“America has a short list of truly shameful ‘days,’—among them the Dred Scott decision, the Trail of Tears, Japanese internment, and Abu Ghraib—most of them symbolic of a larger national moral failure. I hope I am wrong, but I fear that today will join that list.”
“If all that [climate-policy-related] deregulation comes to pass, then I predict future generations will look back on today with particular scorn and shame.”
“A single executive order might therefore seem unremarkable. But today’s action is significant…. At stake are the global economy, entire ecosystems, and the lives of millions—most of them not yet living. Those future generations will judge the authors of today’s policy harshly.”
– Nathan Richardson, “Trump’s Climate Executive Order Discards American Values.” Resources for the Future, March 28, 2017.
Another title for this post could be “Scholarship Goes Sick at Resources for the Future.” (Add your own suggested title in the comments section.) But first some background.
Resources for the Future (RFF) was once a venerable scholarly organization. Founded in 1952, a number of books (even treatises) brought facts to the forefront to explain that mineral energy, and other minerals, were abundant. It can be said that RFF all but invented energy economics–and energy scholarship.
Then came the 1970s when the mainstream economic establishment went Malthusian, following Harold Hotelling, believing that minerals were fixed and thus had to deplete (increase in cost and price). RFF jumped on that bandwagon. Voices such as M.A. Adelman were pushed aside, and the upstart Julian Simon was ignored.
Trending Malthusian, RFF scholars in the 1970s went soft on the disaster of federal price and allocation controls, a void ably filled by the American Enterprise Institute and, later, the Heritage Foundation (founded 1973) and the Cato Institute (founded 1977). My book, Capitalism at Work, documents the early decades of Resources for the Future (pp. 219–222; 343–350).
Then came the global warming issue, which became RFF’s bread-and-butter, not to debate but to assume the problem and to pick your policy poison (cap-and-trade, carbon tax, efficiency mandates, etc.).
Paul Portney, the head of RFF from 1995 until 2005, a scholar in many respects, was not going to pass this one by. The skeptics of high-sensitivity warming and critics of pricing carbon dioxide were not welcome to participate at RFF seminars. The election to RFF’s board of David Hawkins, head of the climate program at Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), during Portney’s tenure, said much.
Back to the present. Nathan Richardson, a visiting fellow at RFF, has taken the allegedly bipartisan, scholarly organization to a new low. His raw emotionalism, hardly masked by his more reasoned paragraphs, is climate anger at work.
Richardson’s spite suggests that RFF will continue to exclude serious debate on the physical science of climate (global lukewarming?); the positive side of increasing atmospheric concentrations of CO2; and the social cost of carbon (negative, de minimis?)
All this when RFF finds itself on the political outside and would want, it would seem, to be politically relevant with climate. Sad, but predictable given the huge funding machine that supports climate alarmism, as well as the emotional investment of RFF veterans such as Raymond Kopp and Alan Krupnick , senior fellows and co-Directors of RFF’s Center for Energy and Climate Economics.
Needless to say, those of us that support climate deregulation for a better world have a robust intellectual case–too strong to allow RFF to invite us to join their panel discussions.
Judith Curry on climate science? Robert Murphy on the social cost of carbon? Ben Zycher on pricing carbon dioxide in general? Alex Epstein on climate activism in general? If our position is really weaker than climate alarm and government activism to address the alleged problem, then that should be obvious. But it is not–and the other side, by now, should know it.
Richard Newell, RFF’s new president and CEO, stated: “At a time when polarization and superficial rhetoric dominate public discussion, RFF provides balanced, data-driven research and analysis to support the decisions required for a thriving environment, economy, and resource base.” Prove it!
The entire post of Nathan Richardson, a visiting fellow at RFF, is presented below.
President Trump’s executive order issued today promises to roll back much of the country’s efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the risk of catastrophic climate change. Specifically, it commits the Trump administration to rolling back President Obama’s Clean Power Plan (limiting emissions from fossil-fueled power plants) as well as a variety of other, smaller regulations.
Comment: ‘Catastrophic’? This is what needed to be debated, not assumed. Climate policy could become as or more ‘catastrophic’ than climate change itself. Has the author heard of Public Choice economics?
