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The Decline of Climate Alarmism (Will the Left rethink an increasingly futile crusade?)

My ‘Left’ friends are mad at me now that the climate debate/ discussion has shifted, at least temporarily, from Save the World to Why Did We Fail? Here is what a former Enron executive (his name will remain confidential) emailed me a few days ago:

Rob- shame on you. The [Breakthrough Institute] article [Apocalypse Fatigue: Losing the Public on Climate Change] names only 3 reasons why the U.S. will not address climate mitigation: far off threat, greed, and telling them what they don’t want to hear. It ignores the real reason: the constant effort from people like yourself to undermine the case for action with its ancillary affect of dividing the country and paralyzing the system.

Then the sarcasm comes in:

I am not being facetious: you should pat yourself on that back for helping create an atmosphere that will prevent any meaningful action on the false threat of climate change from happening in this country. It is a proud moment and credit to your hard work. I tip my hat.

Now, there are a lot of people who would love to take credit for helping to derail any piece of all pain-no gain legislation. But Waxman-Markey probably would not pass the House today if a re-vote were taken, and even some Democratic Senators know that being Democrat includes not needlessly increasing energy prices for their constituents.

Still, I took some offense at this email and wrote back in all seriousness:

I am surprised …. I thought you were having second doubts about the increasingly false alarm of high-sensitivity warming. And to me the lessons of Enron include the fake green stuff we were doing–and the fake stuff that [our old colleague Jim] Rogers [of Duke Energy] is doing at the expense of his customers and broader society.

[Texas A&M Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Sciences and Oceanography] Jerry North told me just last week that he is more convinced than ever that the warming is at the very bottom of the IPCC range, which some top climate economists say makes CO2 a positive externality, not a negative one. We have peer-reviewed articles on how feedback effects are not the big amplifiers that the models (must) assume.

I am proud to do whatever I can to get 1.5 billion people off wood and dung and on to diesel and coal. What I am not proud of is all the money that my side and the other side are spending to cancel each other out–all this money should go to human needs, the arts, and plain old savings and investment.

My colleague did not offer a rebuttal but lightened the climate subject in his next communication. We are buddies. We have learned much from each other and are Enron survivors.

Still, I wondered how the open-minded Left (not those like Joe Romm and his following, who are addicted to climate alarmism and will need to go through the denial-anger-sadness-acceptance cycle of recovery) will cope with the reality that politics cannot effectively address the problem as they even see it.

But there are reasons why even the Environmental Left should get off the climate alarmism bandwagon with its open-ended, pernicious public-policy program.

  1. Higher costs and less reliability for consumers, particularly lower-income consumers (and the 1.5 billion in abject energy poverty).
  2. Resurrection of (highly uneconomic) nuclear power.
  3. Geoengineering/climate modification schemes where man further interferes with climate.
  4. Corporate rent-seeking (political capitalism) writ large
  5. Wasted resources in the huge lobbying fight by Left/Center/Right non-profits–money and other resources that could go meet to human needs or support the arts.

Perhaps other reasons can be added to this list. Suffice it to say the current carbon crusade has unintended consequences for even its proponents. Is it time to move on?

17 comments

1 steve C. { 11.20.09 at 8:18 am }

Isn’t it the complicated maze of subsidies, regulation, oversight and reinsurance that makes the TOTAL cost of nuclear power a net loser compared to coal or gas?

2 Cooler Heads Digest 20 November 2009 | GlobalWarming.org { 11.20.09 at 5:14 pm }

[...] The Decline of Climate Alarmism Robert Bradley, MasterResource.org, 20 November 2009 [...]

3 Kevin { 11.20.09 at 6:19 pm }

How do you define alarmism? Is it any concern with concentrations approaching 600 to 900 ppm by 2100, or is it the yelling folks are doing about 350 ppm? Certainly, without a policy to prevent this, economic, technological and population projections make the 600/900 scenario quite likely.

I would say that the latter is alarmism — the former prudency. Do you completely discount the risk of a couple degree change causing a large increase in permafrost methane release, or is that seen as a non-risk? Do you think that those who advocate slow-stop-reverse emissions pathways are alarmists too, or just those who call for an immediate reverse? There are differences among those who advocate action that are overlooked by those who talk about “alarmism”.

4 Ed Reid { 11.20.09 at 8:44 pm }

Kevin,

Finally, the “three legged stool” of AGW stands revealed before us:

1.Zero anthropogenic carbon emissions (350);
2.Veganism (Ban Ki Moon); and,
3.Population control.
The seat of the stool is global governance and wealth redistribution, brought to us by the experts who also operated the “Oil for Palaces, Payloads and Payoffs” program.

