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Posts from — April 2009

Al Gore: "We Must Protect the Ice!" (Scientists: arctic ice twice as thick as previously thought)

At a recent conference in Oslo, Al Gore pounded one of his favorite drums. “We have to act, and we have to act quickly because we don’t want to cross this tipping point,” he warned. This particular tipping point (among the many tipping points in Mr. Gore’s collection) is the proclaimed melting of the world’s polar ice packs and glaciers in the Northern Hemisphere.

Mr. Gore regularly worries about ice melting in the Southern Hemisphere as well. In recent testimony to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Mr. Gore warned:

“We already know that the Antarctic Peninsula is warming at three to five times the global average rate. That is why the Larsen B ice shelf, which was the size of Rhode Island, already has collapsed. Several other ice shelves have also collapsed in the last 20 years. Another large shelf, the Wilkins ice shelf-which is roughly the size of Northern Ireland- is now beginning to disintegrate right before our very eyes. A recent study in the journal Science has now confirmed that the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet is warming.”

But Mr. Gore really needs to keep up with the news. In a recent study of Arctic ice, (results thoughtfully translated by Benny Peiser of CCnet), researchers found that arctic ice is, in reality, about twice as thick as they’d previously thought. ” [Read more →]

April 30, 2009   4 Comments

Government CO2 Pricing and Protectionism: Two Peas in a Pod (trade wars and worse as potential costs of GHG mitigation)

“From the East Coast to the West and across the political spectrum, House lawmakers remain divided over how to protect America from losing a competitive edge to China and other nations under climate change legislation.

“At issue is how to prevent cement, steel, aluminum and other energy-intensive industries from responding to proposed new laws that could have the effect of slashing emissions by shuttering factories only to reopen them in countries unfettered by costly regulations.”

- Lisa Friedman, “Climate law poses trade risks; lawmakers unsure how to respond” E&E News, April 28, 2009 (subscription)

Marlo Lewis’s post, Is Cap-and-Trade Inherently Protectionist?, linked carbon dioxide regulation, U.S.-side tariffs (“border adjustments”), and international protectionism. Indeed, the interventionist dynamic–regulation expanding from its own complications and shortcomings–is a major theme of political economy.

Lewis explained:

“Beyond the power shifts in Washington, D.C., there are basic reasons why cap-and-trade and protectionism are joined at the hip. First, how do you enforce compliance with a treaty like Kyoto? It’s a typical collective action problem. Even if one assumes that it is in the common interest of all nations to mitigate global warming, it is in the individual interest of each nation to bear less than its negotiated share of the collective burden—to reap the climate benefits (if any) of other nations’ compliance efforts, but to employ creative accounting on behalf of one’s own industries to give them an edge in international commerce.”

And there is another link that troubles students of international trade: protectionism fosters militarism. Lewis warns:

“But a moment’s reflection tells us that any [protectionist] campaign would fail, because developing countries would retaliate with economic sanctions of their own. We would get trade war, not compliance. Trade wars do not always end peacefully, and, as classical liberal thinkers have long warned, protectionism and militarism go hand-in-hand.”

“If goods do not cross borders, armies will,” a maxim in classical liberal circles goes.

Chu’s Trial Balloon–and China’s Reaction

And indeed, when Energy Secretary Stephen Chu raised this prospect last month, the verbal rebuke from China was swift. [Read more →]

April 29, 2009   3 Comments

U.S. EPA is Ill-Equipped to Fight Global Warming

Now that the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced intent to find that greenhouse gas emissions (primarily carbon dioxide) from human activities lead to the “endangerment of public health and welfare,” the question arises: What could EPA theoretically do about it? (I’ll leave the politics to others.) In other words, can a U.S.-side agency conceptually protect U.S. citizens from the endangerment of their health and welfare from the global issue of  global warming?

