A free-market energy blog
Random header image... Refresh for more!

Response to David Appell: Is Climate-Policy Activism Merited?

[Editor note: Marlo Lewis's extensive rebuttal to Scientific American writer David Appell in the comments section to yesterday's post (Andrew Dessler Challenges Rick Perry: How Should Perry Respond?) is presented as a full post today.]

Yesterday, Rob Bradley excerpted portions of a post I wrote last Friday on whether Gov. Rick Perry’s remarks about global warming at the GOP candidates forum in California were “anti-science.” My objective was to immunize the candidates — and the public generally – against a rhetorical trick that Al Gore and other alarmists have been using to great effect for years.

Alarmists would have us believe that all they have to do is establish that greenhouse gas emissions are warming the planet, and then everything else they say follows as night follows day. If mankind is mainly or even partly responsible for the warmth of recent decades, then, supposedly, we are in the midst of a “planetary emergency” that “threatens the survival of civilization and the habitability of the Earth” (Al Gore’s phrase). From which it follows in turn that global warming is a “moral issue” (again, Gore’s phrase). In other words, we have no moral choice but to support their agenda of cap-and-trade, renewable energy mandates, and ‘clean-tech’ subsidies.

It’s a bit weird. Earlier generations of “progressive” thinkers proclaimed that “facts” are separate from “values” and that “ought” cannot be derived from “is.” Yet today’s progressives preach moral imperatives in the name of “the science.”

In any event, alarmists have been so successful in fostering the illusion that the key question is whether mankind is having an influence on global climate that some on the political Right feel they cannot effectively challenge the Al Gore-Greenpeace-EPA climate policy agenda unless they deny that, or at least question whether, greenhouse gases actually have a greenhouse (warming) effect.

This, alas, is exactly what alarmists want their opponents to say, not only because it makes them look “anti-science,” but also because it tacitly confirms the alarmist narrative. As if all we have to do is assent to a tautology (greenhouse gas emissions have a greenhouse effect) and we are compelled to concede every important scientific, political, and moral point in a very complex debate.

In my brief post, I tried to explain in soundbite-sized chunks how candidates should challenge both the planetary emergency thesis and the alleged moral necessity for Kyoto-style eco-energy planning.

David Appell’s Comments

Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth, bombards us with so many images of droughts, floods, wild fires, and storms, that you might suppose the world is becoming a more dangerous place. My post noted that the data tell a different story. Deaths and death rates related to extreme weather have declined by 93% and 98%, respectively, since the 1920s. The 93% decline in total deaths is quite remarkable, given that global population is more than  three times larger than it was in the 1920s. Global warming, where is thy sting?

David Appell says “It’s easy to refute Lewis,” commenting:

Obviously our wealth, improved living conditions, and improved medical technology make the impact of extreme weather events less dangerous than the 1920s. We live in a different world than then.

Right, which means that, with respect to extreme weather, despite several decades of global warming, the world is becoming a safer place. There is no crisis, no planetary emergency. As Indur Goklany explains, moreover, these tremendous gains in safety are not in spite of mankind’s reliance on carbon-emitting fossil fuels, but in large measure because of it.

  • Historically, drought was the deadliest extreme weather event. Deaths from drought are lower today than ever before in history because food production is higher. Fossil fuels are used to power farm machinery and produce fertilizers and pesticides. The CO2 aerial fertilization effect further boosts farm yields. Fossil fuels enable food to be transported affordably over long distances from food surplus areas to food deficit areas.
  • Improvements in disaster preparedness and early warning systems also make us safer than earlier generations. And, as Goklany notes, the success of such capabilities “hinges on the availability of fossil fuels to move people, food, medicine and critical humanitarian supplies before and after events strike.”
  • Finally, economic development creates surpluses enabling richer nations or communities to come to the aid of poorer nations or communities after a natural disaster strikes. Like it or not, fossil fuels have played, and continue to play, a central role in economic development.

The Day After Tomorrow?

Appell then says the historic decline in weather-related mortality risk is beside the point, because:

The real problems of global warming and other climate change lie in the future, which we are only now beginning to glimpse.

Well, as just noted, we are not glimpsing an impending crisis in mortality data related to extreme weather. As also mentioned in my post, heat-related mortality has been going down, there has been no long-term increase in properly adjusted hurricane-related economic damages, and the rate of sea-level rise has not changed much over the past 80 years.