Now, let the comprehensive and candid discussion of the actions necessary to achieve the future of the globe and its inhabitants begin in earnest.

The program probably needs a “catchy” slogan, such as: “If we all lived like the people of Bangladesh, we could all live.”

5 Robert Bradley Jr. { 11.20.09 at 9:01 pm }

Kevin:

“Alarmism” as I define it begins with a general belief (philosophical premise?) that nature is optimal and the human influence cannot be good whether it results in warming, cooling, or both.

Alarmism continues by believing that the climate is ultra-sensitive to human-made increases in atmospheric concentrations of GHGs.

A third part of alarmism is that society cannot adapt to make “worse” weather/climate in the future actually better than today’s less worse weather/climate.

Opponents of climate alarmism believe that the climate is not all that sensitive (feedbacks are not strongly positive). But something else: we KNOW that the relationship between climate and GHG forcing is logarithmic rather than linear, which makes a 2x warming happen again at 4x, not 3x. This is the saturation effect at work, which improves the economics of adaptation relative to mitigation with each passing day.

Finally, we need cheap, abundant energy to be part of a strong capitalistic society so that resilience can improve to deal with future uncertainties from any direction. This is the wealth-is-health approach that to me is far more sensible than the tiny temperature changes that even a large political response would engender.

6 Charles { 11.20.09 at 10:27 pm }

Kevin, what you have missed in your note is the fact that CO2 presence in the atmosphere has been rising over the last decade, while all the temperature indices have been falling. This is nothing less than falsification of the AGW theory, which means that it could theoretically rise to 2000 ppm and still not change the temperature of the earth or oceans.

You may also wish to see in the rest of the blog world (e.g. http://www.wattsupwiththat.com) how the US and British climate scientists have covered up any departures from their AGW theories over the last 15 or so years, by deliberately skewing or cherry-picking data to support the general theory. The release of their personal e-mails shows the extent of their fraud. It may amuse you to have a read of some of them.

Phil Jones of CRU, the originator of many of them has conceded they are genuine.

7 Kevin { 11.20.09 at 11:20 pm }

RBJ: Ok, that helps. Thank you for a serious response. It seems as though you believe that there is NO risks whatsoever. You do not believe that 600 or 900 ppm will cause any change, and you apparently do not think that any change in temp in the northern latitudes poses any risks of permafrost melt with associated methane release. Have I got it? Have you got a handle on the CO2 equivalent of the methane that is commonly projected to be released when that occurs? I have read that the increase in northern latitudes has been relatively large compared to the average — do you discount that as a possible risk?

Also, in terms of society adapting — you don’t believe there is any risk of changed weather patterns, esp in those parts of the world where subsistence economies are the norm, or if so, you think those societies are perfectly capable of adapting. All of them? Or, do you presume that we will greatly increase the amount of official aid to help them adjust?

Re the energy/cost equation — do you believe that ANY increase in energy costs is too much, or are there any conditions under which you would say that a very small increase is worth the investment to mitigate or lower the possible risks of being wrong? What if it were conclusively demonstrated that, as long as the costs could be kept small, that economic growth was not blocked?

Ed: I’m afraid you come across as the polar opposite of a crazy 60′s radical — 180 degrees different, but still a bit closed minded. I was not suggesting population control, veganism, etc. What I was saying was that the CO2 concentrations that were projected depended on several variables that were very uncertain — population growth projections for example are somewhat uncertain — they could be high, or low. If a future emerges with a high population growth rate, and if that population in in a high econ growth future, and tech doesn’t change, then emissions from fossil fuel use will be higher and concentrations will be higher. If however, that same population is in a future with advanced techs (faster improvement scenario) then the emissions could be lower, then the global concentration would be at the lower end. I was not advocating for any of those scenarios over the other. Your reaction though … shows a lack of seriousness.

Finally — the great email release — we’ll see what it finally ends up showing. Should be an interesting few weeks. I know from personal experience that things taken out of context may mean one thing or another. We’ll see. I’ve been disappointed in the past by claims of “new information” that will show AGW to be a hoax — most of it has been baseless.

8 Robert Bradley Jr. { 11.21.09 at 10:52 am }

Right, Kevin, I am not an ‘ultra-skeptic’ and think that the humans can and do affect global climate–but just not that much and not in a necessary bad way. And even in good ways.