It turns out that they cannot do much of anything. EPA is simply saber-rattling to get Congress’s attention. If the agency was forced to actually draw their weapon in battle, they would be holding a rubber sword against a massive and growing global force. The bottom line: the EPA is brandishing only about 0.0033ºC/yr-worth of global temperature influence—and that is only if it managed to shut down all greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. economic activity and keep it that way. All the while, the warming pressure from the rest of the world steadily grows, shrinking the EPA’s already too-small-to-matter arsenal.

This can be understood by simplifying the issue down to the Xs and Os—carbon dioxide emissions and global temperatures. [Read more →]

April 28, 2009   18 Comments

Sarah Palin's Energy Plan: Not Much to Like (Republicans had better do better than this)

Last month, our friends over at the Heartland Institute published a front-page lead story in the April, 2009 edition of Environment & Climate News. Alyssia Carducci’s “Palin Energy Plan Receives High Praise” begins:

“Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) has announced an ambitious plan to produce half of the state’s electricity from renewable sources by 2025. Palin’s plan, which empowers local municipalities to identify and develop the most cost-efficient renewable power sources available to them, won immediate praise from environmental groups, consumer groups, and industry.”

This article is yet more evidence that the inexplicable conservative love affair with Sarah Palin remains unrequited—at least, when it comes to economic policy in general and energy policy in particular. But Republicans, as the kids might say, “She’s just not that into you.” Let’s examine the litany of problems with Plain’s approach to energy. [Read more →]

April 27, 2009   11 Comments

Windpower: Response to Comment (on 4 cent/kWh wind and interfuel subsidies)

[Ed. note: Occasionally a comment is important enough to deserve its own post, rather than a reply in the comment section. This is in response to Comment #1 of "A Texas Sized Energy Problem" here.]

The Energy Information Administration, an independent agency within the Department of Energy, in its 2008 report, Federal Financial Interventions and Subsidies in Energy Markets 2007, compares subsidies related to electricity production, the sector where wind is used. In table ES5, they show that the traditional fuel sources (coal, natural gas, and petroleum liquids) received $1,081 million in Federal subsidies for electricity production in 2007, while wind received $724 million, a ratio of 1.49. However, in that year, the traditional fossil sources generated 2,865 billion kilowatt hours (kWh), while wind generated 31 billion kWh. On a per unit basis, the traditional sources, received a subsidy of $0.00038 per kWh, while wind received a subsidy of $0.0234 per kWh.

Also, the Texas Comptroller’s 2008 Energy Report you cite indicates that in fiscal year 2006, the year in which they calculated subsidies, that Federal subsidies for wind represented 11.6% of total U.S. consumer spending, while the subsidies for nonrenewable fuels- oil, coal, natural gas, and nuclear- represented only 0.9% of total U.S. spending.

Regarding federal subsidies, the Texas Comptroller’s report that you reference notes: [Read more →]

April 26, 2009   3 Comments

Costa Rica Follow-Up: Fatal Dependence on Renewable Electricity (Tom Friedman's energy paradise loses its luck)

“When an abundant natural fall of water is at hand, nothing can be cheaper or better than water power. But everything depends upon local circumstances. The occasional mountain torrent is simply destructive. Many streams and rivers only contain sufficient water half the year round and costly reservoirs alone could keep up the summer supply. In flat countries no engineering art could procure any considerable supply of natural water power, and in very few places do we find water power free from occasional failure by drought.”

- W. S. Jevons, The Coal Question (London: Macmillan and Co., 1865), p. 129.

Thomas Friedman in the New York Times has presented Costa Rica as a model for the energy world, noting its reliance on renewable energy (hydro) to generate electricity. In response, we posted last week about how such dependence had left it vulnerable to the vagaries of rainfall, and (to a much lesser degree) wind. W. S. Jevons, the father of energy economics, said as much in 1865.

