Sunday, December 04, 2005

Open Post on "Kyoto Climate" negotiations

This from the New York Times about the climate conference in Montreal.

Today, in the middle of new global warming talks in Montreal, there is a sense that the whole idea of global agreements to cut greenhouse gases won't work. ... But the current stalemate is not just because of the inadequacies of the protocol. It is also a response to the world's ballooning energy appetite, which, largely because of economic growth in China, has exceeded almost everyone's expectations. And there are still no viable alternatives to fossil fuels, the main source of greenhouse gases. ...

Indeed, from here on, progress on climate is less likely to come from megaconferences like the one in Montreal and more likely from focused initiatives by clusters of countries with common interests, said Mr. Benedick, who is now a consultant and president of the National Council on Science and the Environment, a private group promoting science-based environmental policies.

The only real answer at the moment is still far out on the horizon: nonpolluting energy sources. But the amount of money being devoted to research and develop such technologies, much less install them, is nowhere near the scale of the problem, many experts on energy technology said.

These conclusions sound very suspiciously like the US alternative to Kyoto, which recognized that greenhouse emission reductions could not be achieved at the cost of economic growth in a world still beset by poverty; that regional arrangements were better than a single global one and that the best way forward was to invest in new and cleaner technology. This article, from the BBC's 2001 archives, is entitled US plans 'Kyoto alternative'. Note the scare quotes around the words Kyoto alternative, and then how the article refrains from describing the US proposal. However, the US plan, known as the Asia-Pacific Partnership for Clean Development and Climate is comprehensively described by Wikipedia.

US President George W. Bush called it a "new results-oriented partnership" that he said "will allow our nations to develop and accelerate deployment of cleaner, more efficient energy technologies to meet national pollution reduction, energy security and climate change concerns in ways that reduce poverty and promote economic development."

In addition, the agreement promotes long-term transformational technologies that could radically reduce emissions while promoting economic growth, including:

  • Next-generation nuclear power
  • Fusion power
  • Hydrogen energy distribution
  • Biotechnology
  • Nanotechnology

Commentary

Readers may wish to do a Google search on 'US alternative Kyoto' to see what the press was saying about the US plan at the time. One of the questions I'm interested in exploring is whether politics somehow prevented environmentalists from reaching the conclusions described by the NYT years earlier; and if the answer is yes, whether there is any way, in principle, one can detect whether politics is twisting a current public policy debate away from its rational path.

62 Comments:

Blogger Aristides said...

This reminds me of Clare Short's comment that only the UN had the moral authority to help the tsunami victims.

Actions are judged not by their results, but by the mantle under which they are carried out. Many in the world would rather sacrifice efficacy--or in certain cases the goal altogether--than have an enterprise tainted by all that is unholy (American Capitalism). In such a world the 'American alternative' is always bad, even when its good.

12/04/2005 12:42:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

Many of President Bush's policies are not particularly brilliant. Many of them are obvious responses that any ordinary person could come up with. The real mystery is not 'why is President Bush so clever' but rather why are apparently clever and well educated people, like the 'Win Without War' and the 'Kytoto Protcol' people so dumb? When you observe President Bush you see what you expect: a normal man muddling along. But when you see the other set you are confronted the almost an unaccountable spectacle of dumbing down.

12/04/2005 12:54:00 PM  
Blogger TigerHawk said...

A few disconnected comments:

1. As far away in time as new technologies may be, the massive increase in consumption from China has brought them closer. Why? Because it has pushed up the cost of the "alternative" (fossil fuels), which has made it more possible to achieve the rate-of-return hurdle necessary for the new technology.

2. Of course, some of the alternative technologies coming on line will not make the greens happy -- the efficient extraction of Alberta's oil sands probably does not reduce carbon levels, except insofar as they require relatively high oil prices to be profitable (and therefore will be consumed in less quantities).

3. The environmental activists, at least in the United States, are, on average, leftists by inclination. They give the strong impression that they do not like capitalism, and they especially do not like mass consumer culture (even if one were to imagine a much greener version of it). They do not like the automobile culture and everything that comes with it, or large houses. They do not trust market mechanisms, and always favor command and control regulation over market-based regulation (such as "cap and trade" schemes, which they dub a "license to pollute). They do not subscribe to the idea that economic growth has a positive impact on a society. They tend to be strongly Europhile, always citing some Swede or German for this or that proposition. The less saavy ones tend to be "citizen of the world" types, always complaining about how the United States consumes a disproportionate "share" of the "world's resources" (a fact that leads most American conservatives to think, (a) "resources" have to be produced before they are consumed, and there is no natural limit to them, only price limits, and (b) "bully for us").

4. The observations in 3 above are rank generalizations for which many exceptions might be cited, but they are sufficiently true that they have political consequences.

5. In the United States, at least, there is an apparent tension among environmentalists over the question of nuclear power. A lot of them cut their teeth on the anti-nuke movement (my now quite conservative wife chained herself to a fence at Seabrook back in the day). Now that carbon is the big villain, nuclear power does not look so bad. Some environmentalists have come to realize this, but for many of them it requires a massive change in attitude. To some degree, the environmentalists reconcile this tension by arguing that we do not need nuclear power. This is not as uncomfortable for them as it would appear, because they are willing to tolerate the tiny economies that would result from eliminating both nukes and fossil fuels. This is because they are, to some degree romantic for the simple life, and to another degree radical. (And to a third degree idiotic, but I'm sure they do not see it that way.)

6. It seems to me that a genuinely pro-growth environmentalist would be seen to frame the argument in dramatically different terms: the answer to the Bush administration is not to deny that Kyoto would hurt economic growth over some period of time, but that failing to enact Kyoto would hurt economic growth over a much longer period of time. Bush, this critic would say, is sacrificing the future to benefit the present, just as he is in so many other respects (such as fiscal policy). One occasionally hears this argument from environmentalists, but it usually has the ring of expediency to it. Rarely do they say "our goal is to make it possible for the entire world to enjoy a standard of living every bit as rich as the United States is today -- the only question is what environmental policy is best suited to getting there."

7. The other problem, of course, is that high gasoline prices, in particular, are politically devestating to any American president. Clinton was obsessed with keeping the price of gasoline down, and the steep decline in Bush's popularity in September and October almost certainly reflected post-Katrina gasoline prices more than anything else. The good news in that episode, if there was any, was that gasoline consumption fell dramatically in that time, proving (I would think) to everybody that there is a lot of discretionary gasoline consumption even in the car-dependant American economy.

8. I think that each of these observations leads to political markers, if you will, that should tell us whether politics is twisting public policy away from its rational path. If, for example, carbon is the problem, then we should see environmentalists campaigning against the political and legal obstacles that have prevented the construction of new nuclear power plants in the U.S. in the last generation. We don't, because the older ones cannot get over their anti-nuke past (and admit that they once advocated coal over nuclear power), and the younger ones don't like the idea of supporting "giant corporations" that might accidentally "make obscene profits." Similarly, we don't see arguments for market-based mechanisms from either side, at least in the U.S. Nobody on either side wants to argue for a significant consumption tax on fossil fuels or even just gasoline. Since such a tax would be the most aggressive possible spur to the development of new technologies, one can only assume that the absence of champions for it is political.

12/04/2005 01:04:00 PM  
Blogger TigerHawk said...

Wretchard - re your comment (the strange dumbing down of the anti-Bush left):

The affluence of the last thirty-five years (roughly), has created a new phenomenon in the world: a class of highly educated people who do not aspire in their careers or in business, but in their activism. Cities like New York and Washington (especially Washington) are filled with people doing menial jobs to support themselves sufficiently so that they can do the non-remunerative activity that most interests them. A lot of these people are "social change" advocates. The result is that they are smart enough to be aware of the broader world in a detailed way, but utterly unschooled in everyday things that any ambitious accountant learns on the job, such as how organizations make decisions or react to stimuli.

Ann Coulter, who is a very witty woman whether you agree with her or not, was once asked why "talk radio" was so conservative. "Because people listend to it when driving to their jobs. The activists are so "dumb" because they are not ordinary people. They have structured their lives in a very unordinary way.

And don't forget the role of resentment. Many of these activists might have gone on to become lawyers or doctors or successful "symbolic analysts" of one sort or another, but affirmatively chose to save the world instead. This gives them an almost fatal sense of superiority. It is reflected both in their contempt for the common man (hence their lack of interest in economic growth and their hatred of mass consumer culture) and their hatred of the very ordinary George W. Bush.

12/04/2005 01:27:00 PM  
Blogger Annoy Mouse said...

In the early eighties I lived in Seattle and had a loose affiliation with a green energy consulting firm called Ecotope. These people held the belief, as an article of faith, that all projections for future energy use were inflated by pro-nuclear energy companies. The future would not require more energy, this, incidentally, at the instant and epicenter of the PC computer revolution. Two decades later I was working for the Advanced Technology Vehicle division of General Motors. We worked on hybrid and electric vehicle power controls. As the activists railed against clean nuclear power, as the California Air Resources Board helped to shut down oil fired power plants, as CARB complained that we weren’t trying hard enough to influence the market with our product offerings, as the black outs nearly shut the state down, no one could find a better answer, save feign deregulation, then make the state responsible for regulating the power exchange. We in California do not want to be in the messy business of self sustenance, power generation, we want to buy our energy from Texas, they’re dirty and we can shrug our shoulders,, brush the dust from our lapels, and claim to be morally superior. It is how a Governor lost his job and an actor found his.