You raise some on-the-edge scenarios that I would invite Chip Knappenberger to briefly address. But ask yourself: can just a little action increasing energy prices a little or “some” arrest the alleged “problem.” I believe when you do the math, and take into account ‘political failure’ relative to ‘market failure,’ there is a case for wealth-is-health (adaptation over mitigation).

9 Chip Knappenberger { 11.21.09 at 2:10 pm }

Kevin,

Thanks for the thoughtful comments.

Yes there are risks involved with climate change. Greenhouse gases are in integral part of the earth’s atmosphere/climate system. So by altering their concentrations, you alter the climate. The question becomes how and how much. As with most change, there are going to be winners and losers. So the larger question needs to be are the climate changes/impacts in net worth what we get for them. The answer to this question is far from being well-known, in my opinion at least, either climatologically, or economically, or and other “-lly.”

From the best that I can gather from permafrost research, I think that if all the permafrost suddenly thawed and released a huge cloud of methane, that it might be an issue. But given how gradual the warming/thawing process appears to be, that it’s more an interesting research question—and that nothing catastrophic is likely ever happen. And, at the very least, the latest research on atmospheric methane concentration does not indicate that a large-scale sustained release from thawing permafrost is occurring (see here ) despite the arctic warming that has taken place.

-Chip

10 Robert R. Reynolds { 11.22.09 at 3:44 pm }

All of this enormously wasteful palaver of time and money could have been saved by one meeting of the world’s geologists and palentologists. We would have recognized the idea of AGW as dead on arrival because we are grounded in the knowledge of how the Earth operates, of past climates and the roles played by geologic and cosmic processes. We would never have considered any of these Green / politically inspired and conceited fantasies that man could control the climate by micromanaging it. There just isn’t anything alarming in the weather of our present interglacial (Holocene epoch). We are in the 4th warm period of the Holocene, starting about 13,000 years ago with the melting of the Wisconsin glacier. Our present warm spell has not exceeded the previous temperatures. I feel that all life will be much better off if the ice never returns but at present there are no guarantees.

11 Paul Penrose { 11.23.09 at 1:08 pm }

Kevin,
You seem to assume that any changes that occur in the climate will be bad. Have you considered the equal possibility that they will be beneficial? The fact of the matter is that we just don’t know right now, and therein lies the real risk. The climate is extraordinarily complex, and up until now most of the money has been spent on trying to show that it’s going to hell in a hand basket. Some balance is required, and patience. In the mean time if climate changes cause problems we will adapt just as we always have.

12 Robert Bradley Jr. { 11.23.09 at 7:11 pm }

Regarding Paul’s comment, I was in the presence of one James Hansen who said that the human influence on climate could prevent the next Ice Age.

There is an outlier for the benefit side of the equation that under anyone’s math needs to be compared to the scary stuff.

13 Rod Adams { 11.29.09 at 9:09 am }

Robert:

In your list of reasons why “even the Environmental Left” should stop engaging in climate alarmism (I certainly do not believe that anyone should engage in alarmism of any kind unless there really is a train bearing down on an innocent bystander) is the following sentence:

“Resurrection of (highly uneconomic) nuclear power.”

What makes you state that nuclear power is uneconomic? There must be some basic assumptions there that do not match reality – our currently operating nuclear plants are generating electricity for a total production cost of just 1.87 cents per kilowatt hour. Even “cheap” coal cost 2.75 cents per kilowatt hour in 2008.

Of course, some will point to the enormous capital cost projections being bandied about, but many of those very same people used exactly the same arguments to try to stop our existing plants from being built. Funny thing is that essentially all of our plants are now paid off and they still have 20 or more years left to operate and generate “windfall” profits for their owners and/or low electricity prices for their customers. (The “and/or” in the previous sentence depends on whether the plant is owned by a merchant generator like Exelon or a cost of service generator like FPL or Southern Company.)

Rod Adams
Publisher, Atomic Insights

14 Rob Bradley { 11.29.09 at 10:34 am }

Rod, I am thinking of new capacity and not existing capacity when I refer to “highly uneconomic” nuclear power.

Robert Peltier has blogged on the cost of new nuclear capacity at MasterResource for large units (http://www.masterresource.org/2009/07/whats-the-price-of-nuclear-power-probably-higher-than-you-think/) and micro-nuclear (http://www.masterresource.org/2009/07/micro-nuclear-no-panacea/).

Please comment there with your thoughts.

