Archive for the ‘climate’ Category

Stop the nuclear industry bailout

March 3rd, 2010 No comments

And now a public service market  announcement (with the captioned title) from your friendly local mankind-hating envirofascist, courtesy of Dave Schwab of Green Change, who is apparently the author of the following missive that found its way into my email inbox:

Dear Tokyo,

President Obama has proposed a whopping $54 billion in loan guarantees for the construction of new nuclear power plants.

What does that mean? If the costly new nuclear plants aren’t finished, then taxpayers cover the huge financial loss.

If they are built, then we’re stuck with power plants that generate
overpriced electricity and create deadly radioactive waste that will
remain toxic for thousands of years.

Either way, the nuclear industry wins, and we lose.

Tell President Obama to stop the nuclear power boondoggle.

Nuclear power creates deadly radioactive waste, from the mining process
onwards.   It’s got a scary history: think Chernobyl and Three Mile

Just recently, a nuclear plant in Vermont was ordered shut down after
radioactive tritium, which is linked to cancer, leaked from the plant
into local water supplies.

Nuclear power is so financially risky that even Wall Street won’t bet
on it.  It’s a public health and financial disaster waiting to happen.

Instead, our government should promote energy efficiency and a
decentralized power system based on safe, clean, renewable energy.

Tell President Obama today: don’t risk our future with nuclear power subsidies!


Dave Schwab

Online organizer
Green Change

Note that I strongly disagree that nuclear power presents serious health risks; it seems to me that the health hazards and risks from nuclear power activities are orders of magnitude less than those presented by coal and other fossil fuels. Nuclear “waste” has been well-managed, and is waste only because the government has stopped industry from re-using it as fuel in breeder reactors. So while I understand the “scary” nuclear power theme (a consequence of the massive and counterproductive role of government in developing and testing nuclear weapons), I think it is counterproductive.

I am in favor of nuclear power (though NOT in favor of subsidies), and believe we’d see alot more if coal was full-costed (it receives federal and state subsidies via licenses to mine, pollute the air and pollute land and water with wastes). I’ve blogged more on nuclear power here. As Cato’s Jerry Taylor put it: Nuclear power is “solar power for conservatives” and needs “a policy of tough love”.

However, I do feel strongly that we ought to encourage energy efficiency – by removing public utility power monopolies.

We ought likewise to eliminate subsidies for other types of power production, and instead let free markets and consumer and investor choice work their wonders.

On climate, myopic progressives console themselves by pointing out fossil $ behind science "skeptics"; but miss the same from left and ignore middle ground

February 28th, 2010 No comments

Case in point is Kate Sheppard, reporter on energy and environmental politics in Mother Jones‘ Washington bureau (previously political reporter for and a writing fellow at The American Prospect), who has an interesting but shallow piece up called “Most Credible Climate Skeptic Not So Credible After All” (Fri Feb. 26, 2010), which digs into climate scientist/policy-peddler Patrick Michaels, who –  as I have previously noted – acts as a paid mouthpiece for fossil fuel interests.

Sheppard’s piece is fair enough, as far as it goes. That THERE BE RENT-SEEKERS trying to win favors from government surely ought not to be a surprise to any libertarians following the Climate Wars, even though most tend naturally to fall into a partisan camp that makes them acutely aware of the Other Bad Guys while ignoring the self-seeking among the fossil fuel interests and other Well-Intentioned People who are on their own side of the fence.

The climate worriers also have blinders on, and frequently fail to engage in criticisms of the motives and self-seeking in climate change champions (like Gore) and their climate alliance business supporters (though some, like climate scientist Jim Hansen and Greenpeace strongly criticize the porkiness of legislative actions). They also ignore that they, too – like fossil fuel firms – are members of interest groups trying to influence government (on this, I think it is clear that fossil fuel firms, which are seeking to defend existing business turf, are much more powerful, sophisticated and effective than the climate coalitions).

While I have noted that cui bono arguments are fair and unavoidable (and have made a number of them myself), I do regret that the way people fall into partisan camps continues to get in the way of them noticing the very wide area of common ground, which if addressed would bring benefits to both sides.