Kaiser in Washington state paid its workers to go home, it was more profitable to sell their power allocation then it was to make aluminum, now aluminum is in a shortage… Ayn Rand shrugs from the grave.

12/04/2005 01:31:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Grey said...

Tigerhawk #7 is key -- the "answer" is higher gas prices.

I support higher US gas taxes, and making gas tax collection as a % of gov't revenue the "Kyoto alternative". Reduce income taxes, increase gas consumption taxes.

Change behavior, especially in the vehicles bought.

But yes, no politicians are willing to admit that changing gas-guzzlin' behavior means higher gas prices. The intellectual cowardice of the Greens is their desire for "command and control" to make folk change behavior w/o using the voluntary price system.

12/04/2005 01:40:00 PM  
Blogger ledger said...

I have just one question:

Is there any hard scientific evidence that concludes there is prolonged global warming?

12/04/2005 02:03:00 PM  
Blogger diabeticfriendly said...

Do the current protocols, that the "anti-US" group of nations insist on "pushing on America" account for the transfer of greenhouse emissions caused by non-western peoples living in the so-called 1st world. Meaningful debate must subtract the measurable amount of these greenhouse gases totalled by such activities. These activities: homicide bombings, train wrecks, rpg's, burning auto's, not recycling, eatting gassy foods should not count as the 1st world's greenhouse effects.

let's be fair....

12/04/2005 02:34:00 PM  
Blogger Meme chose said...

The question you focus on, "whether there is any way, in principle, one can detect whether politics is twisting a current public policy debate away from its rational path", is an interesting one.

During the whole time that I have paid any attention to matters of politics and public policy (about 35 years, living primarily in Europe and the US) the answer has appeared to me to be clear and unchanging. The best indicator as to whether this twisting is going on is the readiness of otherwise reasonable people to join in campaigns of character assassination against anyone, particularly anyone with relevant professional expertise, bold enough to suggest that there might be two sides to the argument. I have found this characteristic an infallible tipoff that what is being defended is an article of faith rather than a rational proposition, pro or con.

This readiness to attack the motives of dissenters (including attempts to shun them personally and drive them out of whatever position they hold which may give their views credibility) has been clearly on view in the environmental debate for decades.

My own first reaction on seeing this phenomenon is to think that there is probably something fishy about arguments or causes which need defending in this way, but I've been forced to conclude over time that the chance to sign up for a crusade is unfortunately at least as seductive and deeply satisfying to secular folk as it sometimes is to the religious.

12/04/2005 02:34:00 PM  
Blogger ShrinkWrapped said...

TigerHawk,
You hit the bulls-eye for why there is so much in the way of ad hominem argument from the left/environmentalists, and why there can be so little in the way of constructive engagement with them when you said, "And don't forget the role of resentment. Many of these activists might have gone on to become lawyers or doctors or successful "symbolic analysts" of one sort or another, but affirmatively chose to save the world instead. This gives them an almost fatal sense of superiority. It is reflected both in their contempt for the common man (hence their lack of interest in economic growth and their hatred of mass consumer culture) and their hatred of the very ordinary George W. Bush."

Their political/environmental positions reflect their sense of themselves as being better, more caring, in every way,than the opposition (which is why they so easily see those who disagree with them as "evil" rather than wrong.) For them to admit merit in an opposing viewpoint is the equivalent of a Priest or Rabbi admitting that the Devil might have a point from time to time, some sins are really all right; it cannot be done without fundamentally changing their entire system of belief, which is closer to a religion than a coherent political/philosophical position in any event.

12/04/2005 03:58:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

Man oh man. Tigerhawk should charge a fee for leaving a comment like that. It's better than the main post. Thanks.

12/04/2005 05:11:00 PM  
Blogger Sparks fly said...

My understanding is that the "Global Warming" enterprise is a taxing scheme being promoted by the United Nations to fund an army and it is largely being driven by those people who spiritually hunger for a "One World Government" and those dark souls like Gorby and Wild Bill who want to run it.

Fear is their mantra and that's what this "warming" meme culminates in. It ain't pretty.

The sky is falling!
The sky is falling!

The global is warming,
the global is warming.

Same old stuff.

God confused the languages at the inception of the first one world government at the tower of Babel. God said spread out and multiply and fill the earth. They said no! We will build this tower to the heavens and make a name for ourselves; nothing will be impossible for us: (futility).

You can find it in the Book of Genesis (the first one in the Bible),chapter eleven.

It is so interesting that for the first time in history since the days of the Tower of Babel English is on the verge of becoming the world's universal language. This is being accomplished in many ways more and more each day. It may already be there. On the internet in many places you can click a key and get an instantaneous translation into many languages and from many languages. English is spreading electronically to people who can't understand it.

These are ominous and wonderful times.

Blog-on.

12/04/2005 05:12:00 PM  
Blogger hamint said...

I don't claim to be knowledgeable about Kyoto or Montreal or what many countries did after ratifying the Kyoto treaty. But it is my understanding that various countries like Canada and the UK have never implemented the protocols; indeed, they did not even enact any of the legislation contemplated by the treaty. If, in fact, the Brits have not taken any meaninglful steps to implement Kyoto at home, this is troublesome and grimly satisfying for me (and I am sure for many others) since the Brits love to give us Americans such tremendous brain damage about Kyoto and, in this and other contexts, their favorite nemesis, G.W. Bush.

12/04/2005 05:24:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

...the readiness of otherwise reasonable people to join in campaigns of character assassination against anyone, particularly anyone with relevant professional expertise, bold enough to suggest that there might be two sides to the argument.

Does this mean I'm not allowed to say mean things about Muslims and their "expert" imam's and mullah's?

12/04/2005 06:17:00 PM  
Blogger Cedarford said...

Good post by Tigerhawk, but a few comments in disagreement with some of his points:

and the steep decline in Bush's popularity in September and October almost certainly reflected post-Katrina gasoline prices more than anything else

More of a perfect storm effect. High gas prices + miserable blacks having us thinking we were seeing a 3rd World catastrophy + mismanagement and lack of urgency on Bush, Bush people's part + realization 4 years after 9/11 we are ill-prepared for a major terrorist strike.

They do not trust market mechanisms, and always favor command and control regulation over market-based regulation

After all the Wall Street corruption, the DC lobby game of pay to play and have oil lobbyists write legislation, the past run-up in oil due to big Iraq miscalculations getting speculators in the market bleeding us with 10-15 dollar a barrel "risk premiums" count me and several conservatives I know as having no faith in the "genius" of the market to solve what is a strategic issue of inadequate energy planning for 10-20-30 years out in the future, not the quarterly bottom line numbers we hold private enterprise to.

Nobody on either side wants to argue for a significant consumption tax on fossil fuels or even just gasoline. Since such a tax would be the most aggressive possible spur to the development of new technologies, one can only assume that the absence of champions for it is political.

Such consumption taxes have not spurred Europe or developed Asia to inaugurate crash programs in developing new energy technologies yet. The other problem with proposals to cut the income tax further and push use taxes is it makes our system far more regressive than the European and Asian models and more like Latin America's - further screwing the working poor and lower middle class and advantaging the wealthy.

They (environmentalists) do not subscribe to the idea that economic growth has a positive impact on a society.

Both the environmentalists and the "more stuff, screw the environment" crowd leave off demographics. We have a massive population boom in the countries least able to support it, projections of 30 million people living in Cairo and Mumbai and Lagos. Environmentalists, Lefties for the most part, are afraid to bring up unsustainable birth rates spell doom for low reproducing advanced nations pushing sustainable energy and environmental policies if their lands are flooded in a 3rd world tide. The pro-growth folks, infected by religious right sentiments (Christian, Muslim, Hindu) that discourage population control , think more people is great because it should mean more economic growth and more "miracle new high tech" which will guarantee plenty for all because that's how it has always played out in the past...Too many people? Simple, you just have an industrial revolution, cut down unecessary jungle, have a green revolution....

But resource limits are being reached in oil availability, fresh water, carrying capacity of pollutants, and sheer lack of jobs in countries where population doubles every 20 years.

Kyoto can't work if the numbers of people continue to swell, all other factors aside. Nor can we "grow" our way into global prosperity where everyone has a huge SUV, a 8,000 square foot McMansion, and a water view and plenty of undeveloped land nearby with white water rivers and farms with plenty of spare capacity and tons left to sprawl onto.

Both perspectives are flawed and fail to give us much confidence in a future where too many people chase too few jobs and resources.

12/04/2005 06:20:00 PM  
Blogger hamint said...