15 Rod Adams { 12.01.09 at 4:02 am }

Robert:

I have added a comment to the post titled “What’s the price of nuclear. . .” Funny thing about that one, the one historical cost that can actually be researched is only off by a factor of ten. All of the other costs mentioned in the post are projections and estimates without any listing of assumptions used to make those estimates. There is a lot of room for competent managers and engineers to vigorously attack cost problems and provide far better than projected performance. Of course, there is also the possibility that the project will not be managed competently and that it might run into unexpected delays that add cost. The estimates that are publicly available are generally still under negotiation – the vendor has a strong incentive to get the customer to agree to as high a price as possible. That is where they make their money.

I checked out the “Micro-Nuclear No Panacea” post and realized that I made an unanswered comment on that one back in July when it was first published.

Claims that nuclear is too expensive have been around since the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 was first passed to allow commercialization of atomic energy. They are often made by people who are far more interested in maintaining market share for their fossil fuel products than in telling the truth or doing hard nosed cost accounting and project management. Here is a quote from Robert Peltier’s post that I think needs to be digested by critical thinkers looking for a good long term investment:

“The New York Times reported on January 18, 1984: “3/4 of [U.S.] reactors cost consumers at least double what was promised,” and “in 28% of cases, final cost was more than four times the estimate.” The developers of those plants were heavily criticized a quarter-century ago for their steeply rising cost of construction.

Today, the final construction costs are all but forgotten because of our fleet of 104 nuclear plants produce electricity for less than 2 cents/kWh and are this country’s most reliable electricity generators.”

Not only are the the “most reliable” electricity generators, but in a market where electricity sells for an average of about 8 cents per kilowatt hour wholesale, they are enormously profitable. Producing vast quantities of a highly desirable product like electricity with a 300% margin is a pretty sweet business. (A 1000 MWe nuclear plant operating at a CF of 92% will produce about $500 million in profits every year when there is a 6 cent per kilowatt hour difference between cost and sales price.)

Rod Adams
Publisher, Atomic Insights

16 Craig Goodrich { 12.03.09 at 5:44 am }

Kevin,

As to Arctic methane release, sediment cores from southern Siberia and northern Canada show that around 900 years ago these regions were around 3 deg C warmer than they are now for a period of a couple of centuries. Presumably a good deal of methane was released. This was immediately followed by the Little Ice Age. What’s the evidence for the peril of runaway warming?

There is not now and never has been any actual evidence at all for any measurable degree of anthropogenic global warming, much less for any with catastrophic consequences. This is why the “Hockey Team” and CRU were so desperate to hide data and control the debate.

17 Detlef Reimers { 12.04.09 at 9:24 pm }

I’m a German and I often visit your page, because I’m very much interested in debates about climate change and related political issues. Im a scientist in physics and mathematics, but beside all the scientific arguments about climate change I’m very much interested in the deeper political origins of environmentalism and also in the political implications. So, here are some interesting facts:

Some time ago I found papers about a climate congress in Essen/Germany this year. You may read the papers on this website:

http://www.greattransformation.eu/index.php/program

The PDF-file from DR. David Held is especially interesting, because it touches our social and political basis – our democracy. Cite:

“Thus the argument is that democracies are unable to formulate policies to overcome global collective action problems and serious global risks, given their tendency to focus on the short term, the immediate issues concerning their electorates, and the preoccupation of politicians with their own re-election. Accordingly, the implication is that they are unable to meet the scale of the challenge posed by climate change, and a more authoritarian approach is required.”

No matter, if one is a left wing or a right wing fellow, this is really hard stuff! It shows, how far the political discussion about climate change goes. It is not very hard to find similar statements from other people like Maurice Joung (CAN), formely the highest UNO-official behind Kofi Anan. He says:

“Our concepts of ballot-box democracy may need to be modified to produce strong governments capable of making difficult decisions.”

From Australia you can also read astonishing statements from an IPCC-official, named Dr. David Shearman. He wrote the book:

“The Climate Change Challenge and the Failure of Democracy”

On http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=6878 you can read more about his way of thinking about democracy and climate change. It’s even more worse!

Now, what is this all about? I think that – without any public notice – there is an emerging political force behind the sceene, that forces parts of the IPCC-discussion in a very dangerous direction.

I don’t know, how the greens in the USA argue in discussions with other opinions. In Germany I can say that many of them are rather furious. They have no doubt, that everything they believe in, is totally correct and they also believe, that every other person should think and act like them. Personally, they are mostly very kind people, but from a political point of view I would call them as “strange religious”.

I would be interested, if you – as Americans – also have noticed this kind of new “movement” or “arguing” against democracy.

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