But if libertarians – who know very well how government ownership and management of resources frustrates private deal-making and leads to politicized battles – cannot themselves break away from politicized battles to try to work for common ground, how can we expect those who think that Big Government is the only solution to the problems created by Big, Bad Corporations (which after all, do benefit from the very unlibertarian grant of limited liability) to do so?

Elinor Ostrom was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics for explicating that trust and communication are key elements by which communities can effectively manage common resources and common problems. Yet it seems that the past few Administrations (and Congress and the Supreme Court) have done a great job of destroying mutual trust and trust In federal government in general. In this climate, the effort to enlist a bulky federal government in climate regulation efforts has provided even further fuel to hose who benefit from polarization.

Is either communication or trust still possible on climate and energy? Maybe, but people have to start seeing that there are reasons to  cooperate. A shared future and ample middle ground seems like good reasons to me.


A note to Lew Rockwell regarding the reflexive irrelevancy of libertarians on the climate/big government morass

December 20th, 2009 4 comments

Lew Rockwell has a post up on the Mises Economics Blog – “The Left Fell into the Climate Morass” – that has just come to my attention. I`m not from the left, but as a right-leaning, free-market enviro, I offered Lew a few comments, which I copy below:

Lew, I think most of your criticism of the left and of environmentalists is apt, but “libertarians” have only to look in the mirror to see someone to blame for the lack of productive discourse on environmental and regulatory issues, and the reason why libertarians are being marginalized in the confused debate over the legitimate role of the state.

Libertarians in general continue to:

– ignore the opportunities created by widespread concerns about climate change risks to partner with both left and right to seek to undo counterproductive state/federal regulation:

– refuse to follow-up on their own analyses to dig more deeply to see that the roots of the disastrous cycle of regulation (and snowballing fights over the wheel of government) lie in the grant of limited liability to corporate investors, and the resulting externalization of risk and undermining of common law property protections:

– as Ed Dolan suggested, continue to act as the “conservatives” that Hayek despised by refusing to question the legitimacy of the favors provided to statist enterprises under the status quo, and turn a blind eye to the direct role that “libertarians” play in the gamesmanship such enterprises continue (such questions of motives being “ad homs” except when addressed to alarmists, in whch case it is “cui bono”):

– instead of acknowledging the legitimacy of concerns over man`s onslaught on nature and local communities (arising both from a lack of property rights problem and from the hand of kleptocratic governments) prefer a self-comforting irrelevancy, both on climate and on resource issues generally:

– rather than honest engagement, prefer a tribal hatred of misanthropic “watermelons” and a smug love of strawmen and ad-homs:

Time once again for some self-satisfied, but ultimately empty tribal holiday cheer?



Duelling climate policy parables: in the face of RealClimate`s "tragedy of the commons", MasterResource`s Emperor has no clothes

May 26th, 2009 No comments

I`ve done a bit of blogging over the past few weeks regarding the “The tragedy of climate commons” post by climate scientist Gavin Schmidt and ensuing discussion at the RealClimate website.  Schmidt wrote the post in response to the implied suggestion by Chip Knappenberger at the MasterResource blog that, since unilateral policy action by the US would by itself be unlikely to significantly affect future climate (given the the rapid growth in CO2 emissions by China, India etc.), the wisest course for the US would be to do nothing.  

Knappenberger has now responded to Schmidt, this time with a parable of his own.  Knappenberger has good points, but he and Schmidt are talking past each other.  Since Rob Bradley, CEO of the Institute for Energy Research (BTW, no longer funded by pro-carbon-tax Exxon, all of you Exxon-haters out there) and founder/manager of MasterResource, won`t let me post at his self-proclaimed “free-market energy blog”, I put up a few thoughts at RealClimate, which I copy below (one typo fixed and link added below):


Allow me to stir the pot a bit, as it doesn`t appear that anyone has noticed Chip Knappenberger`s response to Gavin, in tbe form of his own climate parable, using the “Emperor`s new clothes” theme.

Waxman-Markey appears as the new clothes, with Chip apparently taking on the role of the bright and persistent voice of the insufficiently jaded little boy who can`t help but to see the truth, and bravely refuses to be cowed.

Some of the criticisms of W-M seem fair to me – after all, they manifest precisely the reasons that Jim Hansen has taken a strong stance in favor of more transparent and rebated carbon taxes over the pork and bureaucracy that comes with cap and trade.