The cultural divide that separates George Bush from many well-heeled liberals today can be seen in the viseral contempt that John Kerry exhibited during the early stages of the 2003-2004 campaign and that you can hear expressed every day in board rooms and fancy lawn parties throughout this country. When Bush and Kerry were at Yale, Bush represented the kind of person that many of his classmates instictively disliked. Bush was president of Delta Kappa Epsilon and a consummate social animal that many others, who later became successful in Entertainment, Law, Wall Street, etc., simply disliked as a matter of tribal instinct, on sight. That would have been true for anybody like Bush, at any other Ivy college at the time. I went to another Ivy school during that period and later went to law school with many of Kerry's classmates (and some of Bush's fraternity brothers). Many of my own undergraduate classmates had the same emotional reaction to popular boarding school graduates and fraternity men like Bush. And they still do today even though they have now put their own kids through the same elite prep schools and have themnselves joined many of this country's most elite institutions. Bush classmates at Yale, who started out poor, called Bush a "buffoon", and they still do today. Those industry and professional leaders from his own social network at Yale call him "five times brighter than everybody gives him credit." I have no idea how the tribal thing works today on campus, but the reaction bicoastal elites have toward Bush certainly dates back to the presumably tense times at US colleges during the later years of the Vietnam War that probably served as a defining prism for many of today's elite and how they view classmates who were legacies, socially congenial, instinctly identified by their J. Press or Brooks sports coats.

12/04/2005 06:31:00 PM  
Blogger Mike H. said...

ledger,
"Is there any hard scientific evidence that concludes there is prolonged global warming?"

Yes. The question is, who or what is causing it. Some folks believe that the same force that is heating up Mars, Jupiter, and Neptune might be the cause.

12/04/2005 06:42:00 PM  
Blogger PSGInfinity said...

Nahncee,

Well, the muslims have a religion that hasn't accepted equilibrium among religions, unable to fend off a parasitic cult called Wahabbism, sporting a culture of failure. I'd say there's a target-rich environment...

12/04/2005 07:05:00 PM  
Blogger Charles said...

there have been some major league discoveries in materials science in the last couple months.

They are so profound that I think its safe to say that the US will have the tools handy to deliver dirt cheap water desalination and water transport in five years.

Basically in five years the tools will be available to turn all the world's deserts green 1000 even 2000 miles from the nearest seacost--and thereby double the size of the habitable planet.

That will kill a lot of birds including the CO2 problem.

12/04/2005 07:07:00 PM  
Blogger Voltimand said...

One way of getting at what people like the environmentalists are talking about it is to avoid their own statements of what their subject is, and watch the peripheral spin-offs of the main point, where there is no clear logic linking them to the supposed central argument.

In a passage early on in his anti-economy spiel the Unabomber produces a marvelous apparent logical deviation, where the writer tells us that activists are usually motivated by personal hatreds and resentments. Describing himself, of course, Ted Kacinsky tells us what is really on his mind, which is his personal feelings of self-hatred and consequent hatred of others.

Similarly, in environmentalist screeds--a point by no means unnoted by such critics as Julian Simon and Richard North--invariably betray a fundamental assumption that the human race lives in a material world afflicted by a radical scarcity. IOW, the global pie is simply too small to supply us all, an idea that is used to establish "intuitively"--logical argument nothing to do with it--that any resource possessed by X has been taken away from Y.

Similarly, British writer Daniel Ben-Ami writes an article on European attacks on American obesity, which he sees as a stalking horse for attacks on affluence, which assume a zero-sum view of available global resources: what you consume is taken from someone else. I.e., if you are fat, this is the reason why others are starving.

And lo! you suddenly realize you are back on the 19th-century home ground of marxiam and socialism, where "social justice" and "equality" invariably entails taking from the haves and giving to the have-nots on the assumption that the haves have "immorally" stolen their possessions from the have-nots.

Now, how did we get there from a discussion from greenhouse gases? The simple answer is, we didn't: that point was always there lurking opportunistically in order to be made finally.

So it's no more a "surprise" that environmentalists look like marxoids that it is that Ted Kacinsky suddenly "discovers" that activists are driven by hatred and the need to kill people (by sending them bombs through the mail), for instance).

12/04/2005 07:11:00 PM  
Blogger sam said...

ledger,

This is a good read:

Extinction Tied to Global Warming:

Scientists call it "the Great Dying," a 250 million-year-old catastrophe that wiped out 90 percent of ocean species and 70 percent of land species in the biggest mass extinction in Earth's geologic history.

The cause of this cataclysm is a matter of great dispute among paleontologists, but research released yesterday offers new evidence that global warming caused by massive and prolonged volcanic activity may have been the chief culprit.

Global Warming

12/04/2005 07:14:00 PM  
Blogger Red A said...

Personally I like econopundit's plan where we set a price for oil, say US$ 60 / barrel. If oil is cheaper than this, then imports are taxed exactly the amount to reach that level.

Increased revenue, stable pricing for business, incentive for efficiency.

12/04/2005 07:21:00 PM  
Blogger Ari Tai said...

It's curious how the left has make Kyoto into an effort to recreate Eden (as if the appearance of humankind was original sin, per M. Crichton), yet the great majority of the numbers and vectors suggest that liberty, property rights, individual responsibility, free markets, small government, low taxes, a minimum of regulation, and the rule of law applied without bias (eg. taxes and regulation levied equally, not variably) is what has and continues to save the environment (and us). So what is good for humankind is good for the environment and v. versa. Which suggests that the left's desire to "slow things down" (reactionary rather than embracing Schumpeter) is what diminishes our individual and aggregate ability to survive disasters, man-made and not. The evidence is overwhelming that systems that tend away from embracing change (dictatorships, oligarchies, socialism, Marxism, etc.) are slowest to improve their living conditions, are brittle under all forms of stress and have the worst environmental records.

12/04/2005 07:33:00 PM  
Blogger heather said...

The actual question that SHOULD be asked is: do human activities cause global warming (or cooling.) The historical FACT is that the WORLD (Europe and China) was warmer in the 12th century than it is today. With nary a smokestack or freeway in sight.

The historical FACT is that THINGS CHANGE.

I live in the Yukon Territory (to the right of Alaska for the geogrpahically disabled). In the 1960s and 1970s, the Yukon temperature would, during the winter, drop down to minus 60 and 70 (F.) for a few weeks, and then generally bob along at minus 25 and 30 for the rest of the time. Minus 50 was NOT UNUSUAL. I can remember - in the mid 1970s - waiting on the road for a car to come pick me up for work, and it was minus 72 (F.)

We NEVER SEE THIS NOW. In fact, sometimes it drops to minus 35/40 for a week or so, but usually it bobs around -15 (F.)

Things change, folks. I think the main problem with the Greens is their drastic ignorance of History. The first time I really realized this was when I noticed that the Health Food Lefties really believed that the Industrial Revolution - and Money - was the source of all our modern woes. They believed that we would all be much happier and healthier if we went back to the Barter System.

Never underestimate the bone deep IGNORANCE of the Kyoto freaks - and the huge greed of such as Maurice Strong and Al Gore, who lead this movement.

12/04/2005 08:21:00 PM  
Blogger trangbang68 said...

Tigerhawk correctly identifies the elite mentality of many Greens.They are willing to live in a post industrial world of scaled down economy(particularly if they have their own solar power system in place in an isolated enclave away from the urban barbarians)New Orleans gave us a good picture of what happens when the match goes out.The Birkenstock activists might be geared for a soft landing,but the proles will be rioting in the streets and cashing in on the consumer culture at Walmart where the scanners are off and everything's free.What a country!
Cedarford's analysis is cogent because while Greens are utopian fruitcakes so are the advocates of endless consumerism.On a local scale I've seen my own city decay in its core while its ringed by souless big box stores and Mcmansions(all bought by government work-NASA and defense)
The endless burning of resources to fuel unsustainable opulance probably has an unpleasant ending.
While in Africa two weeks ago,I saw the flip side ,smoky,dusty air,a huge hungry populace.My friends there told me in Conrakry,Guinea,one side of the city gets electricity on monday and the other side on tuesday.
Will that sort of misery continue indefinitely while we live the life of bounty without consequence?If nothing else it spells the appeal of Wahhabi nihilism in the third world.These are questions that need addressing by someone with more depth than Bono.

12/04/2005 08:21:00 PM  
Blogger heather said...

This whole Kyoto thing, and the associated panics have proven to me that people NEED witches to burn. Back in the day, people in crowds say demons. Just as clear as you and me.

Now, we believe in "Global Warming." Honestly, the folks who mutter about God's Revelation and the End Times make as much sense as the upper middle class Greenies with their "natural" textiles and sensitivity to "chemicals."

12/04/2005 08:24:00 PM  
Blogger James Aach said...

Nuclear power is back in the news with increasing frequency due to global warming concerns. While I’m a longtime nuclear energy worker myself, I can’t say that I’m sure what the future of nuclear energy should be. (Really). But I am sure we will make better decisions if we understand what nuclear energy is right now. Yet, I’ve come to realize that the real world of nuclear power is unknown to the general public, which has had far more access to the workings of the Starship Enterprise than to the nuke plant down the street. In response, I’ve written an insider’s account of the American nuclear power industry, called “Rad Decision”. The book is available, at no cost to readers, at RadDecision.blogspot.com.