How likely is it that global warming will become a “planetary emergency” in future decades? All the relevant technical disciplines that have brought down deaths and death rates — agriculture, medicine, communications, transport, weather forecasting, emergency response, architecture and engineering — are bound to keep improving. Assuming, of course, that politicians don’t sabotage the wealth creation that supports such advances.

Appell says “No reasonable person, scientist or otherwise, expects anyone to decrease their standard of living to solve global warming.” Well then, not all global warming advocates are “reasonable” when it comes to the sacrifices they think Americans should make to “save the planet.” Al Gore and others demand that we “repower America” with “zero-carbon” energy technologies “in 10 years.” I’m not making this up.

Less radical versions of the de-carbonization agenda (Waxman-Markey, Obama’s Clean Energy Standard, Kyoto-Copenhagen) would be less destructive. Nonetheless, those policies would place substantial burdens on our ailing economy, impeding progress to a better world.

Hobgoblins

Appell says that more CO2 emissions will undoubtedly lead to “more changes” — a requirement of “simple physics.” Yes, but whether those turn out to be more harmful to human health and welfare than the regulatory burdens required to avert them cannot be deduced from “simple physics.”

Only a few years ago, Al Gore issued a dire warning about “moulins” (vertical water tunnels) on the Greenland ice sheet. By lubricating the ice sheet, he claimed, moulins would accelerate its breakup and slide into the sea, potentially raising sea levels as much as 10 feet within our children’s lifetime if not ours. Gore’s scenario was implausible even then, and has only become more so in light of subsequent research (see here and here).

Now, take away the prospect of sudden, multi-meter sea-level rise, and the biggest, baddest part of the “planetary emergency” goes poof! In assessing the risks of climate change, “simple physics” is not enough.

Carbon Taxes without Tears?

Appell’s concluding comment is conflicted. On the one hand, he says: “Progress requires more energy use, not less.” But then he calls for a “carbon tax.” Since most of our energy (about 85%) comes from carbon-based fuels, how is energy production going increase under a carbon tax? And, recalling how “unreasonable” it is to expect people to support reductions in their standard of living, how could a carbon tax not penalize households and firms that buy coal- or gas-fired electricity, home heating oil, natural gas, gasoline, or any of the thousands of goods and services made or delivered with fossil energy?

In addition, as a political matter, how likely is it that if Congress enacts a carbon tax, Sierra Club will stop litigating against coal power plants and NRDC will stop campaigning against the Keystone XL Pipeline? In all likelihood, a carbon tax would just embolden opponents of affordable energy to ratchet up their demands.

Appell thinks it’s possible to tax carbon without harming the economy because Congress could enact offsetting reductions in income taxes. I’m all for cutting taxes. But seriously, Obama viewed cap-and-trade as a means of augmenting income tax revenues, not replacing them (see here). In the current fiscal crisis, Democrats from Obama on down are pushing for “revenue enhancements.” In today’s political climate, there is zero constituency for a revenue-neutral carbon tax.

And no, this does not mean that in an ideal world I would favor substituting carbon taxes for income taxes. That would still be using the tax code as a tool of social engineering or industrial policy rather than for its proper purpose, which is to raise revenue. In my ideal world, we’d replace the income tax with a broad-based consumption tax. No household would ever again have to fear an IRS audit. People would pay taxes only on a ‘voluntary’ basis — when they choose to buy goods and services. Everybody’s tax rate would be the same, and it would be visible in every sales receipt. That way everybody would have the same incentive to keep it low. But I digress.

Green Tech Boondoggles

As for ‘clean tech’ subsidies, which Appell advocates along with carbon taxes, they are great at enriching special interests, poor at creating wealth. Obama once hailed Spain’s renewable energy subsidies as a model for the USA. Spain has committed to spend more than $100 billion on alternative energy subsidies. This turned out to be an unsustainable boondoggle. Each renewable energy job cost the Spanish taxpayer between $752,000 and $800,000, destroying 2.2 jobs for every job created.

Ah, but we can learn from Europe’s mistakes; we can do it better! Nope. Since July, three large U.S. solar firms filed for Chapter 11, including Obama’s clean-tech poster child, Solyndra, leaving 1,100 people out of work and taxpayers liable for $535 million in federal loans. Obama had so much egg on his face he did not even mention “green jobs” or “energy” in his Labor Day jobs speech.

Conclusion

The tautology that greenhouse gas emissions have a greenhouse effect does not even begin to “settle” the core scientific issue in the global warming debate, namely, the issue of climate sensitivity. The notion that one must question or reject a human contribution to global warming to challenge climate scaremongering, or to oppose regulatory assaults on affordable energy, is false. It is a rhetorical trick that activists like Al Gore use to distract the public from the real issues in the climate science and climate policy debates.

