Archive for December, 2009

Bob Murphy speculates on "The Benefits of Procrastination: The Economics of Geo-Engineering" – Cui Bono?

December 19th, 2009 2 comments

Bob Murphy (Senior Fellow in Business and Economic Studies at Pacific Research
Institute, and economist with the Institute for Energy Research) has a recent post up on the wonders of “geo-engineering” as a cure-all any potential negative consequences for our unmanaged, unrepeatable experiment with the Earth`s climate and ocean systems, appearing online as the “featured article” at The Library of Economics and Liberty.

David Henderson, whose Econoblog appears at LEL, has a post up that calls attention to Bob`s piece. I tried to post the following comment there, but since it didn“t post immediately I`ve decided to copy it here.

I note I`ve made a number of posts on geo-engineering over the past two years, including no little head-scratching over the lack of any consistent concern for principle with which Austrians seem to approach the topic.

Given Bob`s speculation on benefits, I couldn`t resist my own obervations on “who benefits”, which I have addressed more carefully here.

Here`s my comment:

Murphy may have a point about the cost of Waxman-Markey, but beyond that he is arguing at strawmen and failing to consider alternative policies, such as:

– cap-and-dividend (or alternately using revenues to eliminare corporate and payroll taxes),

– enhancing efficiency/conservation by eliminating public power monopolies,

– eliminating subsidies for dirty coal embedded in the Clean Air Act, and

– removing federal insurance caps and easing licensing hurdles for nuclear power.

We can do much to address climate concerns in ways that clearly enhance wealth, and carbon can be priced in ways that are progressive rather than regressive, but we never hear a peep about this from Bob. Does he not want a freer and more efficient economy?

Further, Bob totally fails to address ocean acidification (ecept to quote Gavin Schmidt to indicate it may be a problem), and it seems that Bob doesn`t really have a clue about the very long-term duration of the threat posed by emissions of CO2. Absent very extraordinary measuers, we are committing the climate to millenia of change.

GDP arguments are singularly unconvincing, not simply because damage to ecosystem assets is not counted (other than perhaps perversely as positive GDP growth as people are forced to pay money for adaption), but also because such they fail to measure RISKS, and in any case, such measurements are fundamentally incapable of measuring PREFERENCES [or disputes over rights].

Sure, we have to seriously consider geo-engineering options, because we now, for all practical purposes, have no real prospects of stopping rapid growth in CO2 levels as economic growth continues worldwide. We have painted ourselves into a corner, and continue to tighten the corner for our children. Bob fails to understand that the geo-engineering options he considers are all very limited bandaids with potential costs that are unlikely to be borne solely by those who try to implement them.

Finally, given all of the uncertainities about the costs and benefits of geo-enginnering options AND the existence of policy options other that cap-and-trade, Bob is totally unjustified in his sweeping generalizations that procrastination may be optimal. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” comes to mind, as well as the thought that if one has trepidations about the nature of the road ahead, it makes sense to get ready, including studying geo-engineering – but it`s hardly a precaution if one, instead of taking his foot off the gas, rather slams it down on the pedal – exactly the “conservative” course that Bob actually counsels.

Let`s not ignore that the “status quo” course is actually a path of continued massive geo-engineering, via CO2, other GHGs, soot from coal fires and coal-powered plants, and continuing tropical and Siberian deforestation.

How convenient that the “conservative” course is the one that suits those who have been generating climate risks, and who are loath to surrender their “homesteading” rights over our atmosphere and central governments.

And how convenient that they pay Bob.

Public Service Announcement: Google, GE, NRDC and The Climate Group call for real-time information technologies to cut emissions

December 19th, 2009 No comments

I copy below an interesting press release with the title noted above, regarding the “smart metering” of power consumption.

I have blogged previously on Google`s efforts to speed the introduction of Smart Meters.

Perhaps we will also see a little more focus on the negative role that our widespread public utility monopolies have played in inflating energy costs and dampening conservation, competitive pricing and green options, and greater interest in market freedom in the power sector?

Not simply greater information, but freer markets is what we need. This would accomplish more than more “green” mandates. Other libertarian ideas are here. As my favorite free-market blogger, Rob Bradley, once said so well: “a
free-market approach is not about “do nothing” but implementing a whole
new energy approach to remove myriad regulation and subsidies that have
built up over a century or more.”

December 15, 2009

“Citizens need better access to information about how they use energy –
and they need the tools to use less.” 

Google, GE, The Climate Group, and NRDC, supported by a broad group of
companies and organizations, called on governments across the world to
support citizens’ access to real-time information on home energy consumption. (Read the statement)

In homes, technology that makes energy consumption visible in the home
can help people save not only carbon but electricity costs.   Our recent case studies at
show that some homeowners were able to save 40 per cent on their
electricity bills from better understanding their patterns of energy

The statement says “The bottom line is: We can’t solve climate change
if people are in the dark about how they use energy in their own homes.
Citizens need better access to information about how they use energy –
and they need the tools to use less.” 