1. But Chip is still failing to address the main premise of Gavin`s tragedy of the commons fisheries analogy: there is a commons problem that requires coordinated action (a multi-player, repeated Prisoner’s Dilemma), and the only way out requires initial measures at trust-building, with more effective measures to follow when the parties can agree on burden sharing and enforcement.

Thus Chip is simply perpetuating the problem that I have noted here:

“Unfortunately, what passes for discussion on climate change (and other environmental issues) is too often people talking past each other (frequently with all of the hallmarks of a tribal battle): some correctly see a looming commons problem that requires government regulation but ignore the risks of pork, partiality and wasted resources in the policies themselves, while others, not anxious for government to expand its regulatory purview, downplay or dismiss the resource problem and focus on the downsides of government action or the motives of those calling for government action (while ignoring those invested heavily in a status quo that is replete with moral hazard).

Capitalism, the destructive exploitation of the Amazon and the tragedy of the government-owned commons

2. Further, while Chip has good reason to criticize all of the pork that is loaded into the W-M hairshirt – there certain ARE plenty of corporate interests seeking to use climate policy to get sweet deals from government – it`s more than a bit coy of him to paint the critics of W-M as relative innocent truth-tellers, while somehow failing to note all of the sweet deals built into the status quo that fossil fuel firms, utilities, automakers and their investors have long enjoyed. (Not to mention that these interests have hardly been turned away from the W-M and other pork troughs.)

Chip`s convenient oversight might have something to do with the fact that the public advocacy firm he shares with Pat Michaels is funded by coal interests, as Marion Delgado points out in #677, and as I have previously discussed directly with Chip: Pat Michaels – scientist AND paid advocate. Correspondence with Chip Knappenberger.

It doesn`t end there, unfortunately, as Chip is posting on the “MasterResource” blog run by Rob Bradley, who is CEO of the coal-industry-funded Institute for Energy Research. For the sin of pointing out the political-favor-protection game that IER and MasterResource are engaged in, Rob Bradley has exercised his Constitutional right to ban me from the MasterResource blog (mid-conversation with, but without notice to, Chip, as it turns out).

So sure, let`s fight the pork as best we can, Chip, but let`s not ignore the fact since there are NO property rights in the atmosphere or climate, markets are not protecting it, but instead steadily producing an ever-growing tragedy of the commons. Care to acknowledge that, or to offer any suggestions?


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).


Paul Krugman: "The only way we’re going to get action … is if those who stand in the way of action come to be perceived as not just wrong but immoral."

August 1st, 2008 2 comments

Paul Krugman reaches the above conclusion in his August 1 New York Time op-ed, which asks “Can This Planet Be Saved?”, while discussing the latest work by economists on the cost-benefit analsys of taking action to mitigate potential climate risks – this time by Harvard`s Marty Weitzman, whose work I have discussed several times before).

The op-ed certainly shows the frustration of Krugman, who was one of more than 2500 Nobel Laureate and other economists who in 1997 signed  the “Economists’ Statement on Climate Change” that  acknowledged the conclusions of the preceding IPCC report (that man was having a discernable influence on climate), asserted the economic feasibility of greenhouse gas reductions without harming the American economy, and recommended market-based policies.  Key parts of the op-ed are the following:

What’s at stake in that fight [over environmental policy], above all, is the question of whether we’ll take action against climate change before it’s utterly too late.

It’s true that scientists don’t know exactly how much world temperatures will rise if we persist with business as usual. But that uncertainty is actually what makes action so urgent. While there’s a chance that we’ll act against global warming only to find that the danger was overstated, there’s also a chance that we’ll fail to act only to find that the results of inaction were catastrophic. Which risk would you rather run?

Martin Weitzman, a Harvard economist who has been driving much of the recent high-level debate, offers some sobering numbers. Surveying a wide range of climate models, he argues that, over all, they suggest about a 5 percent chance that world temperatures will eventually rise by more than 10 degrees Celsius (that is, world temperatures will rise by 18 degrees Fahrenheit). As Mr. Weitzman points out, that’s enough to “effectively destroy planet Earth as we know it.” It’s sheer irresponsibility not to do whatever we can to eliminate that threat.