That is my thesis. David Appell has not refuted it.

28 comments

1 Jack Savage { 09.13.11 at 3:40 am }

Very well put.

2 Andrew { 09.13.11 at 9:23 am }

I generally agree Marlo, but on Tax Policy I would actually go further than you would. Everyone paying the same rate still doesn’t treat people “equally/fairly” and punishes those who, in the case of a consumption tax, spend more money. Call me crazy but I think it is “fair” only if no one pays any more in absolute terms than anyone else.

Of course, I recognize that the level of improvement over the current tax system is inversely proportional to the feasibility of the reform. So I would personally settle for a flat rate even if I think it still punishes people unfairly.

3 Steve Simpson { 09.13.11 at 9:50 am }

This is outstanding! Keep up the great work Mr. Lewis!

4 Marlo Lewis { 09.13.11 at 2:24 pm }

MIT Professor Richard Lindzen sent me a comment, which I post here with his permission:

Virtually all scientists working on climate do agree that there has been a fraction of a degree of warming since the middle of the 19th century, that CO2 has been increasing, and that this should contribute something to the warming. However, the crucial question is whether the contribution is large enough to be of concern, and even the presidents of the National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society agree that this is still unknown. Indeed, even if the increase in CO2 accounted for all of the observed warming, it would not imply a dangerous sensitivity. If the models on which alarm is based are correct then man has contributed several times more warming than has been observed. Modelers skirt this issue by claiming that aerosols have hidden the difference, but this is simply the invocation of fudge factor since the aerosol impact is unknown, and each model chooses a different value.

5 Marlo Lewis: Response to David Appell: Is Climate-Policy Activism Merited? | JunkScience Sidebar { 09.14.11 at 12:10 am }

[...] Response to David Appell: Is Climate-Policy Activism Merited? by Marlo Lewis September 13, 2011 [...]

6 Ramspace { 09.14.11 at 5:31 am }

It seems to me that your ideas on taxation are faulty, but perhaps the fault is in my thinking. Let us say that William P. Gates earns $5 billion, and his employee Gertrude Pnin earns $25,000. Both rely on local infrastructure (transportation systems, power utilities, power distribution systems, food inspection services, and even policing), but Gates sees a return of $4,999,975,000 more than Pnin. He clearly benefits to a greater extent from the infrastructure–which, please note, he did not build but without which he would earn almost nothing. Moreover, he requires a broader range of services to earn his billions, and those services are located over a broader geographic area. Gates is asking far more of the general community (who built and maintain the infrastructure); in simple fairness, he should pay for what he uses. This is not a question of social justice, but merely a matter of paying for what you take. It is quite likely that all along the chain, individual charges (for licensing trucks, using roads, buying fuel) are set too low; Gates is consuming goods for which he is not charged or for which he is charged too little. This could be addressed either by adjusting prices throughout the system, or by an income tax. The latter is simpler and cheaper to apply. The point is, there are NO self-made millionaires; this is a myth. Without banks, bridges, roads, railways, electrical utilities, asylums, judges, jails, juries, and much more, there are no great markets, and there is no opportunity to make more than one’s own hands can grasp and hold. The more one makes, the more one draws upon this common wealth–and the more one should pay into it, if only out of self-interest.
Wherein lies my error?

7 Jon Boone { 09.14.11 at 9:34 am }

Thanks, Ramspace, for making this excellent point. I was with Marlo (he is usually out in front of any pack) until his consumption tax prescriptions, which are, of course, the basis of our sales taxes. But even Marlo should be careful what he wishes for. Beyond the operational issues you describe, however, I don’t think the social justice factor should be glossed over. Consumption taxes, particularly one as problematic as a carbon tax, are highly regressive. They would disproportionally–and adversely–affect the Gertrude Pnins of the nation, for they obviously have much less discretionary income. And taxing it for staple items leaves even less discretion. Such a policy would also hurt small business–and even much of the middle class.

I imagine a better world (as I dream on) with no significant consumption taxes (though I could support tolls) and no exemptions–none–for income taxes, which everyone age 18 and up would pay. There would be obvious quibbling about how progressive the rates would be–and how many tiers. But whatever is settled on would not include exemptions or–uh–loopholes.

8 Marlo Lewis { 09.14.11 at 12:46 pm }

Ramspace and Jon, yes we should always be careful what we wish for. There is no escaping the law of unintended consequences! My riff on tax reform was a digression. All I have time for here is a few quick thoughts.