With all hydro development in the hands of the government, and with hydro responsible for 75-80% of power generation, any shortfall in rain can, within 1-2 weeks result in reduced electricity generation. And the odds have now caught up with Costa Rica – recent dryer conditions have led to blackouts in the country. [Read more →]

April 25, 2009   2 Comments

A Texas-Sized Energy Problem: Republicans, Democrats, and ‘Baptists & Bootleggers’ Running Wild in the Lone Star State (Obama sends his thanks)

“Texas is the nation’s leader in wind energy thanks to our long-term commitment to bolstering renewable energy sources and diversifying the state’s energy portfolio.”

- Rick Perry, Texas Governor

“Our representatives [in the Texas Legislature] now have less than six weeks to pass the best of nearly 100 bills that have been introduced on clean power and green jobs. These energy efficiency and renewable energy bills set the stage for rebuilding, repowering and renewing our state’s economy during tough times. They will build a sustainable future for Texas.”

- Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund, Public Citizen

As reported by Russell Gold in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, Texas, which has the strictest renewable energy mandate in the country, is about to increase its quota for the third time. Now the wind capital of the U.S., Texas’s new law would make the state the leader in solar power as well. Expensive and intermittent, wind- and solar-forcing will work only to increase electricity rates for captive consumers and reduce reliability on the grid. Taxpayers are on the hook as well.

In a 2008 study for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, “Texas Wind Energy: Past, Present, Future,” Drew Thornley concluded: [Read more →]

April 24, 2009   14 Comments

Capitalist Reform to Reduce International Oil Demand: Getting World Refiners to Price at Market

A market-driven revitalization of the world oil refining sector is the best and fastest way to reduce both oil demand and related air emissions, including CO2. A combination of market-based pricing–absent from foreign refineries (most politically owned and/or managed)– and new investment brought forth by the improved profitability of such pricing, could reduce the demand for crude oil by between eight and twelve million barrels per day, or about 10–15 percent.

A Bold Hypothesis

This rather astounding assertion can be educed as follows:

  • Most countries subsidize refined oil product consumption, usually middle distillates (diesel and kerosene) at the expense of gasoline and other products;
  • Owing to the price controls on heavily used middle distillate products, most oil refiners outside the U.S. and a few other countries lose money;
  • The subsidies to middle distillate users, at the expense of gasoline and LPG consumers, creates an “unbalanced” demand barrel – one that defies both economics and chemistry; [Read more →]

April 23, 2009   3 Comments

"Happy Earth Day": Julian Simon's Silver Anniversary (1995) Earth Day Letter

[Ed Note: This letter is available on the Internet and is reproduced here with permission of the Julian Simon family.]

“So how about it, Al [Gore]?  Will you accept the offer?  And how about your boss Bill Clinton, who supports your environmental initiatives?  Can you bring him in for a piece of the action?”


- by Julian L. Simon

April 22 [1995] marks the 25th anniversary of Earth Day.  Now as then its message is spiritually uplifting.  But all reasonable persons who look at the statistical evidence now available must agree that Earth Day’s scientific premises are entirely wrong.

During the first great Earth Week in 1970 there was panic.  The public’s outlook for the planet was unrelievedly gloomy.  The doomsaying environmentalists–of whom the dominant figure was Paul Ehrlich–raised the alarm: The oceans and the Great Lakes were dying; [Read more →]

April 22, 2009   5 Comments

Challenging Alarmism: John Maddox (1925–2009), RIP

It was nice to see John Tierney in his blog post, The Skeptical Prophet, pay tribute to John Maddox, the scientist and revered long-time editor of Nature. “He debunked the catastrophists, most notably in his 1972 book, The Doomsday Syndrome,” noted Tierney, “in which he argued that Spaceship Earth had more carrying capacity and ecological resilience than environmentalists realized.”

Tierney adds: “His book was denounced at the time by John P. Holdren, who is today the White House science advisor. In a 1972 article in the Times of London, Dr. Holdren and his frequent collaborator, the ecologist Paul Ehrlich, dismissed Dr. Maddox as ‘uninformed’ and clearly unable to understand ‘simple concepts’ of population theory.” Stated Ehrlich/Holdren (as quoted by Tierney): [Read more →]

April 21, 2009   1 Comment