Whole Earth Catalog founder Stewart Brand has endorsed the book, stating: “I’d like to see RAD DECISION widely read.”

Designed for the lay reader, this unique peek beyond the security fence is in the form of a techno-thriller novel. Rad Decision covers nuclear plant operation, events such as Chernobyl and TMI, and ends with how an accident might be handled today. It also includes, for the first time, an insider perspective on the politics and human relations that greatly impact how nuclear units in the U.S. are operated.

At RadDecision.blogspot.com the book is presented as a series of Episodes (15 minutes reading time each) and also provided as a PDF file. This is an independent, non-profit project with no advertising. All sides of the nuclear power debate will find items to like, and dislike, within Rad Decision.

I hope you’ll take the opportunity to take a look at http://RadDecision.blogspot.com

James Aach

12/04/2005 08:48:00 PM  
Blogger Leo said...

Interesting topic. A few comments:

1. I went to a fascinating lecture by MIT's Richard Lindzen a few months back. He presented pretty compelling data to show that most of global warming, if not all, was caused by the urban heat effect. Basically, as we pave over and build on farmland, we raise the temperature in cities, and the aggregate increase around the world probably explains most, if not all, of the global warming data.

This should have a profound impact on the debate, if true. It means that the "greenhouse effect" is not causing global warming, and therefore trying to limit CO2 in the atmosphere would do nothing to slow the rise in temperature we are seeing.

But I'm not sure this will be bad news to the pro-Kyoto folks. They will simply turn their attention from regulating carbon to de-urbanization (also known as "sustainable development"). That may be the real agenda, anyway, as it is the most profoundly anti-human, anti-progress position we can promote.

2. I have a series of interesting discussions over the years with Bjorn Lomborg, whose book "The Skeptical Environmentalist" has driven the radical environmental movement postively batty (think of it as Lomborg Derangement Syndrome).

[As an aside, last year I had arranged for Lomborg to speak at a prestigious university, only to have the speech cancelled because the former provost intervened and attacked Lomborg for "undermining the scientific consensus." Well, we wouldn't want universities to encourage debate, now would we?]

Anyway, Lomborg presented a fascinating analysis of Kyoto. Consider the following facts:

A) Even if you accept the IPCC's analysis (i.e. the scientific consensus [heh]), all Kyoto does is delay the temperature rise for about 10 years in about a century. In other words, rather than a 2.5 degree rise by 2100, you get a 2.5 degree rise by 2110.

B) The global cost of Kyoto (most optimistically, i.e. lowest) is about $250 billion annually. This cost will have a tremendous negative impact on global GDP growth, sucking up resources that would increase productivity and wealth. This cost will also disproportionately hurt the developing world, since they are the primary beneficiaries of global economic growth at this point.

C) By the UN's own analysis, global GDP in the developed world will rise to the point where the average Bangledeshi in 2100 will have the same standard of living (i.e. consumption level) as the average Dutchman does today.

D) For about $300 billion you can (according to Lomborg) provide clean drinking water to the entire planet forever.

So, you put this all together, and you get the following analysis. If we adopt Kyoto, we are basically penalizing the average poor Bangledeshi today to help the equivalent of a rich Dutchman 100 years from now get an extra 10 years to adjust to global warming that will happen anyway. And for about one year's cost of this questionable benefit to the rich Dutchman, we can provide the poor Bangledeshi clean drinking water forever.

Morally compelling, IMHO.

3. So, all that being said, we're back to Wretchard's perception vs. reality struggle. What is needed is a strong sales organization to bring the perception closer to the reality.

I've recently been working my way through Robert Conquest's The Dragons of Expectation. He actually takes the Bush Administration to task on Kyoto, arguing that the US should do a better job of co-opting the supranational apparats (e.g. UN) and using them to establish the moral legitimacy of its positions. He uses Daniel Patrick Moynihan's aggressive history at the UN as an example of such tactics.

It's an intriguing and nuanced argument, and I find some attraction in it. My guess is that if we staffed these groups with a bunch of John Boltons (today's version of DPM), we could perhaps have our cake and eat it too.

But where to find enough of that talent? It certainly won't be coming from the "elite" universities.

Momma, please let your boys grow up to be cowboys...

12/04/2005 09:06:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

Cedarford raises an interesting dilemma. The emission reductions required by the Greenies require a convergence between the income levels of the First and Third Worlds which will result in an equilibrium somewhat higher than Third World levels but very much lower than current First World levels. The advocates of growth on the other hand require no such convergence, only steadily rising production levels across the board, which Cedarford argues, is physically unsustainable.

Some technological visionaries may argue that the latter course of action, is in fact, feasible. That in any event, there is no need to confine human habitation to this planet. Be that as it may it is the redistributive aspects of environmentalism, whether expressed as consumption caps, income transfers, population policies, etc that precisely constitute the current policy instruments of the Greenies. Saving the Earth first and foremost means re-engineering society. Environmentalists currently do not have any technical fixes for the problem, only social ones.

But if so then projects such as Kyoto, ought to explicitly take into account the social impacts of prospective policies on the human social system. How does Kyoto -- or the son of Kyoto -- affect the human food chain? The human habitat chain? Conflict within the species? It's obvious by now that demographics, resource competition, trade are all major factors in international security. Yet most of these effects are not even explicitly considered in the debate on Global Warming, which focuses on carbon levels. It's a chemical measurement for what is essentially a social re-engineering exercise, and there's something wrong with that.

For as long as managing the environment is co-extensive with re-engineering society I would be happier if environmentalism were an explicitly political movement and frankly so.

12/04/2005 09:19:00 PM  
Blogger Aetius said...

wretchard,

Dr. Sanity explains the left (and others like grief-striken parents) quite well; ie. defense mechanisms against truth.
http://drsanity.blogspot.com

Truth is the sword (healing remedy, if you prefer) carried by Bush, you and your site, and others.

Ma'at/Themis carries the sword of truth and the scales of justice.
Why is the image of truth (reality if you prefer) a sword?

12/04/2005 09:21:00 PM  
Blogger Aetius said...

As to greenhouses and climate.

Please catch the little ice age special on History Channel.

The little ice age ended beginning of the 20th century, temperatures rise to the level of 500 years ago.
Fault of carbons???
You want panic over unexplained weather - how about witch burning?

opps, already I'm back to Dr. Sanity and displacement syndrome.

12/04/2005 09:30:00 PM  
Blogger Leo said...

The claim that our resources have limits is always staked as a truth, never supported by evidence. Commodity prices always fall over the long run, indicating surplus, not scarcity. Ever since Malthus, the notion that we're going to run out of stuff has been posited, but has never actually occured on a global basis. (Local dislocations can be painful, but are almost always government-induced anyway, and have nothing to do with the physical productive capacity of the planet and its people.)

Fact is, each time we consume, we don't just use up a resource, we are left with more technology. So, the static analysis of Ehrlich et. al. will always be wrong. More people creates more innovation creates more productivity creates more wealth supports the creation of more people. It's a virtuous cycle, for crying out loud.

People are the solution. Not the problem.

12/04/2005 10:36:00 PM  
Blogger Leo said...

Cedarford:

"But resource limits are being reached in oil availability, fresh water, carrying capacity of pollutants, and sheer lack of jobs in countries where population doubles every 20 years."

Resource limits? Huh?

Oil: We have more years of oil reserves at current consumption than we did in 1990, 1980, 1970, 1960, 1950, 1940, 1930, 1920, 1910, and 1900 (before than oil wasn't very relevant, unless it came from whales). We find oil faster than we use it up (on average, over time). Always have, always will.

Yes, someday the oil age will end, just as the coal age, iron age, and stone age ended. But the stone age didn't end because we ran out of stone. We simply found a better technology.

Fresh water: This, again, is a function of technology and politics, not resources. Water may be in the wrong place, but we have enough. Trade, transport, desalination technology, and population mobility have, and always will mitigate this problem.

Carrying capacity of pollutants: What does this mean? In the developed world, pollution has been falling for decades (UN data: See www.lomborg.com). London is cleaner now than it was in 1500. In the developing world, pollution rises until GDP hits about $5,000 and then starts to fall and people can afford to pay for pollution abatement - would you rather have food and a nasty cough or starve to death breathing clean air?

Lack of jobs: The primary impediment to job creation is the state. Where, exactly, are jobs lacking? In places where the state is either a kleptocracy or a nanny. There is no unemployment in the US, for all practical purposes. As other countries embrace freedom and labor flexibility, they will create more jobs.

---

It is amazing how long all this "population bomb" garbage has stayed part of the zeitgeist. The reality of demographic data needs to finally destroy that particular set of (mis)perceptions. (Wretchard - please add it to the list of disconnects between perception and reality.)