Income taxes raise fairness issues no less than consumption taxes. Should everyone’s income be taxed at the same rate? “Flat taxers” would say yes. Under a flat income tax, the more you earn, the more you pay, the tax code would be “fair” because non-discriminatory. A flat tax embodies the ideal of “equality under law.”

“Progressives,” of course, vehemently disagree. They think a tax system is not “fair” unless it redistributes income. Today, the top 1% of income earners pays more than 40% of all income taxes (http://ntu.org/tax-basics/who-pays-income-taxes.html). Yet “progressives” complain the rich don’t pay their “fair share.”

The income tax thus has an ever-present potential to become confiscatory, an instrument of political plunder. All of course in the name of “fairness”! Government’s power to “rob Peter to pay Paul” would be much reduced under a consumption tax.

Yes, the poor spend a larger portion of their income on necessities (food, health care, commuting, utilities). Like most people, I believe the tax code should not be regressive. Thus, I agree, households earning below a certain threshold should pay no taxes at all, and adjustments should be made to reduce the burden that equal tax rates would otherwise impose on low-income households. But a consumption tax system can be structured to avoid regressive effects. One option is the “prebate” system advocated by FairTax.Org: http://www.fairtax.org/site/PageServer?pagename=about_faq_answers#3

Ramspace argues that Bill Gates should be taxed at a high rate because he “clearly benefits to a greater extent from the infrastructure–which, please note, he did not build but without which he would earn almost nothing.” Well, of course, if there were no infrastructure, we would not have an economy.

A point to keep in mind, though, is that, not only would many like Ms. Pnin “earn almost nothing” but for entrepreneurs like Bill Gates. Our infrastructure would also be less developed and of poorer quality. Gates is not only a bigger infrastructure beneficiary — he is also a bigger infrastructure benefactor!

Gates benefits infrastructure directly by creating jobs, hence taxpayers. He benefits it indirectly by creating products that dramatically enhance productivity, creating jobs, hence taxpayers. Gates would continue to be an infrastructure benefactor under a consumption tax. More employees + a more productive economy = more purchases, hence more tax payments.

Another fairness issue to consider is the complexity of the income tax, its manipulation by special interests, and its outright evasion by criminal elements. Many individuals and firms arguably do not pay their “fair share” because of exemptions, deductions, and loopholes that may exist simply by virtue of campaign contributions. Criminals avoid paying income taxes by hiding and laundering the proceeds of illegal enterprises. Under a consumption tax, there would be no tax shelters for the wealthy and even crime bosses would pay taxes whenever they spend their ill-gotten gains.

In addition to fairness concerns, there are liberty concerns. If you have ever been audited by the IRS, you know that the government has the power to turn your life upside down, and penalize you for non-compliance with a code that nobody can understand. The IRS can pry into your private finances and compel you to produce reams of paperwork even if you are not under criminal investigation. Only stale dull habit prevents us from seeing how far we have strayed from an authentic Constitution of Liberty.

Ramspan and Jon did not address two points I made earlier. First, a consumption tax would create a political incentive to limit the cost and size of government by putting the vast majority of taxpayers in the same boat. In contrast, the income tax encourages politicians to engage in divide-and-conquer class warfare.

Second, the income tax gives government first claim on our income via the withholding provision. This stacks the political decks against taxpayers, because government gets to decide how much of your own money you get to keep. In contrast, a consumption tax puts the initiative back in the hands of the citizen, who pays taxes only when he chooses to make a purchase.

9 Ed Reid { 09.14.11 at 1:08 pm }

The proper role of taxation is to fund the essential functions of government. However, I realize that much of current taxation funds other functions.

A carbon tax is certainly problematic. As an approach to funding the essential functions of government, it is not reliable to the extent that non-carbon energy sources are available and economic to progressively replace carbon-based energy sources. As an approach to reducing carbon emissions, it is unpredictable and uncontrollable. As a regulatory tool, it is a blunt instrument.

However, as economic and environmental policy, it is simply insane. The investments required to reduce US carbon emissions would be enormous. A carbon tax would merely add to the expense of emissions reductions, while having no impact on the investments required.

10 John T { 09.14.11 at 2:06 pm }

“a revenue-neutral carbon tax”

What a joke.

Just like you can’t have an engine that outputs the work-equivalent of 100% of the energy consumed, you can’t have a bureaucracy that hands out 100% of the revenue it takes in. Some government agencies have a lower efficiency rating than the gas engine in my car.