By empowering citizens with information and tools for
managing energy, national and sub-national governments, businesses and
organizations around the world can harness the power of hundreds of
millions to fight climate change and save consumers millions of dollars
in the process.

Specifically, all countries should ensure that their citizens have access to basic information including:

  • Near real-time or real-time home energy consumption
  • Pricing and pricing plans
  • Carbon intensity, including source and carbon content of electricity

call for supporting citizens’ access to information can be achieved
with technologies that exist today which can be rapidly deployed. To
get there, countries can provide incentives for energy monitoring
equipment and set rules for consumer access to information. They can
also enact stronger energy efficiency standards, as well as provide
financial incentives and variable energy pricing plans.

Dan Reicher, Director of Climate Change and Energy Initiatives, Google, said:  “By providing people with real-time home energy information we can make
a major down payment on tackling climate change while saving money and
creating exciting new industries and jobs.”

Steve Fludder, VP of GE’s ecomagination, said: “This is not future technology that were talking about. We can do this now.”

Molly Webb, Director of Strategic Engagement, The Climate Group
said: “Just as user-generated content drove Web 2.0, then
user-generated energy information and ‘the internet of things is our
future. With a strong global agreement to tackle climate change, ICT
infrastructure will be a key enabler in the short term of carbon
efficiency on a global scale.”

The statement comes after yesterday’s launch of SMART 2020: Pathways to Scale
which called for energy information for all. This information can be
used across the wider economy by citizens and businesses to enable a
range of innovations in services around energy and fuel efficiency. The
Climate Group is tracking these initiatives with measurable results on

Read the statement here.

Categories: climate change, GE, Google, monopoly, power Tags:

Elinor Ostrom: Another Nobel Laureate jumps the climate shark (Proceed at Own Risk)

December 18th, 2009 No comments

On December 16, Spiegel Online ran the following interview with Elinor Ostrom, whose 2009 Nobel prize in economics (shared with Oliver Williamson), was widely applauded by Austrian economists (and whose work I have referred to any number of time previously).

Der Spiegel asked some good questions, and Ostrom provided interesting responses, though thoughtful readers of course are left asking for more.

I`ve tweaked the formatting, added my own emphasis, and interspersed a few bracketed comments of my own:


Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom

‘Climate Rules Set from the Top Are Not Enough`

The world is gathered in Copenhagen in an
effort to reach an agreement to slow global warming. Elinor Ostrom,
winner of this year’s Nobel prize for economics, spoke with SPIEGEL
ONLINE about shared ownership, local action and why we can’t sit around
waiting for politicians to act.


SPIEGEL ONLINE: The Copenhagen summit is about setting new
global rules for how we treat the Earth. But are people willing to
change their personal lives

Elinor Ostrom: Under the right circumstances, people are willing
to accept additional efforts and costs. It all depends on trust in the
fact that others will also act.
Humans have the capacity to engage and
see that their own long-term future is harmed if they don’t change
their lifestyles. Under the right circumstances they understand: It’s
not me against you. It’s all of us against ourselves, if we don’t act.
So trust really is the most important resource.

[The multi-decade, global trust-building exercise has made a great deal of progress, despite being hampered by gamesmanship, domestic rent-seeking, partisan mistrust, legitimate worries about abuse of government, and the difficulty we all face in actually agreeing there might be a problem (as opposed to a big scam/mass delusion).]

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How can we generate enough trust so that we all act in concert?

Ostrom: Rules set from the top are not enough. Successful
communities often have a few common design principles —
monitoring and
sanctioning of the participants, for example. They also have conflict
resolution mechanisms
in place and the people have some authority to
make their own rules
. Under those circumstances humans can develop some
trust in each other — faith that if they take a costly action that
benefits everybody in the long run, others will also invest.

[Yes, but does “community”-level action scale? How do we make a “community” with billions of people we have little interaction with? Is Ostrom suggesting we need more global-level “grassroots” community-building, in addition to leader-level trust-building?]

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why is it less effective if governments establish strict rules from the top down?

Ostrom: Because people will not identify with it. My research
has shown that forests managed by local communities are in a far better
state than state-run parks, where locals feel left out and officials
can be bribed.
Let us imagine, we live in a village and have all agreed
that none of us is going to be in the forest on Saturday or Sunday, so
that we can give the forest time to recreate. If I then see you in the
forest when you’re not supposed to be, I will probably yell at you. If
only the state is in charge, I will just walk on past.

[Now she`s talking; libertarians and a host of others almost completely reject even climate “science” out of a reflexive but understandable concern that climate “policy” is or will be sufficiently corrupt as to vitiate any intended/purported gains. The same is true with many on environmentalists and others on the left, who feel that powerful corporate insiders will make climate policy ineffective.]

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In your research, you focused on local and
regional levels. What makes you think that your solutions would work
for the entire planet as well?

Ostrom: Indeed, the global scale is a challenge. Building that
kind of knowledge between the different parties is tricky. We need our
global leaders to take some of the decisions on a very big level.
at the summit, those guys are talking to each other and gaining some
trust because they meet face to face. But then they go home — and
that’s when the real action starts.