We have always been able to increase productivity faster than population growth, and always will unless we lose our technology base (as occurred after the fall of the Roman Empire). Chip speeds double every 18 months, but populations double only every few decades. Name a single economic realm where productivity has grown more slowly than populations. Come on, I dare you. I double dare you.

No, our biggest problem in the 21st Century will be underpopulation, not overpopulation. Demographics may not be destiny, but they sure seemed that way to the Shakers.

12/04/2005 10:50:00 PM  
Blogger james wilson said...

Wretchard, enviroleftists and their like are not, as you stated, highly educated. They are highly miseducated. As our egos drift ever more far afield from reality we actually become more resistant to taking even one step back since there is a subliminal recognition of what could unravel. Edmund Burke- They defend their errors as if they were defending their inheritence. Demosthanes- Nothing is easier than self-deceit. For what each man wishes, that he also believes to be true. Orwell, to a fellow traveler- You must be an intellectual. Only an intellectual could say something so stupid. Paul Valery- Our most important thoughts are those which contradict our emotions. I believe we only become conservatives by an ongoing process of contradicting our emotions. Liberals refuse to engage in this process.

12/04/2005 11:04:00 PM  
Blogger truepeers said...

Name a single economic realm where productivity has grown more slowly than populations. Come on, I dare you. I double dare you.

-far be it from me to speak for C4, but I love a historical challenge: how about, camel herding...

but there is a serious answer: government, public education, and such like, if these count as "economic realms" (and in a consumer culture, I don't see why not). I think someone has proposed a law that the less work the bureaucrats have to do, the more people they need to manage their operations, i.e. to manage each other. But I don't think we need worry about a scarcity of government, though if there is a real long-term fertility decline, who knows? WE may not have enough sufficiently educated people for all kinds of jobs. And it may become a world in which just reproducing the systems of our forebears will be a real challenge; if there are more jobs than people might we lose the creativity that is the essence of human survival?

12/05/2005 12:17:00 AM  
Blogger HK Vol said...

If Kyoto, at the margin, makes it less cost efficient to produce in the US or Europe and to shift production to India or China, the question should be how much pollution is incrementally produced? This article from CNN seems to imply that the Kyoto Treaty would INCREASE global pollution as more production is shifted to a part of the world which produces much higher emissions per unit of GDP:

According to the Chinese government's own figures, for example, the energy consumed to produce one unit of China's gross domestic product (GDP) is almost two and a half times the world average.

In terms of sulphur dioxide emissions -- a major atmospheric pollutant -- China's output per unit of GDP is nearly 70 times that of Japan and 60 times that of the United States.
http://www.cnn.com/2005/WORLD/asiapcf/04/27/eyeonchina.environment/

And it even affects those in the US:
A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study estimated that 25 percent of the particulate matter in Los Angeles' air originates in China.
http://www.charlotte.com/mld/observer/news/editorial/13215563.htm

So actually Bush is spot on, and the rest of the world tries to remain sanctimonious via "goals" without realizing the consequences. It is Bush that has stated he will not sign Kyoto or anything like it without the inclusion of both India and China being required to make similar cuts. Bush is absolutely correct. And most Chinese citizens would probably agree with him.

12/05/2005 01:26:00 AM  
Blogger HK Vol said...

My thoughts? Put a tax on every barrel of oil imported and use the money to build an interstate power grid across the US, starting in the Dakotas. Just like Eisenhower built the interstate road system. There is enough wind power available in the Midwest to supply 100% of the US consumption of electricity. The biggest barrier is the transmission grid. The wind blows where people don't live (the Dakotas) and consumed in places where they do live - Chicago, Memphis, St. Louis, Louisville, etc. It might even help incentivize conversion of wind power into hydrogen for hydrogen fuel cars.

Downside? Slightly higher gasoline prices.
Upside? Lower pollution, better environment, more stable energy costs (fuel costs remain at zero), lower trade deficit, lower current account deficit, less money to Middle East extremist groups, more jobs created in the Midwest (grid and wind generators have to be maintained), more stable energy supply.

In terms of fuel cells powered by hydrogen, it is getting closer.
Conversion of wind power to hydrogen study by GE here:
http://www.eere.energy.gov/hydrogenandfuelcells/docs/wind_hydrogen_ge.ppt

12/05/2005 01:32:00 AM  
Blogger wretchard said...

HK Vol,

Of course you are right. Since production can be outsourced globally there could actually be a market in pollution havens, places in the Third World the Greenies have exempted. Given that you want to produce an incremental unit, the most environmentally friendly thing to do is to encourage its production in a well regulated society -- like Australia or Britain, the USA or Japan -- because that unit of production will be produced with relatively small externalities. By capping production in well-regulated First World societies there's an incentive to produce it where there are no controls at all. This is catastrophic for the environment. But who cares. Deep down I doubt the environmental lobby does, as long as they can keep the political record playing its endless tune.

12/05/2005 01:36:00 AM  
Blogger Leo said...

Wretchard,

Not sure your analysis is right. Might be, but here's an alternative:

The marginal unit of production should take place in the poorest country, sort of a crude version of comparative advantage assuming technology can flow freely.

This has the impact of increasing GDP there, which has a two-fold impact: improving the environment and slowing the birthrate.

In this paradigm, free trade is the best long-term solution for both pollution and overpopulation.

Countercultural, perhaps. Doesn't necessarily mean it's not true.

12/05/2005 04:44:00 AM  
Blogger Leo said...

truepeers -

TOUCHE! I concede.

Or maybe not. Is it possible that government productivity (output per unit of labor) has doubled over the past 40 years? It certainly hasn't grown as fast as private sector productivity in the US.

Maybe true for camel herding as well...

12/05/2005 04:47:00 AM  
Blogger metaphysician said...

hk vol-

Big problem. Even if there is enough wind in the midwest to power the nation ( something of which I am quite skeptical, especially going through land that could readily be put to the purpose ), its not consistent and reliable. You'd need additional "on demand" power sources ( oil, coal, nuclear ) roughly equal to the total maximum consumption in order to avoid brownouts.

Thats not even bringing in line losses for a transcontinental power grid. . .

( also, don't forget that if you want hydrogen, or any other electric-based, cars, then you need to add current gasoline energy usage to that total )

12/05/2005 04:48:00 AM  
Blogger Engineer-Poet said...

ledger asks:

"Is there any hard scientific evidence that concludes there is prolonged global warming?"

The issue is a bit more complicated than that, but it's confirmed that conditions today have no precedent in the last several glacial cycles.  Ice shelves in Antarctica are collapsing and the Greenland icecap is thinning.  For more details, go to Real Climate.  The material there is very dense, but you are reading stuff written by real climate scientists and it's worth some effort to slog through.

There are people who say "It's the sun, people have nothing to do with it" but the observed effects cannot be explained by solar forcing alone.  The sun is causing perhaps 30% of global warming.

Meme chose writes:

"The best indicator as to whether this twisting is going on is the readiness of otherwise reasonable people to join in campaigns of character assassination against anyone, particularly anyone with relevant professional expertise, bold enough to suggest that there might be two sides to the argument."

You can't reason with liars.  There are people out there who say or imply there are two sets of data.  Some of them are paid PR shills (e.g. the "Greening Earth Society", which keeps changing its name when people get wise to the old ones), some of them are talking up their self-interest.  Then there are folks who are just ignorant.  They "don't believe it could be happening."  Unfortunately, the world and their effect on it is not constrained by their comprehension or lack thereof.  (It's ironic that the two political camps have their ideologically-correct blind spots; the left is big on global warming and the environment in general while dismissing Islamic extremism, and the right is the exact opposite.  Being against what the other side is for may make for clear political lines, but it's lousy logic.)

"I have found this characteristic an infallible tipoff that what is being defended is an article of faith rather than a rational proposition, pro or con."

First, be sure it's not a question of integrity.  If someone is using their scientific or professional reputation in service of something which undermines the science or profession, the rest of the profession has to make it clear that that person no longer has their backing, or has even violated the express or implied ethics of the field.  Failing to discredit such people allows a monied interest to buy off a few and then claim them as spokesmen for the whole.  The idea that PR-driven perception defines reality is a very post-modernist notion, isn't it?

Cedarford writes:

"Such consumption taxes have not spurred Europe or developed Asia to inaugurate crash programs in developing new energy technologies yet."

Because the governments didn't want people to.  They were using taxes as sources of revenue, not spurs to conservation.  Causing upheavals in energy technology (and upsetting the applecarts of the established energy suppliers, whose large investments and political pull have to be considered) was not on their agenda.

"The other problem with proposals to cut the income tax further and push use taxes is it makes our system far more regressive than the European and Asian models and more like Latin America's"

Depends where you cut taxes.  If you cut them from the first dollar (payroll taxes), you make the system more progressive; poor people can't spend much on energy because they have little money to spend, but they pay the same payroll taxes as everyone else.  A $1000/year FICA rebate is going to be worth more to someone who makes $20,000/year than $80,000.

"Both the environmentalists and the "more stuff, screw the environment" crowd leave off demographics."

I'm all for eliminating the "anchor baby" loophole and deporting all our illegals, with heavy fines and mandatory repayment of public subsidies for all the ones we are forced to catch ourselves.  I consider myself an environmentalist.