11 Is Gov. Perry ‘Anti-Science’? (Updated, Sep. 14, 2011) { 09.14.11 at 3:46 pm }

[...] [...]

12 Jon Boone { 09.14.11 at 3:52 pm }

Thanks, Marlo–and Ed. This “digression” (and it shouldn’t overshadow the larger points made in this article) deals with issues central to our polity and to our national identity. I might be persuaded, given clear argument, that consumption taxes be used in lieu of income taxes. However, for reasons Ed mentions–and more–I would not support a consumption tax on carbon (or pixie dust), even if it was a chip in the larger game.

Philosophically, I resist funding mechanisms for government based solely upon the proposition that people are consumers first and perhaps last. At root, people should consider themselves as citizens, after which they can consume (or frolic or take a nap) with a sense of civics and civility. Citizenship should not only be a function of birth and ritual; it should also be a launching pad for the continuing dialog about the essential (and reciprocal) rights, privileges, and obligations people have to one another and to the larger society (of which consumption is but a part).

Perhaps taxation can be imposed apart from concerns about citizenship. But I haven’t been able to figure out how in a meaningful way (though I’m willing to learn). Which is why I believe all citizens must pay something, no matter how poor. How to achieve this with transparency and without confiscation in a land where, as Madison noted, people aren’t angels, seems an essential task for enlightened leadership.

13 Ed Reid { 09.14.11 at 4:32 pm }

Jon,

Today, as I assume you are well aware, approximately 47% of our fellow citizens pay no federal income tax. I agree that is a problem, though it would be a far worse problem if that number ever exceeded 50%.

I believe our biggest taxation problem is that total taxation is spread over so many different taxes that the average citizen has absolutely no idea how much they are paying in taxes. A single tax, of virtually any type, without withholding, would likely lead to a second American Revolution.

I was fascinated, during the discussions surrounding Waxman-Markey, Kerry-Boxer and Kerry-Lieberman that the primary focus appeared to be on the anticipated ~$65 billion per year revenue from from the sale of emissions allowances (indulgences?), rather than on the expected emissions reductions. Kinda tells ya where their hearts are!

14 Marlo Lewis { 09.14.11 at 4:56 pm }

Jon,

All good points. Note, I oppose a carbon tax. Proponents sometimes claim it would be revenue neutral, offsetting other taxes dollar for dollar. In all likelihood, a carbon tax would simply add new burdens onto existing taxes. It would also expand government’s power to rig the market place.

The premise of a broad-based retail consumption tax is not that America is just a place to shop. The main idea behind it is that the tax system should not penalize work, pry into citizens’ private affairs, or empower the politics of predation.

Madison, Washington, and the framers generally had a high regard for civic virtue. Yet in the original U.S. Constitution, they made no provision for Congress to lay and collect taxes on individual or corporate incomes.

The income tax was the handiwork of Progressive Era politicians, established in 1913 via the 16th Amendment. It laid the fiscal foundation for decades of government growth and dramatically expanded the feds’ reach into our private affairs. I don’t see how that makes us better citizens or fosters civic virtue.

15 Jon Boone { 09.14.11 at 6:40 pm }

“Some government agencies have a lower efficiency rating than the gas engine in my car.” I’m still laughing over this line, John T, which I immediately transposed into “all agencies are efficient, but some are more efficient than others….” How do you think your car’s engine would stack up against the Department of Energy?

And let’s add corporations like Florida Power and Light and GE to the legion that pay no federal income taxes, Ed, despite having annual revenues in the billions. This may delight the likes of Grover Norquist. But such profiteering, often at the expense of real productivity (a point made by Glenn Schleede), imposes heavier burdens on all of us. The range of taxes we now take for granted is enormous–income, property, sales, use, tolls, excise, licenses, etc. Add them all up, and you’re point is more than well taken. Reminded me of the Beatle’s lyrical romp in Taxman:

Don’t ask me what I want it for,
If you don’t want to pay some more.
‘Cause I’m the taxman,
Yeah, I’m the taxman.

Now my advice for those who die, (taxman)
Declare the pennies on your eyes. (taxman)
‘Cause I’m the taxman,
Yeah, I’m the taxman.

The punchline follows:

And you’re working for no one but me.

Emission reductions?! Pleaaaze!

As Hamilton and Washington (and Madison) understood, taxation was an implied constitutional power of government. But a crucial one, Marlo. The legal fugue leading to the 16th Amendment, beginning in earnest in 1862, is a score that everyone should know, in context.