Now for the bad news: sheer irresponsibility may be a winning political strategy.

Mr. McCain’s claim that opponents of offshore drilling are responsible for high gas prices is ridiculous — and to their credit, major news organizations have pointed this out. Yet Mr. McCain’s gambit seems nonetheless to be working: public support for ending restrictions on drilling has risen sharply, with roughly half of voters saying that increased offshore drilling would reduce gas prices within a year.

Hence my concern: if a completely bogus claim that environmental protection is raising energy prices can get this much political traction, what are the chances of getting serious action against global warming? After all, a cap-and-trade system would in effect be a tax on carbon (though Mr. McCain apparently doesn’t know that), and really would raise energy prices.

The only way we’re going to get action, I’d suggest, is if those who stand in the way of action come to be perceived as not just wrong but immoral. Incidentally, that’s why I was disappointed with Barack Obama’s response to Mr. McCain’s energy posturing — that it was “the same old politics.” Mr. Obama was dismissive when he should have been outraged.

(emphasis added)

I think that Krugman has a legitimate concern about pandering to voters on energy prices, even as Krugman`s a bit too close to the political struggle to acknowledge that environmental policies of course affect energy prices, and that “sheer irresponsibility” has been a winning political strategy for as long as – well, for as long as there have been politicians.

As I have noted elsewhere, there is an extremely wide array of opinion that carbon taxes would be the most effective and least damaging approach, and, if rebated or applied to reduce taxes on income or labor, would find long-term political support, yet politicians refuse to mention them, but instead present us with monstrous giveaways like those included in the Warner-Lieberman bill (which McCain`s bill resembles).  Heck, even Exxon, AEI, RAND and the American Council for Capital Formation have come out in favor of carbon taxes! 

Krugman explores Weitzman a little more closely in a July 29 blog post at the New York Times.  That post, and the further discussions it links to, is well worth exploring.  However, one can see Krugman`s train of thought at the very end, where he asks:

The question is, can we mobilize people to make modest sacrifices to protect against low-probability catastrophes in the distant future?

He`s obviously decided over the past few days that the way to mobilize people is to let his dander fly.  While I believe that a little more sophistication is needed, I would note that Gene Callahan, at least, has argued that swinging a moral club is an appropriate weapon, even for libertarians.  I applaud Krugman for letting not only McCain but also Obama feeling some of his lash.

I note that there are some commentators already wringing their hands over Krugman`s moralizing, but they very curiously fail to comment on the very real rent-seeking (and climate risk-shifting) and PR manipulation by fossil fuel interests that lies at the core of the policy deadlock.


PS:  Some of my thoughts on the current policy deadlock are as follows:

– many fossil fuel firms want to be compensated – in the form of new pork for gigantic and iffy “clean coal” projects – for budging from their current free ride on our common atmosphere;

– fossil fuel interests, including their customer chain, have great political pull in both parties (for example, nobody is yet willing to let American car manufacturers suffer their deserved fate, and Byrd and Rockefeller have alotof pull);

– financial firms – other than insurers – all looking for a cap and trade scheme, so they can profit from carbon trading;

– many firms who see opportunities in new technologies are busy fighting for advantage in the draft legislation; 

– not least, politicans are looking for legislation that promises the greatest flow of pork and campaign contributions, and have little interest in being open or hoinest with taxpayers;

– Democrats have little stomach for leadership – at least until the American people finish hanging the Republican party over its disastrous foreign policy and obvious corruption;

– there are considerable opportunities for policies that improve our tax system and regulation of energy resources and infrastructure.  I look for Republicans to start offering them after they have completely squandered their turn at the wheel of state, and are locked again into minority status in Congress.



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

July 30th, 2008 3 comments

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

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

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

(emphasis added)

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

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


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

July 16th, 2008 No comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

(emphasis added)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Jim Hansen warns of slow-motion disaster and welcomes future public trials of fossil fuel CEOs for buying government delay

June 27th, 2008 5 comments

Prominent climatologist Dr. James Hansen, Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Adjunct Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University, who has long been warning of the long-term consequences of man’s essentially uncontrolled experiment with the world’s climate through emissions of GHGs (CO, methane and CFCs), soot and agricultural practices, has recently ramped up his message that urgent action is needed in order to avoid triggering “dangerous” climate change in the form of rising temperatures and an irreversible melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice caps. 