12/05/2005 05:47:00 AM  
Blogger Engineer-Poet said...

And saving the best for last, Tigerhawk:

"environmental activists... do not trust market mechanisms, and always favor command and control regulation over market-based regulation (such as "cap and trade" schemes, which they dub a "license to pollute)."

Unfortunately, they are correct.  (You don't know how much it pains me to have to agree with people whose ideology I despise, but you already know what I think about mindless opposition.)  A "cap and trade" system implies something to trade; what's being traded is emissions permits, which are doled out to existing emitters.  If that's not a license to pollute, what is?  A straight emissions tax would be far more efficient and fair.

The problem with emissions taxes is they would be violently opposed by existing emitters for the exact reason that they would be efficient about discouraging current practices and making lower-emitting competitors more profitable.  Getting free or discounted emissions permits that can be traded (for money) forces startup competition to buy permits from the entrenched interests and preserves the status quo.

(FWIW:  I'm on record favoring carbon and other pollution taxes and letting the free market work out how to cut emissions.  The failures of prescriptive schemes like CAFE regulations, new-source review and the like argue strongly for a different approach based on the profit motive.)

12/05/2005 05:49:00 AM  
Blogger Engineer-Poet said...

Leo wrote:

"I went to a fascinating lecture by MIT's Richard Lindzen a few months back. He presented pretty compelling data to show that most of global warming, if not all, was caused by the urban heat effect."

If he didn't also explain how urban heat-islands affect borehole temperatures in areas far from cities, on the oceans far from land and even at earth's poles, the man is worse than ignorant; he's either an ideologue or one of those paid shills.

"Oil: We have more years of oil reserves at current consumption than we did in 1990, 1980, 1970, 1960, 1950, 1940, 1930, 1920, 1910, and 1900 (before than oil wasn't very relevant, unless it came from whales). We find oil faster than we use it up (on average, over time). Always have, always will."

And people say ENVIRONMENTALISTS are divorced from reality!  Here's one clue:

    "Deepwater reserves [for the US] fell to 4.1 billion bbl
    of oil, down 9%, and 19.3 tcf of gas, down 14%."

    "New field discoveries totaled 33 million bbl, and new
    reservoir discoveries in existing fields were 132 million
    bbl. Most of the new field discoveries were small finds
    in gulf [of Mexico] federal waters."

Look, this should be so obvious as to not need mentioning so I'll say it just once for your benefit:  even if the whole earth was made of oil, there would only be a finite amount of it.  On top of that, discoveries have fallen well behind production since 1985.  The clue train is here; get on it.

"Name a single economic realm where productivity has grown more slowly than populations."

Whale products.  Fisheries of all sorts.  Potable water, especially in China.  Go too far down that road and everything collapses.


Wretchard pegs it:

"Be that as it may it is the redistributive aspects of environmentalism, whether expressed as consumption caps, income transfers, population policies, etc that precisely constitute the current policy instruments of the Greenies."

That is precisely it.  The Greens are watermelons, pure and simple.  But that doesn't mean that the data they're using to support their ideologically-driven proposals is wrong, it just means their prescriptions are wrong (and aren't all Marxist prescriptions wrong?).

"Environmentalists currently do not have any technical fixes for the problem, only social ones."

Um, don't confuse environmentalists with Greens.  For instance, James Lovelock is pro-nuclear (which isn't something the third world can handle) and I personally favor uniform carbon taxes in part to pull production from wasteful third-world countries back to the West.  Production should go wherever it is most efficient, including low emissions in the definition of efficiency.  (In short, what HK Vol said.)


metaphysician said...

"Big problem. Even if there is enough wind in the midwest to power the nation ( something of which I am quite skeptical, especially going through land that could readily be put to the purpose ), its not consistent and reliable."

Is 80% capacity factor good enough to satisfy you?

Wind isn't complete by itself; any comprehensive proposal needs energy reserves of some kind, either storage or stockpiles of something else.  That "something else" can be biofuels.  One variety of Miscanthus (elephant grass) has produced 27 tons/acre, which could supply the entire electric demand of Illinois from 10% of the land area; grass can be baled and stored for months, and charcoal can be stored for years.  If you follow this act with a few more:

- Ice-storage air conditioners.
- Plug-in hybrid cars, with zinc-air batteries for extended electric range.

you get the ability to soak up large surges in power availability (when it's cheap) and stash it away for use hours or days later.  When the batteries run down you crank up the combustion generators again.  Surplus biomass can be turned into ethanol to substitute for motor fuel on those trips where batteries aren't enough.

That gives you three benefits at once:

1.  It closes the carbon loop for both electric generation and vehicular transport.
2.  It reduces pollutant emissions from fossil fuels.
3.  It eviscerates OPEC.

12/05/2005 08:10:00 AM  
Blogger Kyda Sylvester said...

I did a search at the NYT for "Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate". Results: 2, one of which is a Reuters report (a search for "Kyoto Protocol" on the other hand yields 436 results). An advanced search at Google for the partnership shows 16,200 results.

Does political calculation prevent allegedly intelligent, informed people from following logical conclusions along a rational path? Do we even need to ask? Almost everything in which government is involved is tempered by the ever changing political climate (it's the nature of the beast, after all). The politics revolving around climate change are about as intemperant as they get. Environmentalists today are nothing if not political animals. And surely the most important admonition vis a vis enironmentalism is: Follow the money.

Far more worrisome to me is how the so-called scientific community seems just as easily swayed by political concerns, elitism and the conventional correctness of the day (and, oh yes, follow the money).

What do we do about it? We keep on doing what we're doing and endeavor to engage an ever widening audience. And we elect more people like George Bush. And look to the day when the largely irrational generation weaned on the radical politics of the 60's finally passes from the scene.

12/05/2005 10:40:00 AM  
Blogger opotho said...

engineer-poet, as Homer said to Bart: "I'm intrigued by your ideas and would like to subscribe to your newsletter."

Another mirroring going on between the fringe environmentalists and their detractors is the red herring argument that pins everything that's to follow on the initial matter of *causes* for the warming. The rhetoric of both extremes seems beside the point here. Just ask either group whether - with the hypothetical that we'd know how to treat it anyway - we should wish to do anything, gratuitously, to deter an increase of planetary warming? It's a pretty offensive suggestion to anyone who thinks that nature is some sort of inviolable zone, but the query usually elicits blank stares from both sides.

12/05/2005 11:02:00 AM  
Blogger Engineer-Poet said...

Kyda:  Have you looked at the money on the other side?  People trying to cut mercury emissions are battled by well-heeled coal and chemical interests.  Greenhouse-gas emission limits are opposed by coal, oil, gas, and chemical interests as well as foreign governments (what would Indonesia do if they had to stop their corrupt officials from draining peat bogs and letting them catch fire?).

Compared to coal, oil, gas, chemicals, tropical hardwoods and the like, where's the money in environmentalism?

I smell a "tu quoque" fallacy.

12/05/2005 11:37:00 AM  
Blogger Engineer-Poet said...

optho:  Maybe we'd like to prevent extremes of any kind, warming or cooling?  The earth is pretty good for humanity as it is.  Either flooding the world's seacoasts or re-glaciating the north is likely to upset a bunch of people, as well as killing off lots of species either way.

12/05/2005 11:39:00 AM  
Blogger wretchard said...

The earth has been changing for some time, even within historical record. One of the reasons the historical Troy was hard to find was that the shoreline had moved from its Bronze Age location. Greece was deforested and parts of the Sahara were desertified in historical or near historical eras. Venice was sinking long before Global Warming. One very large component of a human response to the environment must be adapation. The earth is going to change, probably through a combination 'natural' and manmade (what exactly is the conceptual difference?) effects and we can't hold it back economically.

Exploring the idea of controlling climate through policy is fine (how is it conceptually different from terraforming?) but simply preparing to relocate or build warmer or cooler houses is a big part of the equation.

12/05/2005 12:28:00 PM  
Blogger truepeers said...

Wretchard, you're right about adapation and the fear of many to do it. I'm interested if anyone's interested in investing in some prime northern Canadian farmland yet? After all, amidst all the political matches, shouldn't the best indicators of what we really believe and know about climate change be signalled by market developments as people make personal decisions to adapt?

12/05/2005 12:48:00 PM  
Blogger Jrod said...

In San Francisco there is a plaque facing the ocean that describes the origins of SF Bay. It goes onto describe how 20,000 years ago the shoreline was approx. 26 miles west of the present shoreline where the Farallon Islands now sit--irrefutable evidence that global warming predated President Bush.

Truepeers, you should begin a slogan contest for the soon to be created Nunavut Tourist and Farming Board. "Hot Nights and Northern Lights" off the top of my head.

12/05/2005 01:04:00 PM  
Blogger truepeers said...

Lol, however, when most of the world is in the frying pan, "hot nights" might not be our best selling point. How about Nunavut: the last frontier for the cool, calm, and collectable.