As to what inculcates civic virtue, I submit this is a central question for the life of a functional modern democracy, along with what constitutes critical thinking skills and sufficient knowledge to make informed decisions. It is one that preoccupied Washington all his life (the importance he attached to the Order of Cincinnatus, for example) and, of course, Ben Franklin.

16 Ed Reid { 09.14.11 at 6:59 pm }

Jon,

There are no tax “loopholes”. Rather, there are a myriad of specially designed tax preferences; and, highly skilled tax lawyers and accountants.

“Don’t tax you, don’t tax me. Tax the guy behind the tree.”, the late US Senator Russell Long (D, LA)

With regards and a sincere apology to the late Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen (R, IL): “A trillion here, a trillion there; pretty soon you’re talking about real money.”

17 Jon Boone { 09.14.11 at 7:11 pm }

Makes one yearn for the Ev and Charlie Show, Ed….

18 Andrew { 09.14.11 at 9:59 pm }

For me, the test of whether a tax system is just and proper is simple: it should not in any sense be punitive. A tax system which treats everyone the same in terms of what they actually pay, is not punitive. A flat rate that everyone pays is punitive-those who have/spend more, pay more, effectively meaning they are punished for having/doing so. It is less so, however, than a system of rates that go up and up as your income does. That is extremely punitive and an unconscionable injustice.

19 David Appell { 09.15.11 at 1:56 am }

Marlo, that Spanish jobs study has been widely debunked and discredited. See this link and the references therein, especially the letter to Rep Waxman:
http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/paltman/spain_rejects_calzada_spanish.html

20 David Appell { 09.15.11 at 2:09 am }

Marlo wrote:
<>

Let’s stop here, at the end of the 2nd paragraph, because it distorts Gore’s words and makes an unjustified leap.

Gore did *not* say that morality requires acceptance of his (or anyone’s) proposed solutions. He said that morality requires we address the problem of manmade climate change, to keep the environment livable for everyone, including future generations. In fact, the 2007 Gore testimony to which you linked discusses no specific solutions, but talks about the status of the science and the urgency of the problem.

With distortions like this, I’m not sure it’s worth addressing the rest of your points.

21 David Appell { 09.15.11 at 2:23 am }

Marlo wrote:
> Right, which means that, with respect to extreme weather,
> despite several decades of global warming, the world
> is becoming a safer place. There is no crisis, no
> planetary emergency.

Here you make logical fallacy.

As I wrote in a comment the other day to Robert Bradley’s post, I don’t think extreme weather events are the greatest danger in global warming. They get a lot of attention, like a plane crash, but the real danger faced by a person are the much more common car crashes which never get the same attention.

The “planetary emergency” is because more warming (~1-1.5 C) is inevitable, even if we ceased using all fossil fuels tomorrow. Which we won’t. We’re using ever more. CO2 levels will probably increase by a factor of, certainly, 2 from pre-industrial levels by 2100, likely 3, and perhaps even a factor of 4. There is simply nothing to compare that to, both in magnitude and rate of change, when we have a complex society of 7-10 billion people. Nothing. The stresses on agriculture, water, coastal cities, are going to be huge. *That’s* the emergency, not whether more people will die in droughts or heat waves.

22 Roy Collins { 09.19.11 at 4:38 am }

Re: Spanish jobs: there are also studies from Scotland and Denmark with similar results. See

http://www.versoeconomics.com/verso-0311B.pdf

http://www.cepos.dk/fileadmin/user_upload/Arkiv/PDF/Wind_energy_-_the_case_of_Denmark.pdf

David said “The stresses on agriculture, water, coastal cities, are going to be huge. *That’s* the emergency, not whether more people will die in droughts or heat waves.”

If the stresses aren’t that from extreme weather, people dying in droughts or heat waves can you give us some specifics of what you mean? and the question remains will these “stresses” outweigh the economic costs of enacting the proposed policies (especially when one believes that warming of 1-1.5 C is inevitable even with such policies) and any benefits that may arise from global warming? I myself have yet to see a convincing argument that on net humankind will be worse off when taking into account the economic consequences of more interventionist policies and as David Friedman said recently “If we have no good reason to believe that humans will be substantially worse off after global warming than before, we have no good reason to believe that it is worth bearing sizable costs to prevent global warming.”

23 mlewis { 09.19.11 at 10:37 am }

David, events have vindicated the Spanish study, and I’m not talking just about the recent bankruptcies of three major solar companies, including Solyndra, which failed despite receiving half a billion dollars in taxpayer support.