1.  Hansen has apparently decided that it is time to take the gloves off in a battle that he thinks requires government action, which action he views as having been delayed by fossil fuel firms that have benefitted from (and underwritten efforts to stall movement away from) the status quo.  Accordingly, in order to shift the political balance, Hansen has decided to call not merely for decreases in GHG emissions, but direct leverage against the fossil fuel companies (in an op-ed at the Huffington Post):

Special interests have blocked transition to our renewable energy future. Instead of moving heavily into renewable energies, fossil companies choose to spread doubt about global warming, as tobacco companies discredited the smoking-cancer link. Methods are sophisticated, including disguised funding to shape school textbook discussions.

CEOs of fossil energy companies know what they are doing and are aware of long-term consequences of continued business as usual. In my opinion, these CEOs should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature. If their campaigns continue and “succeed” in confusing the public, I anticipate testifying against relevant CEOs in future public trials.

The fossil-industry maintains its stranglehold on Washington via demagoguery, using China and other developing nations as scapegoats to rationalize inaction. In fact, we produced most of the excess carbon in the air today, and it is to our advantage as a nation to move smartly in developing ways to reduce emissions. As with the ozone problem, developing countries can be allowed limited extra time to reduce emissions. They will cooperate: they have much to lose from climate change and much to gain from clean air and reduced dependence on fossil fuels.

(emphasis added)

Is this rhetoric appropriate?  Certainly not, even as the frustration that underlies it is an understandable manifestation of the frustration that is common (and perhaps unavoidable) in politicized fights over the use of government to satisfy one’s preferences over the preferences of others (viz., “rent-seeking”).  Granted, much is at stake (particularly if Hansen’s views of the risks are correct), and my sympathies are with Hansen (I am persuaded that his concerns have merit, and the rent-seeking by fossil fuel firms is undeniable), but such rhetoric is inappropriate as long as it is unsupported by allegations of actual criminal behavior – as opposed to simple frustration that the fossil fuel firms have been effective in lawfully manipulating the political system for their private gain. 

While a libertarian may sanction the use of moral suasion and opprobrium – even civil litigation – to strong-arm one’s opponents, calling for criminal sanctions by the state against those have successfully manipulated politicians and bureaucrats is a step that simply compounds the underlying illness of statist rent-seeking.

One suspects that Dr. Hansen is simply playing a public relations game, and is not serious about the “state trials”, as he has not called for the firms to be muzzled, but rather expressed his opinion and hope that they should some day be held to account for their actions.  Well, Dr. Hansen is certainly entitled to his opinion AND to castigate fossil fuel firms for behaviors that he objects to; while his rhetoric is disturbing, at least he’s only volunteering to be a witness and not prosecutor, judge and jury.

Sadly, differing preferences over how to use resources are inevitably politicized when there are no clear owners of such resources or ownership is socialized through government ownership or regulation.  The fossil fuel companies and their heavy users have clearly been rather adept at manipulating political levers up until now; whether Dr. Hansen’s effort to turn up the heat on them will be effective or simply provides them with more ammo remains to be seen.

2.  On another level, I do think that Hansen’s rhetoric on this is unfortunate, as it is likely to detract from his scientific message, which he elucidates very well in articles, presentations and scientific publications available at his Columbia U. webpage (linked above).  It also draws attention away from his specific policy positions, which have been critical of pork and bureaucratic management of the type presented by the Warner-Lieberman bill.   Hansen has recently expressed strong preference for a simple carbon tax that is fully rebated on a per capita basis, as further noted in the same op-ed (in which Hansen sounds very much like George Will, who also prefers a carbon tax over cap and trade):

Carbon tax on coal, oil and gas is simple, applied at the first point of sale or port of entry. The entire tax must be returned to the public, an equal amount to each adult, a half-share for children. This dividend can be deposited monthly in an individual’s bank account.

Carbon tax with 100 percent dividend is non-regressive. On the contrary, you can bet that low and middle income people will find ways to limit their carbon tax and come out ahead. Profligate energy users will have to pay for their excesses.