[It`s tricky, but much progress has been made; even Sen. Robert “Coal” Byrd is signalling that coal states need to change, and China abd India both concede change is needed – though naturally they make an equity argument that they have a right to catch up with out per capita CO2 emissons (which are four times theirs).]

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Can money help to build trust between developing nations and industrialized nations?

Ostrom: Maybe, and it is hard to see a climate deal without
serious financial commitments.
But at the same time, I am very worried
and nervous about corruption. If we pour money into a country in which
the corruption level is very high, we would be kidding ourselves not to
think that some of it will end up in the wrong pockets.
At first, a lot
of the proposals on the table sound great. But four to six years later,
you have a lot of politicians who have money in Swiss bank accounts.
What we need are tight rules and controls to ensure that the billions
that might be put on the table here are used correctly.

[Ostrom is absolutely right, if understated – perhaps most “development” aid has been disastrous. Still, it might make sense for some aid money to go to climate adaptation projects, and to allow offsets for preserving tropical forests – if the money goes to indigenous peoples, and not corrupt governments.]

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In other words, an anti-corruption task force
like the one that exists in Indonesia — might be the best
environmental protection agency?

Ostrom: Absolutely! If you look at the role corruption plays in
giving away forests to big corporations and in looking away if forest
protection rules are broken, you will see that bribery is one of the
main contributors to environmental destruction.

[A fruitful focus by libertarians and conservatives might be on simply helping to bolster law and order – including the property rights of locals – in developing nations.]

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Is it possible to save the climate with a single treaty?

Ostrom: One treaty will not solve the problem entirely. This is
why I propose a so-called polycentric approach to tackling climate
change. We need all levels of human society to work on this to be
effective in the long run. Cities, villages, communities and networks
of people have been neglected as players.

[I`m not sure I agree with Otrom here; there has been plenty of action on climate on individual, local, corporate and state levels, thanks in no small part to the stifling of climate policy at federal levels under the GWB/Cheney administrations. While such “thousand points of light” efforts may be bolstering mutual trust at various levels around the world, federal and international policy coordination is still needed, fraught with rent-seeking problems though it may be, ]

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What happens if there is no agreement?

Ostrom: We need to get away from the idea that there is only one
solution on the global scale. There are many, many levels in between.
So we need to take action on smaller levels. If the politicians do not
agree in Copenhagen, I would like to embarrass the hell out of them
getting some agreements going where people are doing something —
essentially saying: “We are tired of waiting for you.” The city of
Freiburg is a very good place to see what that actually means.

[Politicians don`t embarrasss so easily; rather they see opportunities to jump on and use band wagons to bolster their own careers and to steer favors to rent-seekers.]

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why Freiburg of all places?

Ostrom: I spend quite a bit of time in Germany and I’m very
impressed by some of the local action I see. Local action cannot do it
fully, but just think about all the bicycle-paths that they have built
there. That is a case where the action of individuals is reducing
emissions. At the same time it is a very healthy thing. On Sundays
everybody is going to the woods and has a good time on their bikes —
and not in their cars. It’s good for your health and for the
environment. So everyone should ask himself: Why don’t I bike to work
and leave the damn car at home or get rid of it entirely?

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Still, such a decentralized approach sounds
painfully slow. We need rapid action if we wish to limit global warming
to 2 degrees Celsius.

Ostrom: If we sit here and twiddle our thumbs and wait for these
guys up there to make a decision — that is what I would call painfully
slow. Should we just blame the politicians? I am not saying that we can
solve it entirely, but we can make significant steps. To some extent we
can challenge them. Everyone can contact foolish politicians like some
US Congressmen who oppose climate change action by e-mail or phone and
let them know that they are acting irresponsibly.

[Unfortunately, Ostrom doesn`t address how we figure out how to trust our own government, and how to mitigate/manage the problem of rent-seeking. But I`ve tried to note the types of policies that libertarians cand – and should – support here. Some Austrians might even want to consider the root cause of rampant renk-seeking and fights over the wheel – the corporate risk-shifting juggernaut that has its genesis in the grant of limited liability]

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why is the US so reluctant to fight climate change?

Ostrom: In the economic emergency we are experiencing, some
people think that we cannot afford it. I think it is the other way
around, if we don’t act now we will run into even greater economic
problems in the future. And of course we still have the bad legacy of
our previous president, George W. Bush.
For eight years, the White
House didn’t consider the issue to be important. We did not have
American leaders who understood that there is a scientific foundation.
Obama has a much higher chance of understanding the science. But even
for him it is just damn tough.

[It`s  even more complicated, obviously. The Bush administrtion actually DID work on building trust with China and India, supported the IPCC science process, etc. But they were also rather naked catering to coal and other fossil feul interests, while making political hay by labelling all concerned scare-mongering socialists. Not only is it extremely difficult to coordinate this issue globally, it`s also difficult politicaly to tell Americans that fossil-fuel-based energy is underpriced, to seek to undo public utility monopolies, or to address the favors to dirty coal in the Clean Air Act, or to streamline nuclear power licensing.]

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Worries about climate change have slowly
resulted in people seeing the Earth’s atmosphere as a common good that
we all must protect. Where is the next challenge?

Ostrom: The oceans! They are being threatened to an ever greater
degree. It is a disaster, a very difficult situation. The fish
resources are overexploited and waste, including CO2, is dumped in huge
quantities into the ocean. The law of the sea has not been effective at
all. A lot of fishing ships act like roving bandits. That’s why better
ocean governance is one of the top priorities for safeguarding the

Interview conducted by Christoph Seidler and Christian Schwägerl

I would be remiss if I did not point out that Ostrom recently elucidated her views on climate policy in much greater length in a paper that she prepared at the behest of the World Bank. Yes, Ostrom`s trying to give the Beast indigestion – from the Inside. 

Here`s the extract of her paper,  “A Polycentric Approach for Coping with Climate Change”:

Abstract: This paper
proposes an alternative approach to addressing the complex problems of
climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions. The author, who won
the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, argues that single policies
adopted only at a global scale are unlikely to generate sufficient
trust among citizens and firms so that collective action can take place
in a comprehensive and transparent manner that will effectively reduce
global warming. Furthermore, simply recommending a single governmental
unit to solve global collective action problems is inherently weak
because of free-rider problems. For example, the Carbon Development
Mechanism (CDM) can be ‘gamed’ in ways that hike up prices of natural
resources and in some cases can lead to further natural resource
exploitation. Some flaws are also noticeable in the Reducing Emissions
from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries
(REDD) program. Both the CDM and REDD are vulnerable to the free-rider
problem. As an alternative, the paper proposes a polycentric approach
at various levels with active oversight of local, regional, and
national stakeholders. Efforts to reduce global greenhouse gas
emissions are a classic collective action problem that is best
addressed at multiple scales and levels.
Given the slowness and
conflict involved in achieving a global solution to climate change,
recognizing the potential for building a more effective way of reducing
green house gas emissions at multiple levels is an important step
forward. A polycentric approach has the main advantage of encouraging
experimental efforts at multiple levels, leading to the development of
methods for assessing the benefits and costs of particular strategies
adopted in one type of ecosystem and compared to results obtained in
other ecosystems. Building a strong commitment to find ways of reducing
individual emissions is an important element for coping with this
problem, and having others also take responsibility can be more
effectively undertaken in small- to medium-scale governance units that
are linked together through information networks and monitoring at all
levels. This paper was prepared as a background paper for the 2010
World Development Report on Climate Change

I left this earlier comment on the paper at the blog of libertarian-leaning water economist David Zetland:


David, I saw this elsewhere and read through this,but count me
unimpressed. It`s basically a recounting of what we already know – that
there are formidable barriers to reaching coordinated global decisions
on climate policies, that local, regional and efforts are proceeding
and will be needed in any event, both in mitigation and adaptation.

Nothing about whether local, regional and national efforts scale to the size of the problem.

Bob Murphy, Implicit Apologist for Coal, Misconstrues the Real Debate & Lessons from "Climategate"

December 7th, 2009 3 comments

Bob Murphy recently offered LvMI readers a post; “Apologist Responses to Climategate Misconstrue the Real Debate”; I left a few comments in response (minor edits).

(My apologies to Bob for  borrowing and tweaking his title.)

Bob, interesting title –

“Apologist Responses to Climategate Misconstrue the Real Debate (Quantitative, not Qualitative)”

Have you failed to notice that practically every commenter on threads here, as well as at “MasterResource” misunderstands and misconstrues precisely what you have spelled out?

Interesting place to post it, as well.  MasterResource? Isn`t that Rob Bradley`s so-called “free market” energy blog that bans libertarian commenters who dare to note:

– the blog`s failure to ever actually argue for freer energy markets or to criticize the dirty favors given under the status quo to coal, or

– the blog`s close affiliations with naked rent-seeking groups like IER (which Exxon expressly de-funded due to its no-longer “productive” stance on climate change)(and which pays you for your climate work) and American Energy Alliance?


It`s curious that you focus on climate “apologists”, while ignoring how you yourself so adroitly act as one for the reflexive “skeptics”:

– “It’s true, an email from Phil Jones by itself doesn’t make Richard Lindzen right or wrong, but when policymakers need to decide which scientific experts they can trust, then the CRU emails are very relevant.”

Um, wouldn`t a “real” skeptic say you are both appealing to authority, and by referring to trust, dismissing some on an “ad hom” basis, without addressing their arguments?

– You slip by the obvious nonsense deliberately spouted by Limbaugh, Fox and others, by pretending they`re actually being reasonable:

“Of course, what Limbaugh and the Fox interviewer meant was, “The theory that says governments around the world need to heavily intervene in their energy sectors right away, or else our grandchildren will face climate catastrophes, cannot be justified by careful scientific research.”

Respectfully, hogwash. Why the effort to put lipstick on pigs?