As my colleague Chris Horner points out, Spain’s debt from subsidizing renewables “ballooned from an estimated 30 billion euros two short years ago to 126 billion such that, if Spain could pull the plug today (which they cannot as that would precipitate a banking crisis, the banks having underwritten the boondoggles on a government guarantee a la Fannie and Freddie here), the bill would equal about 11% of Spain’s GDP.”

Chris continues: “Also per Calzada using EuroStat figures, in the past decade erstwhile Obama model Germany spent more money just on solar trying to ‘jump-start’ that industry than it has spent to date bailing out Greece, Portugal and Ireland, combined.” (http://washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/op-eds/2011/09/obamas-jobs-speech-will-be-trip-down-el-mundo-de-los-recuerdos-memory-lane#ixzz1Y2IgCY5H)

I did not “distort” what Gore said, I interpreted what he said. That’s inevitable because, although Gore at times presents himself as a non-ideological Mr. Science, he is ever the cagey politician, and knows how to keep things vague so as to avoid accountability for some of the messages he imparts.

For example, in An Inconvenient Truth, Gore does not come right out and say that global warming was responsible for the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina. But through an elaborate context of words and images, he prepares and encourages viewers to draw that conclusion.

Similarly, when, at the film’s end, Gore declares that global warming is a “moral issue,” he does not spell out what that means. He doesn’t have to. During the previous 90 minutes he has told viewers that global warming is a civilization-imperiling disaster, that we already possess the requisite knowledge and technology to resolve the crisis, that the only thing lacking is political will, and that his opponents are polluters or shills of polluters.

“In other words,” as I put it in my column, we’ve got “no moral choice” but to follow Gore’s agenda. One may respectfully disagree with Gore, but one may not respectably disagree. The film’s ending rhetorical flourish is meant to be a debate-stopper – just like Gore’s invocation of the “consensus of scientists.”

As to the planetary emergency, a 1.5C warming would put us back to where things stood in the Northern Hemisphere for thousands of years during the Holocene Optimum (http://www.worldclimatereport.com/index.php/2006/05/25/more-evidence-of-arctic-warmth-a-long-time-ago/). To my knowledge, that was not a crisis for our Stone Age ancestors, whose powers of adaptation were vastly inferior to ours.

Perhaps the most pessimistic assessment of the impacts of a high-end (4C+) warming on poor countries – those least able to adapt – is the UK Government’s Stern Review of the Economics of Climate Change. Economist Indur Goklany shows that even in this worst-case scenario, and taking into account the economic losses due to climate change, developing country per capita GDP is projected to increase from $900 in 1990 to $65,000 in 2100 (http://goklany.org/library/Goklany%20Discounting%20the%20future%20Regulation%202009%20v32n1-5.pdf). For perspective, note that in 2006, GDP per capita was $19,300 for industrialized countries, and $30,100 for the USA.

So even in the worst case, developing countries are projected to be richer than developed countries are today. They will also have the benefit of decades of technological advances in agriculture, medicine, and water resource management.

To wrap up, global warming is not now a planetary emergency, and there is no good reason to assume it will become so.

24 Bob Murphy { 09.19.11 at 6:06 pm }

Ramspace,

Just a few points that I think largely dovetail with Marlo’s comprehensive response:

1) You say it’s easier or simpler to implement a progressive income tax, rather than trying to charge Bill Gates et al. for the things they take from society. But I dispute this claim. For example, a millionaire who earns his income through a trucking fleet uses roads provided by taxpayers far more than, say, a best-selling novelist who perhaps is a recluse and sits in his cabin most of his life.

2) To drive home the first point, take things the other way. Would you think it would make things simpler or fairer if we, say, got rid of prices on bread or electricity or gasoline, and instead provided those goods out of general tax revenue, and then raised income tax rates accordingly? I hope you agree with me that *that* would be a disaster.

3) The general principle here is that resources don’t get allocated properly unless there are associated market prices for individual units. People need to feel the scarcity of what they’re actually using up in their activities. Things like roads are already priced in many areas, albeit not very efficiently. Rather than trying to have government officials guess as to what the “fair” income tax is, I would much prefer that they privatize as many services as politically feasible.

25 David Appell { 09.21.11 at 9:45 pm }

Marlo:
Re #23: I read the first few chapters of Chris Horner’s “Red Hot Lies.” They were so crooked I won’t believe another word he ever writes, including “the.” I am all for intelligent discussions of complex, charged issues, but he expects the reader to first take their brain out of their head.