Demand for low-carbon high-efficiency products will spur innovation, making our products more competitive on international markets. Carbon emissions will plummet as energy efficiency and renewable energies grow rapidly. Black soot, mercury and other fossil fuel emissions will decline. A brighter, cleaner future, with energy independence, is possible.

Washington likes to spend our tax money line-by-line. Swarms of high-priced lobbyists in alligator shoes help Congress decide where to spend, and in turn the lobbyists’ clients provide “campaign” money.

Hansen’s “tax and 100% dividend” proposal, which he floated earlier this month, is based on Peter Barnes’s “Sky Trust” cap and dividend approach outlined in “Who Owns the Sky: Our Common Assets and the Future of Capitalism” (Island Press, Washington, D.C., 2001) and reviewed here.

3.  Libertarian legal scholar Jonathan Adler cited Hansen’s op-ed at the Volokh Conspiracy blog; I copy below a few comments that I noted in response:

Jon, first, let’s not forget that Hansen is specifically addressing not only oil cos but also the coal firms like Peabody and Massey – firms that are leaving massive messes because either they deal in publicly owned and bureaucratically administered land or because they’ve managed to capture the police, prosecutorial, judicial and political machinery where they operate, as well as the favor of the administration and federal regulators [see my blog post here].

Second, all of his words about public trials notwithstanding, Hansen is obviously waging battle in the courts of public opinion, which is obviously something he has every right to and, far from infringing libertarian principles, seems entirely consistent with them. As Gene Callahan has recently noted,

One way negative externalities can be addressed without turning to state coercion is public censure of individuals or groups widely perceived to be flouting core moral principles or trampling the common good, even if their actions are not technically illegal. Large, private companies and prominent, wealthy individuals are generally quite sensitive to public pressure campaigns.

After all, if libertarians had their way and government stepped out of the roads and regulatory businesses, it’s long been the libertarian position that private actions, including lawsuits against road owners, would lead to voluntary collective actions and large damage suits that would better manage resources by incentivizing reductions in pollution and other externalities. (In this context, there are, of course, private action suits now under way against the major fossil fuel firms for climate change damage; these face obvious hurdles, but a libertarian might wish for success, simply to breathe a little more life into common law remedies and take the pressure off of the demands for state action.)

Libertarians do not, as a matter of principle, object to informal public pressure. It is simply Hansen’s implication that criminal trials are more appropriate than the common law tort mechanism – which is sadly not too well known and admittedly rather withered due to the success in polluters in subverting injunctive remedies and in capturing the resulting regulatory process – that offends.

On the policy end, of course Hansen does have a statist proposal, but it is probably the cleanest one out there: the carbon tax and 100% rebate proposal, which would put all carbon tax revenues back in the pockets of Americans and than cut short alot of the rent-seeking and pork-management efforts now underway. That’s why George Will has recently concluded that a carbon tax is the best approach.

The importance of being a drop in the climate bucket – Michael Pollan on personal responsibility

April 19th, 2008 No comments

The New York Times has dubbed its April 20 Magazine edition as “The Green Issue”. The subtitle?  “Some Bold Steps to Make Your Carbon Footprint Smaller”.

I’ve barely taken a look at the issue as a whole, but I have noticed that Michael Pollan, in a piece entitled Why Bother?, has attacked straight on the fundamental issue of why individual consumers – faced with a global issue on which their individual efforts are a drop in the bucket – ought to consider behaving in ways that reflect their personal concerns, even if it means some personal costs and lifestyle changes, instead of just throwing up their hands and waiting for government to take action.

While some might disagree with Pollan’s views on the seriousness of climate change or the role of industrial man in it, Austrians and libertarians ought to find much to agree with (if not embrace) in his argument for personal choice and the role such choices can play in the margin in effectuating broader cultural, social and technological changes.  After all, if one values the atmosphere and one’s climate, and thinks that human activities (release of GHGs and soot, and agricultural and forestry practices) are a factor, then what better way to drive the market and further changes than by acting as if the atmosphere and climate are valuable?

Such voluntary action is precisely what Lockean principles call us to.

Pollan is the author of rather well-received “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto”.

Categories: AGW, Austrian, climate, Locke, Pollan, voluntary Tags: