Archive for September, 2008

More on Pickens: FOX offers soapbox for Pickens mouthpiece; Milloy responds

September 26th, 2008 No comments

FOX offers soapbox for Pickens mouthpiece Warren Mitchell (former chairman of Southern California Gas Company and San Diego Gas & Electric, and director and head of the compensation committee of Pickens’ owned Clean Energy Fuels); Steven Milloy responds.

Keep up the good work, Steve!

Some of my own thoughts on Pickens’ actions are here and here.

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

September 12th, 2008 6 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Update:] The 1979 JASON and Charney Reports

September 8th, 2008 No comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carbon Dioxide and Climate: A Scientific Assessment

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

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

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

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

Ad Hoc Study Group on Carbon Dioxide and Climate

Jule G. Charney, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Chairman

Akio Arakawa, University of California, Los Angeles

D. James Baker, University of Washington

Bert Bolin, University of Stockholm

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

Cecil E. Leith, National Center for Atmospheric Research

Henry M. Stommel, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Carl I. Wunsch, Massachusetts Institute of Technology


John S. Perry

Robert S. Chen

Doris Bouadjemi

Theresa Fisher


Climate Research Board

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

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

Thomas Donahue, University of Michigan

Herbert Friedman, Naval Research Laboratory

J. Herbert Hollomon, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Charles W. Howe, University of Colorado

John Imbrie, Brown University

Robert W. Kates, Clark University

John E. Kutzbach, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Cecil E. Leith, National Center for Atmospheric Research

William A. Nierenberg, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Roger R. Revelle, University of California, San Diego

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

Karl K. Turekian, Yale University

John Waelti, University of Minnesota

Sylvan H. Wittwer, Michigan State University

Warren Wooster, University of Washington



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

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

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

Elbert W. Friday, Department of Defense

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

Keith Howard, Department of the Interior

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

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

House of Representatives

Lloyd J. Money, Department of Transportation

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

Herbert L. Wiser, Environmental Protection Agency



John S. Perry, National Research Council, Executive Secretary

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


Summary and Conclusions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That danged hockey stick makes another appearance

September 8th, 2008 2 comments

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

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

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

The results?  As the Christian Science Monitor notes:  

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

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

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

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

The evolution of Palin: Is the battle over evolution a struggle against science, or a proxy war with the state?

September 8th, 2008 4 comments

In the context of a review of the focus on “creationism” that Alaska governor Sarah Palin has injected in the presidential election, Christopher Caldwell, a senior editor at The Weekly Standard, has attempted to explain (in The Financial Times, oddly enough) to his readers in the UK the strange American politics of “intelligent design”.  While insightful, Caldwell has missed an important part of the bigger picture (which few Americans seem to have grasped).

Caldwell’s key points are below; I follow with my own views.

“The point of intelligent design is to take science down a peg. To warn enthusiasts that they risk “discrediting science itself” is a bit dense. For them, evolution is a potent symbol of the way “scientific materialism” leaves people feeling demeaned, disenfranchised, stripped of prerogatives and less free. This feeling is not groundless. Dostoyevsky and Marx said similar things. The scientific world-view poses challenges to religion only in the course of posing challenges to a whole lot besides. To take one obvious example: fewer offices permit smoking today, but it is a stretch to call this a choice. In the US, at least, there was little democratic participation in the decision. There was scientific research and then there were mandates from health boards and courts. Maybe these mandates were “all to the good”. That does not make them democratic.

“The anti-evolution activists in America’s small towns are wrong on the science – but wrong in a way that is of absolutely no consequence to them unless they choose a career in horse-breeding or molecular biochemistry. Their feelings of disenfranchisement, on the other hand, are real and consequential. Experts control an ever larger share of decisions about where roads can be built, what people can ingest, what can be taught and whether the decisions of democratic bodies pass constitutional muster. Like so much else in US public life, the battle over evolution is a class conflict disguised as a religious or moral conflict. It is comforting to look at the fight over evolution as one that pits the educated against the ignorant. It is that. But it is also a fight that pits technocrats against democrats.”

Roger Pielke Jr., a science policy analyst (who comments frequently on climate change matters) posted the above paragraphs without comment other than to praise Caldwell’s “incisive analysis”; I cross-post below verbatim my own comments to Roger:

Roger, I’d say that Caldwell has a thoughtful analysis, but it misses at least as much as it sees.

Some of what Caldwell misses is captured by Francois’ fears about a “scientist caste” that depends on public funding and is seen as part of a rigid, “dictatorship-like” social order who presume to have “ultimate authority”.