12/05/2005 01:15:00 PM  
Blogger Kyda Sylvester said...

engineer-poet--

I had to look up "tu quoque". Thanks for beefing up my vocabulary.

Where's the money in environmentalism? Well, according to Give.org, at the end of fiscal year 2003, the Sierra Club reported $52+ million in assets, income of $82+ million and expenses of $73+ million. Now that may be peanuts compared to the business interests you cite, but it's still a significant chunk of change by anyone's bank account.

Had I addressed business and industry interests in my post, I most certainly would have agreed with you. Perhaps the difference is that most businesses/industries make no bones about operating in their own perceived best interests. On the other hand, the Sierra Club and its ilk would have us believe that they operate solely to the benefit of the environment and thus in the interests of all mankind so therefore any edicts emminating from their mount can be taken as gospel. In fact, the same skepticism should apply to their pronouncements as applys to those coming from, for example, the National Mining Association.

My father spent a lifetime in the automotive industry. He assured me many years ago that not only were we capable of increasing fuel efficiency three- and four-fold, we were capable of replacing the internal combustion engine altogether. Now, who might have an interest in making sure that neither of those things happens? To that mental list you're compiling, you might consider adding organizations like the Sierra Club who would seem to have a significant vested interest in a polluted world.

12/05/2005 01:42:00 PM  
Blogger weswinger said...

It's interesting that even in a sophisticated place as the Belmont Club comment space that there is little skepticism expressed that carbon dioxide ought to be classified as a pollutant. Or that global warming may have the same legitimacy as the coming ice age did in the '70's when the elite Club of Rome was bashing ignorant Americans for their profligate ways.

It may be useful to recall one of the reasons that the US did not sign the Kyoto Protocol: the parties would not allow the carbon sink offsets that the US and Canada sponsored. One of those offsets was PLANTING TREES. Emphasis is added there as an attempt to point out the deeply cynical economic warfare that was the true motiviation of Kyoto.

12/05/2005 02:17:00 PM  
Blogger opotho said...

engineer-poet, you got my point: that "the earth is pretty good for humanity as it is."

Wretchard recapped my words when asking if there could be any "conceptual difference" between human and natural change? I figure that we change the landscape simply by looking at it (and have done so since we became human), but that such conceits notwithstanding there's a very real pragmatic-conceptual difference determined by the likelihood that we can intentionally affect a preferred outcome. (And I'm not of the opinion that 'Kyoto' helps us in that.)

We've been terraforming for millenia, even longer than we've been practicing animal husbandry (read: genetic engineering). My suggestion is that by practicing both just a little more consciously we may even improve on our comforts, to say nothing of the prospects of our own survival (I've only seen stuffed Passenger Pigeons in museums, but don't they look yummy!).

Certainly there have always been changes in the earth that were indisputably beyond human influence or control. Most of the changes and also most of the horrible ones preceded our species, and were far worse than anything in Wretchard's short list of minor cataclysms.

But though some effects cannot be held back economically, surely some can.

That's why I don't think it's terribly helpful for the dialogue when someone like Kyda fully identifies the content of some environmental warning with the hysteria of the messenger. There are other, more learned and responsible messengers out there, and I happen to know that some of them feel just as passed over by the MSM as those who routinely debunk climate change feel. Do we really believe that it behooves us or respects the subject matter in any way when we insist only on exploiting the rhetoric and beliefs of fools?

Vis-a-vis the subject matter, some of the overt political content being expressed in this thread seems as misplaced to me as the pronouncements of your targets do.

And yet I fashion myself a conservative person, and a neoconservative at that. Go figure.

12/05/2005 03:42:00 PM  
Blogger Right Thinker said...

Help! Despite contextual analysis, searches, and other means, I cannot figure out what "/* means.

Someone? Bueller?

12/05/2005 06:15:00 PM  
Blogger Leo said...

Engineer-Poet:

Re: Richard Lindzen

Here's his web bio: http://www-eaps.mit.edu/faculty/lindzen.htm

For the record, he is the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology at MIT. Perhaps before you make accusations or throw around insults about someone you've never heard of, you might want to Google their bio first. Think of it as good manners, internet-style.

Re: Heat islands

The issue is not whether heat islands affect other earth temperatures. They do. Irrelevant point conceded.

The issue is whether CO2 gas emissions are the primary cause of global warming. If global temperature increases are predominantly explained by the urban heat effect, then decreasing greenhouse gases can be expected to have little or no effect, at great cost.

Before we prescribe a remedy, wouldn't it be good to figure out the cause of the ailment?

Re: Oil supplies

So you link to one data point, and this wins the argument? That must have come from the "Poet" part of your personality. ;-)

Seriously, I think the "clue train" you're riding is off the rails. You say oil supplies are finite. Another irrelevant point condeded. So are the hydrogen supplies in the universe. That's not the issue. The issue is whether we have enough resources (including energy) to meet our needs.

Focusing on the production side is a classic fallacy, for two reasons:

1. It is not just what we produce, but also what we consume. There has been a large shift from oil to natural gas in electrical generation. This shift was primarily driven by economic pressure. If oil is indeed scarce, its price will rise, causing more substitution to other energy sources. This will shrink consumption.

That is why the most relevant measure is YEARS OF RESERVES AT CURRENT CONSUMPTION. This metric captures both the supply (reserves) and demand (consumption) components of the issue.

If you look at the data, here's what you get (these numbers are approximate, since I'm reading them off of an analog graph):

1940 - 20 years
1950 - 20 years
1960 - 35 years
1970 - 35 years
1980 - 30 years
1990 - 45 years

So, basically with the exception of 1980, it is an increasing curve. If you look at the full curve, it would show much more variability.

The point here is that if you looked at known reserves in 1940, you would have said we would run out of oil by 1960 at the then current consumption.

In fact, consumption has skyrocketed, so we should have run out sooner. But we didn't. By 1990, 50 years later, we had more than doubled the number of years of current consumption.

So the point is that we keep finding oil faster than we use it. At least until now.

You may argue that this trend will stop, but simply asserting it in a condescending tone doesn't make for a compelling argument.

2. When we consume energy (oil or otherwise) we do more than simply use a limited resource. We are also generally left with improved technology, which enhances future energy development.

For example, our ability to explore for oil in deep water was a function of our ability to produce platforms which were stable and economical. This capability, in turn, relied on an industrial base with capabilities like modern metallurgy and ship building. This industrial base was developed by consuming energy from other sources.

So viewing resource consumption as a "zero-sum" game is simply wrong. In truth, we are almost always left with superior technology, which makes satisfying future energy needs (either by increasing supply or decreasing consumption) easier.

In reality, at the end of the day, it is only technology that matters. Think of it in this way:

E = mc2

With a relatively small amount of mass (say a few tons of matter), we would be able to supply the energy needs of the earth forever. All we lack is the technology to efficiently convert mass to energy.

The development of our energy capabilities is the building of a series of steps toward clean, abundant energy. Each step is built using the best energy source of the day, and that enables us to reach the next plateau.

Again, the oil age will end long before we run out of oil. We have never run out of an energy resource. We have simply substituted another, better one when it became available.

Re: Productivity vs. population

To the challenge of finding places where productivity grew more slowly than population, you provide the following list:

"Whale products. Fisheries of all sorts. Potable water, especially in China. Go too far down that road and everything collapses."

Leaving aside the incomprehensible last sentence, I think it's clear you didn't understand the challenge.
The question is not output but productivity: unit of output per unit of labor.

Whales: While I haven't studied this particular industry, my guess is that you're wrong. It used to take dozens of men many months or years to kill a few whales. Today, my guess is that a crew of three or four with the right equipment could kill a whale in an afternoon. That is a massive increase in productivity.

Fisheries of all sorts: Again, the issue is productivity. If you can find a reference that shows that output per fisherman has less than doubled over the past 40 years, I'm all ears.

Potable water: Ditto. Gallons of water produced per unit of labor.

The point of this argument is that we have always been able to produce more than enough to support an ever growing population. And it is much more likely that population growth will slow (as it already has) long before the improvement in technology slows.

That fact, at the end of the day, is why commodities always fall in price over the long run in the absence of governmental price supports. Sure, there will be temporary price dislocations. But eventually all those greedy capitalists compete away their profits and the consumer benefits with lower prices and abundant supply.

You are free to argue otherwise. Many have, over the years. They've all been wrong.

But hey, maybe you'll be right this time...

12/05/2005 10:17:00 PM  
Blogger Cap'n Curt said...

Kyda: "My father spent a lifetime in the automotive industry. He assured me many years ago that not only were we capable of increasing fuel efficiency three- and four-fold, we were capable of replacing the internal combustion engine altogether."

I'm sorry, but I've spent a lot of time working in these fields, and I've seen nothing like this, especially when it has to be done at a cost that is justified by the fuel savings. Even today's hybrids don't meet those standards (but I think could in 5-10 years).

I've been watching fuel cells since the 70s, and despite improvements since then, they are nowhere near close to being viable. I've been involved in flywheel storage for cars, and watched well-funded ventures go under.

Two of the Big Three prototyped electric vehicles with my controllers, but the battery technology is not close to competing with a gas tank in four or five different measures.

An example I've been involved in that we will see in a few years that illustrates the trade-offs well is full electronic valve control for diesels. These can produce a 30-40% improvement in mileage (great, but nowhere near 3x to 4x) but with a cost adder of $10,000. You can justify this with a big semi that is driven full time, but it's a long way from being viable for passenger cars.

12/05/2005 10:35:00 PM  
Blogger Engineer-Poet said...

Kyda Sylvester said:

"income of $82+ million..."

Whereas Exxon-Mobil had 2004 profits of $25 billion on revenues of $298 billion.  It had profits of $9.9 billion in 3Q05 alone.

In 2004, the US used 1.1 billion tons of coal at an average price of $19.93/ton.  I make that about $22 billion changing hands for the fuel alone.  Then there are the utility interests, which had $270 billion in retail sales last year and makes about half of its total product fro coal.  They don't want to have to pay to keep mercury from going up their stacks...

What were you saying about the Sierra Club again?

"My father spent a lifetime in the automotive industry. He assured me many years ago that not only were we capable of increasing fuel efficiency three- and four-fold, we were capable of replacing the internal combustion engine altogether."

Not easy, but possible.  IMHO, increasingly important.

"Now, who might have an interest in making sure that neither of those things happens?"

The oil companies?  The farm lobby can make sure their products sell by getting Congress to mandate more and more corn ethanol and soy biodiesel in fuel at the pump, but when refinery utilization falls below 95% or so the oil companies lose their pricing power and profit margins.

westwinger says:

"It's interesting that even in a sophisticated place as the Belmont Club comment space that there is little skepticism expressed that carbon dioxide ought to be classified as a pollutant."

That's a semantic nit.  Water isn't a pollutant, but too much coming down the river is definitely a bad thing.  Same thing with carbon dioxide in air.

Leo said:

"The issue is whether CO2 gas emissions are the primary cause of global warming. If global temperature increases are predominantly explained by the urban heat effect, then decreasing greenhouse gases can be expected to have little or no effect, at great cost.

Before we prescribe a remedy, wouldn't it be good to figure out the cause of the ailment?
"

Perhaps you'd like to consult the climate research before you throw all your support behind the claims of one person?  I quote:

"Urban heat islands occur mainly at night and are reduced in windy conditions. Here we show that, globally, temperatures over land have risen as much on windy nights as on calm nights, indicating that the observed overall warming is not a consequence of urban development."

Here's an interesting observation about Lindzen:

"Lindzen has given up trying to defend it [his discredited "iris effect""] in the journals, but he still trots around the idea at meetings."

If a tiny fraction of Earth's area devoted to urban heat islands was causing even a significant fraction of the total warming effect, it would be much stronger downwind of urban areas than elsewhere.  This is not observed.

"So you link to one data point, and this wins the argument?"

No, I link to a a summary of a century of global discovery and production data.  You not only characterize this as "one data point", you fail to bring up any data at all.  THAT wins the argument.

"It is not just what we produce, but also what we consume. There has been a large shift from oil to natural gas in electrical generation."

Natural gas is now around $15/million BTU, while oil is about $10.  Calpine is going broke because they bet the farm on gas-fired electric generators.  N. American natural gas production HAS PEAKED; we'll have to import LNG just to stay even.  The production lifespan of a natural gas field is now about 2 years.

"So the point is that we keep finding oil faster than we use it. At least until now."

You mean, until 20 years ago.  Oh, right, I forgot - you're still living in 1985.

"In reality, at the end of the day, it is only technology that matters."

Wrong again.  A technology which converts whale blubber to energy at 100% thermal efficiency would not come close to satisfying human needs.  Technology which converts oil to work at 55-60% efficiency (compared to vehicles at 15.9%) is available, but it's only a stopgap.  A cheap technology which converts sunlight to electricity at even 10% efficiency would reshape the world.

"Fisheries of all sorts: Again, the issue is productivity. If you can find a reference that shows that output per fisherman has less than doubled over the past 40 years, I'm all ears."

Some facts from here:
- 75% of all fish populations are fully exploited, overexploited or severely depleted.
- Only 8.6% of the fish populations in US waters are known to be healthy.
- Both absolute and per-capita catches have peaked out.

World oil consumption is ~84 million barrels/day.  By your measure, if I reduce this to 60 million barrels but cut labor requirements in half, the world is better off because the oil industry is almost 50% more productive.

I'd go on, but my main point is made and I think most people reading this have come to an accurate appraisal of your intelligence by now.

12/06/2005 09:18:00 AM  
Blogger Leo said...

Engineer-Poet -

My opinions are not based on a single author, or data source. I admit that they are strongly influenced by certain sources, as are yours. But I'm still a seeker of truth, open to the possibility that I am wrong. That's why I read blogs, among other things.

To be clear, just because I didn't link to a bunch of data doesn't mean that all the data supports your view. There are other, contrasting viewpoints. One good place to start is Bjorn Lomborg's The Skeptical Environmentalist. I like his book because it compiles and presents a lot of data in an accessible form. But I also read other stuff, including refereed journals.

From what I can see, contrary to what is screamed by radical environmentalists, there is NOT a true scientific consensus on all this stuff (which is part of what makes it so interesting). You appear to be absolutely certain there is a consensus, and that those who disagree with it are either idiots or scoundrels. Such certitude is the typically the mark of religion, not science. Whatever.

While your style is too caustic for my taste and your overconfidence a little frightening, it is an open forum. I respect your interest in this topic, and your right to express your opinions. It would be nice if you could reciprocate without employing bullying rhetoric.

But you should know that your arguments are not advanced by casting aspersions my intelligence. In fact, such claims undermine your position since my intelligence easily demonstrated (Ford Scholar [Valedictorian] at Stanford's Graduate School of Business, where I am also a Lecturer).

So, on one claim you made which is easily verifiable, you are shown to be absolutely and clearly wrong. I leave it up to "most people reading this" to decide the relevance of this error. (After all, just because I'm smart, doesn't mean I'm right. Something worth reflecting on...)

For my part, I appreciate your perspective and the efforts you clearly put into your posts, and have learned from you even though I do not really find your arguments compelling at this point. But I come to the blogosphere for differing opinions, so I'm cool with that.

Feel free to have the last word. And I wish you all the best during this holiday season.

12/06/2005 11:57:00 AM  
Blogger Engineer-Poet said...

Leo:

You would have had the last word several exchanges ago if you had just backed up your assertion in this remark (and implicitly repeated here):

"We find oil faster than we use it up (on average, over time). Always have, always will."

I get prickly when I think someone's lying to me.  You've not established any bona fides.  (Citing Lomborg, whose book I have examined, does not give me any warm feelings; the book is made to look scholarly but was never peer-reviewed, and Lomborg's selective quoting of papers to support a position opposite to those reached by the authors should destroy his credibility with every thinking person.)

You gave a list of claimed reserves in various years, but you offered no cite to support this.  Without knowing the source, no one can judge its reliability.  (OPEC's numbers are widely recognized as fraudulent - for some time quotas were based on reserves, so OPEC countries increased their claimed reserves based on nothing more than their own say-so.  Meanwhile, Kuwait's biggest field has peaked.)

Now follow this closely.  It's only 5 sentences:

The world is using roughly 84 million barrels/day of oil.  This is roughly 3 billion barrels per year.  If we have truly been finding oil faster than we have been using it, we should have found 30 billion or more barrels since 1995, and ~60 billion since 1985.

My question is very basic:  Where are these discoveries?  A link or other citation will do.

12/07/2005 03:25:00 PM  
Blogger Michael Gersh said...

Engineer-Poet, you do not seem to be getting it. As Leo keeps pointing out, condescension is no shortcut to truth. The problem with being so sure of the correctness of your point of view is that you are therefore unable or unwilling to admit the points where you are wrong. The point is this: science is not politics, or religion. Truth is not a matter of taking a poll. If you were right, there would be no argument. The real world is one in which predictions of global climate are not accurate. The IPCC made many predictions, now well-aged, that were wrong. In science, consensus is not truth. Galileo, Newton, Einstein, and others were against the consensus, but today, we use their work to navigate in space and produce energy from nuclear manipulation.

Aside from all that, your inability to understand the difference between production and productivity makes it difficult to take you seriously. And, like most true believers, you refuse to address the real question. The real question is this:

If we are facing climate changes, how do we modify climate?

You clearly believe that mankind was BAD to pollute the Earth with carbon dioxide, but punishing us economically is no way to alter climate trends. Even the IPCC agrees with that. No CO2 reduction plan will have much of a near or medium term effect, according to them. They can not even agree whether the sequelae of humanity's bad behavior are an excess or a dearth of heat. If the Atlantic heat conveyor stops, Europe will have to be depopulated because of the cold.

As long as we can not understand such basic parts of the climate changes that might occur, we can not spend too much money on a solution. Acting superior to Leo makes no odds on the route to the future. It is amusing, however.

12/09/2005 03:50:00 PM  

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