While I find a fair bit of your post to be useful, other parts are misleading:

– “the issue isn’t, “Is ‘climate’ a useful theory to explain thermometer readings?” No, the real debate concerns very specific and quantitative disagreements.”

This really misses the gist: the real scientific dispute about ONE aspect of climate science is about climate “sensitivity” – the long-term, multi-decadal average temperature response of the Earth`s surface temperature to a doubling of CO2 – and is a specific disagreement over quantities that can only be GUESSED at in advance and are very difficult to estimate even in retrospect.

You – like “skeptics” like Lindzen – totally ignore ocean acidification.

– “The reason QED (quantum electrodynamics) is powerful is that it allowed physicists to make very precise predictions that were experimentally verified.”

It`s funny that you mention this, as if it implies we should ignore/discount climate science – until it can be “experimentally verified.”  Well, we`re running the experiment right now, except we have no “control”, no re-runs, and little or no control over the very experiment itself. Excuse me for not finding cnfort in this, or in your lack of willingness to address it.

– “If the climate scientists cannot tell if a particular remedy is working, it means that they aren’t exactly sure how the climate would have evolved in the absence of such a remedy. In other words, Trenberth at least is admitting that he is not at all confident in the precise, quantitative predictions that the alarmists are citing as proof of the need for immediate government intervention.”

Bob, scientists all recognize that there is a great deal of unpredictibility/”noise” in the climate system; there simply are are NO “precise, quantitative predictions” that any scientist is making. I`m surprised you find anything surprising here.

– “`All the rest is economics.`   Since that is Schmidt’s view, it’s not surprising that he thinks Climategate is much ado about nothing.”

I read this differently; Schmidt indicates, that from a scientists`s view,  we ought to immediately stop forcing the climate, but acknowledges that the decision is not his to make, and involves cost-benefit money/political decisions that belong to others.

– “Those of us who are not experts on climate models now have proof that the official line that “the science is settled” was a bluff.”

It`s not clear what you actually mean here, Bob, but in any case you have absolutely no such thing.  The “official line” has always been a political argument about that society should respond to growing scientific knowledge; these emails do NOT alter the underlying knowledge.

– “but the confidence we should right now place in their modeling is much lower than what their biggest enthusiasts have been assuring us for years.”

On what basis do you offer this opinion, and the implicit comfort that coal producers/utilities/their investors want to give us that burning all the rest of the world`s fossil fuels will leave the climate/oceans hunky-dory (ignoring all the dangerous gunk included it)?


Let me close with a note that, despite my criticisms, I commend Bob`s effort; I encourage him to continue to check that he`s not falling prey to sophisticated forms of self-delusion:


Road Not Taken II: Austrians strive for a self-comforting irrelevancy
on climate change, the greatest commons problem / rent-seeking game of
our age

A few more “delusional” thoughts to John Quiggin on partisan perceptions & libertarian opposition to collective action

Categories: Bob Murphy, climate change, Rob Bradley Tags:

More lunacy? James Murdoch/News Corp. argues for "Clean energy conservatives can embrace"

December 7th, 2009 No comments

Readers might also want to take note of this December 4 recent WaPo op-ed by James Murdoch, chairman and chief executive (Europe and Asia) of News Corporation, which is targetted at getting Republicans involved in approving climate legislation.

Now is a good time, given the shift generated by the Climate Hack and ongoing economic difficulties. Perhaps a “conservative” or two might even consider clean energy policies that would actually produce GREATER economic freedom? I`m not holding my breath; such proposals have been roundly denounced even here among what passes for the thoughtful at LvMI.

What`s wrong with Murdoch? Doesn`t he know that emails have shown that climate change is the figment of the imagination of a vast left-wing conspiracy by idiots, evil capitalists and co-religionists like the Catholic Church, who want to destroy civilization, or at least to put us and foolish leaders in China, India and elsewhere under their boot? 

The piece will be surprising only to those who haven`t been paying attention to the Murdochs.

Much of the piece – justifications for Republicans to agree to climate/clean energy legislation – is nonsense, but the closing paragraphs are worth a gander (emphasis added):

Competition trumps regulation. A sensible clean-energy
policy should free, rather than constrain, markets. Smart policy
corrects market failures and provides certainty, stimulating investment
in the technology and infrastructure necessary to build an economy
based on clean energy.
Washington must ensure that such investment will
be rewarded. The government shouldn’t “pick winners” –– it should
unleash competition, ensuring that the cleanest businesses thrive and
the dirtiest are held accountable. A well-crafted federal law to limit
pollution is better than unfettered regulation by the EPA or
ever-changing regulation by the states.

The seeds of these opportunities have already been planted. And
companies that have taken the lead are prospering. At News Corporation,
we have saved millions by becoming more energy-efficient, overhauling a
range of systems from the production of such shows as “American Idol”
and “24” to energy usage in our buildings around the world. This has
yielded savings that help us invest more in talent and has inspired us
to look for further opportunities to improve.

You do not need to believe that all climate science is settled or
every prediction or model is perfect to understand the benefits of
limiting pollution and transforming our energy policies — as a
gradually declining cap on carbon pollution would do. This is the
moment to champion policies that yield new industries, healthy
competition, cleaner air and water, freedom from petroleum politics and
reduced costs for businesses.