26 David Appell { 09.21.11 at 10:41 pm }

The EIA’s reported FY2010 renewable energy subsidy of $14.7 B has to be considered in light of the substantial damages to human health and the environment from the use of fossil fuels. The report

“Hidden Costs of Energy: Unpriced Consequences of Energy Production and Use”
National Research Council, 2010
http://books.nap.edu/catalog/12794.html

found the cost from damages due to fossil fuel use to be $120B for 2005 (in 2007 dollars), a number that does not include climate change and that the study’s authors considered a “substantial underestimate.” For electricity generation by coal the external cost was 3.2 cents/kWh, with damages due to climate change adding another 3 cents/kWh (for CO2e priced at $30/mt). Transportation costs were a minimum of 1.2 cents/vehicle-mile, with at least another 0.5 cents/VM for climate change. Heat produced by natural gas caused damages calculated to be 11 cents/thousand cubic feet, with $2.10/Kcf in damages to the climate. They found essentially no damage costs from renewables. (Yes, some bird deaths – but buildings kill far more birds than wind turbines.)

This is money we’re all paying in medical costs (and bad health), and US governments now pay about half of all medical costs.

Also note that this EIA report found $4.2 B in federal subsidies for coal, oil, and natural gas in FY2010.

It’s certainly true that, for electricity at least, federal subsidies per unit of energy produced were higher for renewables than for fossil fuels, sometimes much higher. (See the EIA chart at http://is.gd/ajcsv3.) If this were strictly a monetary calculation, fossil fuels are cheaper to use per unit of energy even with the present damages. But that’s a heartless calculation. The costs of climate damage are only going to get worse – much worse. Oil may well run out. And bringing the costs of renewables down requires implementing them and funding research. We cannot afford to ignore the renewable future (which includes nuclear), and we are already losing jobs by doing so – see
http://davidappell.blogspot.com/2011/08/surprisingly-more-renewables-than.html
http://davidappell.blogspot.com/2011/07/how-america-just-lost-one-million-jobs.html

27 Jon Boone { 09.22.11 at 9:28 am }

Bringing the costs for renewables down!?? Suppose the costs of wind, for example, were “down” to one cent per kWh, and the price charged for the technology was zero (not unreasonable given the revenues now acquired via subsidies). Why would anyone interested in preserving modernity and consumer cost think about accepting such a bargain? How functional, for most people, would any appliance “powered” by the wind be? Would the David Appell’s of the world really commit themselves to driving windmobiles, when no one could know when they would start or stop, when lurching back and forth would be the norm? How competitive would commercial air transport be if gliders became only a fraction of the cost of 747s? Would sailboats make a comeback in the global economy of the future? This is not a new technology. Converting this diffuse energy source into modern power cannot be accomplished without so much bells and whistles (which have significant costs attached) that the technology would subvert the reasons for its being. Despite over 40GW of installed wind, the nation increased its coal consumption last year.

This fetish for renewables like wind and, to a lesser extent, industrial scale solar, in which people like Appell give them equal performance status with conventional power, is symptomatic of the lacuna at the heart of our national energy debate.One of the troubling things about the way wind is vetted in public discourse is how “debate” is framed to ensure that wind has modern power and economic value. It does not. Should we really debate whether the 747 would do more than gliders in transporting large quantities of freight, if only the cost of gliders could be “brought down” through federal research and implementation dollars? Lumping wind (with no effective capacity) and solar (very little capacity) with nuclear (not to mention geothermal) and even hydro, the only widespread effective renewable (the one that for much of the last century symbolized the potential of renewables) is mouse-that-roared ludicrous. All things being equal, the more wind, the more need for fossil fuels, which industries gamboling in fossil fuel–such as GE, AES, Shell, and ExxonMobile–understand all too well.

As for all those stilted costs estimated for the damage done by fossil fuels, any reasonable analysis should also include the economic and health benefits that fossil fuels have afforded modernity. Which is a calculus nations throughout the world have done–and are doing. Which largely explains why coal use is so widespread and growing. The overall benefits far, far outweigh the liabilities, by virtually any metric one wants to apply.

Newer technologies will undoubtedly one day replace coal combustion and perhaps even oil and natural gas. What those newer technologies will have in common is extremely high capacity at affordable cost using the smallest land area possible.

28 Chris { 09.22.11 at 12:58 pm }

If these comments are an indication, I can’t wait until Perry is president. All the watermelon enviro-facists will literally go beserk! Yet, I predict global temps will be cooler in 2016 than today, but that won’t stop their cognitive dissonance.

Leave a Comment