Combined with last week’s promise to roll back vehicle fuel economy standards, today’s moves are a profound shift in policy direction—away from addressing the risks of climate change. This should not come as a surprise. The president has called climate change a hoax fabricated by China, and promised during the campaign to hobble the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) while bringing back coal jobs.
Comment: ‘hoax fabricated by China’ … Actually, the Trump Administration and Trump himself have more recent opinions about the human influence on climate. One of basic rules of scholarship is to consider the opposing views fairly and even generously. This is just a hit-and-run intellectual stab.
There are good reasons not to overreact to today’s executive order. As I and many others have noted, US climate policy cannot be shifted by executive order alone. Most climate regulations, including EPA’s Clean Power Plan, cannot be withdrawn merely by executive order. A long rulemaking process followed by inevitable litigation will be necessary, just as it was to put the rule in place.
The executive order also does not signal an intent (yet) to take either of the two most drastic actions that reports have suggested were under consideration: withdrawal of the 2009 endangerment finding underpinning all of EPA’s climate regulations, and withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement.
Moreover, others have suggested that losing the Clean Power Plan won’t have a major effect on the trend of US emissions. The electric power industry is already reducing its emissions as it has shifted away from coal, largely for economic reasons. These trends are likely to continue. To be sure, they may not—and losing the Clean Power Plan may hasten closures of zero-carbon nuclear plants that will be hard to replace. But between the slow pace of regulatory change and the modest effect of the rules in place, it is possible that the effects of today’s executive order, measured in terms of the change in US emissions, will be small.
Despite these reassuring facts, I believe today’s actions are extremely important, for reasons that go far beyond the details of US energy policy.
Emissions trends alone are not the only way to measure the effect of policy change. The executive order signals a new direction for US environmental policy—and a substantial break from not only the Obama administration but from all past administrations. If President Trump succeeds in repealing the Clean Power Plan, it will be the first time an administration has rolled back significant environmental protections. Past presidents have disagreed, sometimes sharply, on environmental priorities, and on how—even whether—such environmental protections should grow. But until now they have all accepted the basic premises that a strong and successful America depends on environmental protection, and that policy decisions should be informed by science. (If you don’t believe me, read any speech by George W. Bush or, circa 2008, John McCain on climate).
Comment: The author conflates ‘environmental protection’ with CO2 abatement. But this assumes, rather than debates, whether CO2 is a pollutant.
Moreover, symbols matter. Whether or not the United States formally withdraws from the Paris Agreement, President Trump has today signaled that he does not intend to fulfill US commitments under it. If global efforts on climate do not collapse, it will be because other nations—most likely China—have taken leadership. The effects of such a shift will not be limited to the annual UN climate meetings. On any issue where international cooperation is needed, from trade to arms control, Chinese soft power and credibility will increase, and the United States will be marginalized and viewed as untrustworthy. Discarding American values and weakening American influence in this way comes even if today’s actions have little effect on the climate.
Comment: This gets into foreign policy, but many nations of the world may well be relieved that the pressure is off of even their voluntary commitments under the Paris agreement.
Finally, the limited short-term impact of the executive order is little comfort. President Trump almost surely will succeed in repealing or at least weakening the Clean Power Plan eventually—an executive order can’t do it, but the president ultimately controls the rulemaking agenda. And the Clean Power Plan was the start—not the end—of the emissions cuts the United States must make; any hope that President Trump would “pivot” and consider such further steps was dashed today. He may also block California and other states from taking action in the federal government’s stead, and ultimately may undermine the world’s efforts to prevent climate change.
And the rest of the post goes hyperbolic ….
If all that comes to pass, then I predict future generations will look back on today with particular scorn and shame. There have been many missed opportunities in the United States over the last few decades to take serious action to address the threat of climate change. A single executive order might therefore seem unremarkable. But today’s action is significant, I believe, even if its immediate impacts are small. It signals not delay, but retreat. Not political rhetoric, but a commitment to destructive action. Even considering America’s past failures to act, today’s move is a clear and public shift away from any serious climate policy that, I fear, will be easy to recognize from a degraded future. At stake are the global economy, entire ecosystems, and the lives of millions—most of them not yet living. Those future generations will judge the authors of today’s policy harshly.
America has a short list of truly shameful “days,”—among them the Dred Scott decision, the Trail of Tears, Japanese internment, and Abu Ghraib—most of them symbolic of a larger national moral failure. I hope I am wrong, but I fear that today will join that list.