Through market-based incentives we can achieve clean energy at the
lowest cost and with the strongest incentives for innovation —
ensuring that the energy solution will help, not harm, the economy.
Republicans such as Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) get this and are working
across party lines to build support for new legislation. Previously
conservation-minded conservatives are missing in the heated
partisanship of today’s politics. It’s time they found their voice

“The Climes, They Are A-Changin`”!

Categories: climate change, Murdoch Tags:

Sen. Byrd – coal-hater and climate fanatic?

December 7th, 2009 No comments

It looks like Sen. Robert Byrd, a lifetime loyal supporter of the West Virginia coal industry (see his definitive biography, “Robert C. Byrd: Child of the Appalachian Coalfields”), stabbed Don Blankenship/Massey Coal and the rest of the W.Va. environmentally destructive “mountaintop mining” industry in the back last Thursday, in an op-ed in the West Virginia MetroNews entitled, “Coal Must Embrace the Future”.

I excerpt portions below (emphasis added):

For more than 100 years, coal has been the backbone of the Appalachian economy. Even today, the economies of more than 20 states depend to some degree on the mining of coal. About half of all the electricity generated in America and about one quarter of all the energy consumed globally is generated by coal.

Change is no stranger to the coal industry.  Think of the huge changes which came with the onset of the Machine Age in the late 1800’s.  Mechanization has increased coal production and revenues, but also has eliminated jobs, hurting the economies of coal communities. In 1979, there were 62,500 coal miners in the Mountain State. Today there are about 22,000. In recent years, West Virginia has seen record high coal production and record low coal employment.

increased use of mountaintop removal mining means that fewer miners are needed to meet company production goals. Meanwhile the Central Appalachian coal seams that remain to be mined are becoming thinner and more costly to mine. Mountaintop removal mining, a declining national demand for energy, rising mining costs and erratic spot market prices all add up to fewer jobs in the coal fields.

These are real problems. They affect real people. And West Virginia’s elected officials are rightly concerned about jobs and the economic impact on local communities.  I share those concerns.  But the time has come to have an open and honest dialogue about coal’s future in West Virginia.

Let’s speak the truth. The most important factor in maintaining coal-related jobs is demand for coal. Scapegoating and stoking fear among workers over the permitting process is counter-productive.

Coal companies want a large stockpile of permits in their back pockets because that implies stability to potential investors. But when coal industry representatives stir up public anger toward federal regulatory agencies, it can damage the state’s ability to work with those agencies to West Virginia’s benefit. This, in turn, may create the perception of ineffectiveness within the industry, which can drive potential investors away.

Let’s speak a little more truth here. No deliberate effort to do away with the coal industry could ever succeed in Washington because there is no available alternative energy supply that could immediately supplant the use of coal for base load power generation in America. That is a stubborn fact that vexes some in the environmental community, but it is reality.

It is also a reality that the practice of mountaintop removal mining has a diminishing constituency in Washington. It is not a widespread method of mining, with its use confined to only three states.  Most members of Congress, like most Americans, oppose the practice, and we may not yet fully understand the effects of mountaintop removal mining on the health of our citizens. West Virginians may demonstrate anger toward the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over mountaintop removal mining, but we risk the very probable consequence of shouting ourselves out of any productive dialogue with EPA and our adversaries in the Congress.

Some have even suggested that coal state representatives in Washington should block any advancement of national health care reform legislation until the coal industry’s demands are met by the EPA. I believe that the notion of holding the health care of over 300 million Americans hostage in exchange for a handful of coal permits is beyond foolish; it is morally indefensible.  It is a non-starter, and puts the entire state of West Virginia and the coal industry in a terrible light.

To be part of any solution, one must first acknowledge a problem. To deny the mounting science of climate change is to stick our heads in the sand and say “deal me out.” West Virginia would be much smarter to stay at the table.

The 20 coal-producing states together hold some powerful political cards. We can have a part in shaping energy policy, but we must be honest brokers if we have any prayer of influencing coal policy on looming issues important to the future of coal like hazardous air pollutants, climate change, and federal dollars for investments in clean coal technology.

Most people understand that America cannot meet its current energy needs without coal, but there is strong bi-partisan opposition in Congress to the mountaintop removal method of mining it. We have our work cut out for us in finding a prudent and profitable middle ground – but we will not reach it by using fear mongering, grandstanding and outrage as a strategy. As your United States Senator, I must represent the opinions and the best interests of the entire Mountain State, not just those of coal operators and southern coalfield residents who may be strident supporters of mountaintop removal mining.

I have spent the past six months working with a group of coal state Democrats in the Senate, led by West Virginia native Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.), drafting provisions to assist the coal industry in more easily transitioning to a lower-carbon economy. These include increasing funding for clean coal projects and easing emission standards and timelines, setting aside billions of dollars for coal plants that install new technology and continue using coal. These are among the achievable ways coal can continue its major role in our national energy portfolio. It is the best way to step up to the challenge and help lead change.

The truth is that some form of climate legislation will likely become public policy because most American voters want a healthier environment.  Major coal-fired power plants and coal operators operating in West Virginia have wisely already embraced this reality, and are making significant investments to prepare.

The future of coal and indeed of our total energy picture lies in change and innovation. In fact, the future of American industrial power and our economic ability to compete globally depends on our ability to advance energy technology.

The greatest threats to the future of coal do not come from possible constraints on mountaintop removal mining or other environmental regulations, but rather from rigid mindsets, depleting coal reserves, and the declining demand for coal as more power plants begin shifting to biomass and natural gas as a way to reduce emissions.

Fortunately, West Virginia has a running head-start as an innovator. Low-carbon and renewable energy projects are already under development in West Virginia, including:  America’s first integrated carbon capture and sequestration project on a conventional coal-fired power plant in Mason County; the largest wind power facility in the eastern United States; a bio-fuel refinery in Nitro; three large wood pellet plants in Fayette, Randolph, and Gilmer Counties; and major dams capable of generating substantial electricity.

Change has been a constant throughout the history of our coal industry. West Virginians can choose to anticipate change and adapt to it, or resist and be overrun by it. 
One thing is clear.  The time has arrived for the people of the Mountain State to think long and hard about which course they want to choose.

(Oops; looks like I “excerpted” the whole thing!)

Byrd looks like he`s ready to sign a climate bill and to see an end to future mountaintop mining permits, as long as he gets federal pork for carbon capture and storage, and maybe some “green” project financing. These together may boost jobs in his state.

I think he`s also fairly accurately noted that it is the coal industry itself, and not politicos/regulators in Washington, that are the chief threat to coal jobs and to the health of W.Va citizens.

It`s too bad that states like W.Va. are so beholden to coal revenues that it essential requires political decisions – as opposed to simply upholding the rights of property owners to be free from nuisance, intrusions and damages by others – to put an end to destructive mining practices.

“The Climes, They Are A-Changin`”!

Categories: climate change, Coal, Massey, Robert Byrd Tags:

"The Climes, They Are A-Changin`"; Or, Dylan Does Copenhagen

December 6th, 2009 No comments

Apologies, but I can`t resist:

I saw a news item earlier today – “Copenhagen climate summit borrows Dylan’s voice” – that indicates that the COP 15 organizers (the 15th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, to which Pres. George H.W. Bush & Congress made US a party) are making informal use of Bob Dylan`s “A Hard Rain is Gonna Fall” as a conference theme (“UN to release ‘Hard Rain’ film with Bob Dylan tune on eve of climate talks | Spero News“). 

Well, a different Dylan song popped into my head; tweaked very slightly, it goes like this:

The Climes They Are A-Changin’

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the climes they are a-changin’.

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’.
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the climes they are a-changin’.

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside
And it is ragin’.
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’.

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin’.
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the climes they are a-changin’.

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin’.
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the climes they are a-changin’.

Dylan`s original, The Times They Are A-Changin` is here.

I intend no offense here to anyone; those with different predilections on climate and the problem of government and rent-seeking will see this and other Rorshach Blots differently.

But for readers that have made it this far, I note the following:

ClimateGate (My Climate Confession; or the war with deceivers and with self-deception)

December 4th, 2009 4 comments

[I note that Jeffrey Tucker has kindly put a post linking to this from the main Mises Economics Blog pages: A Libertarian Green Responds to Climategate.  Readers are invited to note the comments over there, and to comment where their fancy may suit them.]

Aaah, the Great Climate Hack!

I`m flattered by a back-handed request to weigh in – with something “public,
humble and honest” – with my thoughts on the ramifications of the mass
of emails hacked from the UK East Anglia University Climate Research Unit.

Well, I`ll try, despite the fact that, in the case of this Rorschach blot, people are not only starting with their own predilections and views, but given the reams of commentary already written by others, people aren`t really even commenting on the same Rorshach blot.

[May my readers try to be honest with themselves as well. I`ve been
holding back, in part because the parameters of the story are quite
large, but also simply not to spoil the fun as calm, reasoning climate
scientists at LvMI enjoy a “delicious” bout of self-congratulatory -“see, we knew all along that `climate change` exists only in the hearts of perfidious, conspiring men!” I mean, what`s the point of weighing in where minds are already made up?]

