmists” to a “20-foot wall of water” – that appears to be a boogeyman only of Mr. Lewis’s imaginings.  However, it is clear that scientists are indeed very concerned about a fairly rapid collapse of the WAIS.  This is NOT “science fiction”, as Mr. Lewis would have it.

And maybe Mr. Lewis doesn’t want to worry about it, but Lloyd’s of London certainly is, and is recommending that others worry about it too.  A recent report by Lloyd’s on various climate change risks concluded the following regarding the WAIS and Greenland:

It is our view that there are clear and worrying trends in the behaviour of component parts of the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheet, with the WAIS in particular showing anomalous behaviour. Meaningful predictions of the likelihood of rapid, catastrophic ice discharge, ice sheet collapse or lake outbursts in the near future are impossible. However, an increase in instability, with a resultant impact on sea level within our lifetime, is a credible risk.

Insurers and other commercial institutions sensitive to these risks should keep a close watch on future developments and be prepared to revise their strategies regularly.

The rest of the report also offers useful analyses.  But who wants to read this kind of stuff?  Thanks, Mario, for distracting us.


PS:  More on ice sheet risks below from Jim Hansen: 80623.pdf

“West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are vulnerable to even small additional warming. These two-mile-thick behemoths respond slowly at first, but if disintegration gets well underway it will become unstoppable. Debate among scientists is only about how much sea level would rise by a given date. In my opinion, if emissions follow a business-as-usual scenario, sea level rise of at least two meters is likely this century. Hundreds of millions of people would become refugees. No stable shoreline would be reestablished in any time frame that humanity can conceive.”
“Present-day observations of Greenland and Antarctica show increasing surface melt [35], loss of buttressing ice shelves [36], accelerating ice streams [37], and increasing overall mass loss [38]. These rapid changes do not occur in existing ice sheet models, which are missing critical physics of ice sheet disintegration [39]. Sea level changes of several meters per century occur in the paleoclimate record [32, 33], 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.

“Equilibrium sea level rise for today’s 385 ppm CO2 is at least several meters, judging from paleoclimate history [19, 32-34]. Accelerating mass losses from Greenland [74] and West Antarctica [75] heighten concerns about ice sheet stability.” df
“One thing that the paleoclimate record shows us is that ice sheet disintegration and sea level rise are usually much more rapid than the opposite process of ice sheet growth and sea level fall. This is reasonable because ice sheet disintegration is a wet process with many positive feedbacks, so it can proceed more rapidly than ice sheet growth, which is limited by the snowfall rate in cold, usually dry, places. At the end of the last ice age sea level rose more than 100 m in less than 10,000 years, thus more than 1 m per century on average. At times during this deglaciation, sea level rose as fast as 4-5 m per century.”

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.”
Richard Feynman

Breaking the senseless impasse on ANWR and OCS exploration and development – a tax and rebate proposal

July 16th, 2008 10 comments

It’s long been obvious that:

(1) government policy concerning the use of public lands is highly bureaucratized, often inept and subject to behind the scenes sweet deals favoring insiders;

(2) discussions about how the public lands should be used often very politicized;

(3) politicization is especially prominent with respect to public lands that have potentially high commercial value but where development requires additional approvals from legislators or others outside of the Administration/regulatory bureaucracy – such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and the native lands within it, which cannot be explored without Congressional approval, and the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), further development of which has been blocked both by Executive Order and by annual moratoria imposed by Congress, with the strong backing of many coastal states that wish to protect their tourism industries; and

(4) supporters on both sides – whether for development of ANWR and OCS or for the continued preservation of wildlife, recreation or tourism values or protection of other objectives – have perfectly legitimate interests, and excellent arguments to make (and some not so excellent) in support of those interests.

But it has not been so obvious that the different interests are in fact irreconcilable, especially when one notes how well conservation groups that own land have been able to balance their conservation objectives with active resource extraction – which can be done carefully while providing revenues for other activities.  In fact, I suppose that if any of the major environmental groups had been given title to ANWR, development would have been well underway years ago (as I have previously suggested).  Likewise, the states that have until now blocked further OCS development have done so in good part because the federal government takes the lion’s share of the royalty revenues, while leaving the states and local communities with the short end of the stick and the risks of feared development disasters.

So – for the rather simple reason that there is no private owner of the resources at stake, but instead a politically-controlled legal owner (the U.S. citizens via their government) and an array of shadow owners (the various interest groups and bureaucrats) who have been unable either to conclude any deals or to force their preferences down the throats of those they disagree with – we have deadlock, with valuable resources sitting in the ground, and possibilities for mutually beneficial deals lost.  This is a rather basic analysis that has been recognized by libertarian thinkers and free market environmentalists like John Baden for quite some time.

Recently, in response to a proposal by Iain Murray of CEI that ANWR and the OCS be opened to development, I indicated some further thoughts on possible paths forward:

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.

However, I’d like to change tack a little bit, as these disputes are part of the bigger problem of federalized management, and we are unlikely to see Congress act in the near future to privatize ANWR or other federal lands, or even to turn them over to environmental groups to manage.  We face a real problem with respect to most of federal lands that revenues from resource extraction go into the big black hole of general funds, with very little ability of the resource managers to capture the benefit of managing well, and very little incentive by American taxpayers to make sure that resources are well-managed, priced to receive good returns and do not leave taxpayers generally holding the bag for environmental risks.  A litany of horror stories could easily be assembled on these points. 