Caldwell is closest when he notes the feelings of disenfranchisement by “the anti-evolution activists in America’s small towns”, but this is NOT a “class conflict disguised as a religious or moral conflict”. Rather, it is a struggle between local parental choice over what their children are taught and state and federal governments and courts, on a battle ground created by the continued legacy role of governments in providing public education.

One simply does not see the creationist debate in private schools, and if state governments ever got out of the business of being educators (as opposed to providing support to parents to have their children educated in schools of their choice), the whole issue would disappear. As a legal matter, the legal battle is about the separation of church and state – if the state isn’t the educator, then the issue dries up. If we left school choice and education up to parents, most parents would prefer the best education. So the problem is chiefly one of parents being upset that organs of governments over which local parent have little influence – courts, legislatures and distant bureaucracies (Caldwell’s “technocrats”) – trump parental rights. This in turn is played into a larger power struggle between the rights of local government and more distant state and federal ones.

While the teaching profession itself leans Democrat, the NEA doesn’t run the courthouses or state houses, so this is hardly a “class” struggle. That does seem to be somewhat of a meme from the Right, however – that the evolution debate is about Godless communist lefties trying to dictate to small-town America. The irony, of course, is that while Republicans like to foster that resentment (as well as other resentments and fears – of ragheads, enviros, gays and French-speakers) for political gain, Republicans have consistently exacerbated the real concerns of small-town America by further federalizing education, increasing the power of federal government and doing nothing to put political power back in the hands of local citizens.

Breaking the impasse on ANWR and OCS (Part III): WSJ op-ed supports Alaska-style direct pass-through of royalties from oil/gas produced from OCS leases

September 8th, 2008 No comments

Last week the Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed by James P. Lucier, Jr., a managing director of Capital Alpha Partners, LLC, in Washington, D.C.

Lucier`s piece describes how Alaska shares its oil revenues with residents, and suggests that John McCain adopt a page from Alaska`s book to get popular support for oil and gas drilling in the OCS (on top of revenue sharing with the relevant states).  Here are Lucier’s key points:

this year every Alaskan will receive a $1,200 check as a share of the oil bonanza. (The check comes in addition to the
approximately $2,000 every Alaskan will receive this year as a dividend from the Permanent Fund, which was established by state constitutional
amendment in 1976 as a way of sharing the state’s mineral wealth with the people.)

A direct share in oil profits for every citizen is the ultimate incentive for more drilling. That’s why in Alaska drilling for
oil seems almost universally popular, while other states are drill-phobic.

The real comparison is …  between Alaska’s constitutional rule — that the people must share
directly in the state’s mineral wealth — and Mr. McCain’s proposal that coastal states should share in federal offshore oil revenue. His
plan is for the funds to be used for public purposes like roads, schools and conservation. A share of royalties dramatically improves
the coastal states’ incentive to support drilling. But if Mr. McCain offered every individual American a royalty check too, he might find it
easier to sell his program.

(emphasis added)

As I’ve previously noted, this makes eminent sense to me!

Let`s hope this good idea for royalty-sharing snowballs.  It`s something alot of people could get behind, even enviros – and if extended could vastly improve federal land management and could as well point the way to a rebated carbon tax.

Categories: ANWR, carbon pricing, Lucier, OCS, oil, royalties Tags:

Envirofascists at Heritage Foundation worry about China’s environmental problems

September 4th, 2008 No comments

The bleeding-heart liberal do-gooders!  Puzzlingly, this Heritage Foundation essay completely fails to mention the predominant role of the state and the lack of property rights in generating the problem.

They make Tom Friedman seem like the real advocate of freedom.

[Snark alert: high]

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

September 4th, 2008 No comments

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

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

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

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

Round 1:

If I may venture a few comments:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Round 2:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Round 3:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

September 2nd, 2008 No comments

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

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

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


NYT on capacity problems in our regional/national power distribution grids; do we regulate or deregulate?

September 1st, 2008 No comments

The New York Times has an interesting article that points out how the use of new wind and solar capacity is being hobbled by power distribution limitations, which limits result in part from the reluctance of state regulators to approve projects that might lead local power producers to seek higher returns by selling power out-of-state.  Can the federal government play a useful role in pressuring the states to further deregulate the power industry?

Of course, bottlenecks in distribution also create incentives for markets to find ways to store locally produced, off-peak energy and sell it later on-peak.  Another recent NYT article discusses plans recently announced by PSE&G,  New Jersey’s largest power distributor, to invest in compressed air storage as a way of stoing off-peak power.

H/T Lynne Kiesling‘s “Knowledge Problem” blog.

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