My take?  A few basic points, and maybe a few links at the end:

  • Whatever GCH may reveal about certain climate scientists or their behavior, it does not, of course, alter the climate itself. Nor does it have any significant  impact on the enormous array of data across the world that points to ongoing climate change, a human role in it, and concerns about the possible climate impacts as we proceed to double and triple the atmospheric levels of CO2 by combusting the world`s accessible fossil fuels.
  • The Climate Hack is certainly egg on the face of some climate scientists – although this has been spun ridiculously out of context (much criticism is clearly simply wrong, though those who find the whole thing “delicious” have a tough time looking past the sources they prefer to read) – but the
    implication that the science is nothing but a conspiracy is an obvious
    . The political amateurisness of the scientists alone tells us that. (If any readers honestly need help in finding their way through the fog – self-deluded or deliberate – of the “skeptics” here, please let me know.)
  • Austrians/libertarians already knew that much of the climate science is politicized,
    especially here
    , not simply because of public funding, but chiefly because all
    parties – fossil fuel investors seeking to protect a generous
    status quo, enviros, politicians & bureaucrats, and those seeking
    greater advantage or more investment climate certainty – are seeking to
    steer government in particular directions
    , in ways that will significantly affect all of us. A further factor in such politicization is the simple difficulty that laymen (and scientists) have in wrapping their own heads around the climate science, and for which personal confirmation may take a lifetime. Personal predilections to hate “environazis”and the like, on the one hand, or to disdain evil capitalists, on the other, has nearly everyone looking for whatever scrap of science confirms their existing views and/or suits their political preferences.
  • The discord among scientists and attempts at gate-keeping are part
    and parcel of science – publicly-funded or not – but because of the
    political importance of climate science, we need greater, not less,
    The apparent efforts at gate-keeping (seeking to influence what gets published in peer-reviewed journals and what appears in IPCC reports) is what seems most objectionable, but there has been plenty of disagreement and change in views even in the dominant view; the science is and will always remain unsettled. All dissenters have found ways to make their views known, most of which have been examined and found wanting, and few dissenters have mutually coherent views.What has happened is that scientists who are extremely concerned about climate change have felt that political action is needed, and that dissenting views are dangerous distractions, and have made efforts to limit “distractions”. Such a belief appears to have been well-founded, but acting on it in this way a strategic mistake. Greater openness is required for publicly-funded research, particularly here where there is a strong, established and resistant rent-seeking class that seeks to minimize the science and to distract public discussion. While the efforts of climate scientists to provide data to and to address the arguments of “skeptics” would necessarily entail a distracting amount of attention, it is apparent that they simply need to grin and bear it.
  • Much – though not all – of the “skepticism” is clearly
    revealed as an extended, deliberate campaign by fossil fuel interests
    , dressed up
    in part by scientists who are non-experts in the field they criticize, with support by “conservatives” and “libertarians” who prefer a massive unmanaged meddling with global ecosystems (and defense of a government-entangled, pro-fossil fuel firms status quo) over a likely expansion of government.
  • The controversy – and the hurdles it raises in the
    legislative/policy agenda – presents an opportunity for those who 
    prefer market-friendly policies to shift the discussion away from the
    current porky, bureaucrat-friendly cap and trade package
    that even climate scientists
    like NASA`s James Hansen and enviros widely disdain. 
  • International cooperation will continue, because informed citizens, corporations and leaders worldwide all desire such action. Efforts at cooperation will continue to be bedevilled by gamesmanship issues common with open-access resources – over fairness, efficiency, good will and verifiability.
  • Domestic climate legislation
    and regulation remain in the cards and will eventually pass, in one form or another
    – not simply because science is
    persuasive and the risks of inaction high, but also because a
    coalition of firms and gate-keepers want such legislation. We are witnessing a fight over government between certain powerful fossil fuel interests and a coalition of other interests (and the politicians that cater to them all); the fossil fuel interests are fated to lose their long predominance.

Humbly and honestly,


PS:  Here are a few pieces of commentary/reporting that I consider worth a read (this is by no means complete or organized) :

Gavin Schmidt, Unsettled Science, RealClimate, December 3 2009

Andrew Freedman, Expert: E-mails show perils of ‘activist’ science, Washington Post, December 4, 2009

John Fleck, The Climate Emails, The Albuquerque Journal Wednesday, 02 December 2009

BBC, UN body wants probe of climate e-mail row Friday, 4 December 2009

ANDREW C. REVKIN, A Climate Scientist on ‘Data Mining’ for Dirt, December 2, 2009 New York Times

ANDREW C. REVKIN, Critic of ‘Climate Oligarchy’ Defends Case for CO2-Driven Warming, December 2, 2009,

Katherine Goldstein, ClimateGate: The 6 Most Dubious Claims About The Supposed “Global Warming Hoax”, Huffington Post, 12- 2-09

ANDREW C. REVKIN, After Emergence of Climate Files, an Uncertain Forecast, December 1, 2009, 10:56 am

Andrew Freedman, Scientist: Consensus withstands climate e-mail flap, Capital Hill Weather Gang, Washington Post, December 1, 2009

Roger Harrabin, Harrabin’s Notes: Debating the IPCC, BBC, Monday, 30 November 2009

ANDREW C. REVKIN,  A Climate Scientist Who Engages Skeptics, November 27, 2009, New York Times

Andrew Freedman Climate scientist criticizes skeptics, press, November 24, 2009

Andrew Freedman, Science historian reacts to hacked climate e-mails, November 23, 2009

Bud Ward, Climate Scientists’ E-mails Hacked, Posted; So What Does it All Mean for the Climate? The Yale Forum on Climate Change & The Media, November 22, 2009

More later; I didn`t really bookmark the best of these.