How can we get started on improving incentives on our government resource management projects?  Well, a small idea occurs to me:

I’ve recently reviewed a slew of recent arguments on the climate change front and noted wide-ranging support (driven by equity, efficiency and expedience) for a federal carbon pricing scheme (whether by carbon taxes or by emission rights under a cap and trade scheme), particularly if all of the funds raised by the tax or permit sale are passed through to Americans on a per capita basisWhy couldn’t we apply the same concept to ANWR and the OCS lands, with a small percentage being kept by the relevant oversight agency to fund and incentivize oversight? 

If royalty revenues are passed through to citizens, Americans will directly benefit from moving ahead (without encouraging government bloat), so that development will not be seen as simply a giveaway by politicians to evil oil and gas companies.  Further, citizens (and entrepreneurial prosecutors) will have greater incentives to monitor government performance (as in not giving away the resources too cheaply, and actually collecting revenues owed), and will able use the dividend checks to fund, to their hearts’ content, further environmental protection.  In the case of the OCS, clearly a greater cut of the royalties ought to go to citizens in the relevant coastal states to compensate them for the relatively higher environmnetal risks they bear.

To incentivize the environmental groups to support this type of approach, as well as to provide better assurance of environmental oversight, I would suggest that new leases to explore or develop in ANWR and the OCS include as a contracting party an environmental group, either as the direct lessee (subcontracting to a preferred oil and gas company) or as environmental risk manager, in either case capturing a share of the royalty.  The environmental groups will reap some benefit (that they can use for other projects) and will be subject to oversight by their members, and to competition from other environmental groups to protect wildlife and other values.

Such schemes would incentivize all stakeholders to work together in a win-win manner, while minimizing environmental risk, and directly rewarding citizens and leading to improved resource management.

Maybe the strong desire of many to see carbon pricing at the federal level can be leveraged to enhance both environmental protection AND economic growth, while streamline government and rewarding good resource management, at least in the case of ANWR and the OCS.  (Next up, federal lands – forests, hard rock mining and oil and gas – generally!)

Just a thought.

Can Pigovian taxes be Coasean bargains? – The case of climate negotiations

July 14th, 2008 1 comment

David Zetland’s libertarian-environmental blog, Aguanomics, has recently been carrying on some excellent discussions on resource and environmental economics, with interlocutors like Bob Murphy, Gene Callahan and others.  In the context of two recent posts on government approaches to climate change, I commented on one thread (An Ounce of Prevention…) that

As for the setting the level of carbon taxes, you and Gene keep assuming that there is a global government that sets taxes in a vacuum. Instead, we have a multi-player game, where any politically sustainably prices are set at levels that the chief emitters are willing to agree to.

This is analogous to ranchers, lobstermen or shrimpers deciding to close a range or fishery. No single one of them is setting a price.

On an earlier thread (Pigouvian Libertarians), I noted to the effect that:

Bob, the standard objections to Pigovian taxes don`t apply to climate change, as there is no single government administering the world. Rather, we are engaged in multi-player negotiations as to how to regulate a commons.  The taxes (or other schemes) that individual governments may impose will ultimately be coordinated, and much more resemble a Coasean trade among nations with respect to a shared resource.

David has kindly made this point the subject of a new post:  How to Set a Carbon Tax.

Allow me to elaborate my point.  A C Pigou, is often trotted out by supporters of government economic regulation, for the proposition that governments should regulate or impose taxes in order to force economic actors to internalize the “external costs” of their actions (costs that are imposed on others outside of that transaction without their consent).  This use of Pigou is a bit unfair, as Pigou himself noted that taxing authorities would always lack the information needed to determine the correct tax, but nevertheless the perception that externalities are ubiquitous has helped to justify a wide range of governmental regulatory interventions.

Other objections to Pigou can of course be raised, as Ronald Coase prominently did when he argued that, when trade in an externality is possible and there are no transaction costs, bargaining will lead to an efficient outcome regardless of the initial distribution of property rights.  Pigou and those using him did not consider the real world dynamics of self-help among economic actors, and many ignored Pigou’s acknowledgment that governments are seldom positioned to calculate external costs.  Coase noted that because transaction costs are NOT zero, many bargains would not be reachable, so that the initial distribution of property rights would affect ultimate outcomes in resource allocation.  Coase properly turned the focus of the debate over “externalities” towards a focus on the use of bargaining between parties to accommodate differences in personal objectives, and to fruitful discussions of how property rights and bargains are defined and enforced and whether information and transaction costs can be lowered.  Austrians have further criticisms of Pigou and Coase, but those can be set aside for the moment.

In ongoing discussions over at Aguanomics, Bob Murphy and others have trotted out that standard Coasean attacks on the proposals by economists (such as Robert Nordhaus and other members of Gregory Mankiw’s “Pigovian Club”) for carbon taxes, i.e., that government can’t know at what level to set carbon taxes, that such carbon taxes will prevent private transactions among parties that might fully address climate concerns at less costs, etc.

In the context of this discussion, I ask that people step back from the theoretical and observe the pragmatic – that we are in the midst of a multi-decade multinational negotiation of a GLOBAL resource that no one nation controls, in which there are no private property rights or common legal systems and in which transaction costs for private transactions are enormous and swamp individual economic benefits that may be achieved by them, and that in this context, our governments are essentially our negotiating proxies who can more efficiently negotiate for us and come to terms with others than can any private entities or groups.  Given these circumstances, even though our governments are all subject to domestic rent-seeking pressures, because no effective approach to climate change can be reached without the voluntary agreement of all major emitters, is it not the case that the discussions that our governments conduct – including the possibility of coordinated Pigovian taxes at the national level for implementation purposes – ARE efforts at Coasean bargaining?

Any thoughts?