Heat on PBS Tonight

A review of the new Frontline documentary on big business and climate change

(Page 2 of 2)

Smith next talks with legendary Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens about his scheme to build a gigantic wind farm in Texas involving 2,500 wind turbines rated to produce 4,000 megawatts of electricity. "He's expecting to gross hundreds of millions of dollars a year," says Smith. And a lot of that money would come from federal production tax credits worth 2.1 cents per kilowatt hour generated. Pickens also needs the government to open transmission corridors so that he can sell his power to distant markets. "You can't go in and invest a huge amount of money and not have a way to get your money back and make a profit," says Pickens. It surely helps if the government agrees to hand over taxpayer dollars to guarantee that one makes a profit.

Heat briefly considers nuclear power as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Smith hints that nuclear power is now hugely expensive due to over-regulation in the United States. By comparison, France, which produces 80 percent of its electricity using nuclear power, has some of the lowest electricity rates in Europe. I'm not suggesting that this is the proper model, but the French government owns most of the country's electrical generation capacity and thus makes sure that its own regulations don't get in the way.

Again, Smith points to the differences between the two major party candidates—McCain favors building 45 new nuclear power plants by 2030, whereas Obama worries about plant safety and wants the waste storage problem solved before allowing more nuclear plants to be constructed.

Heat ends with the Warner-Lieberman Climate Security Act debacle on Capitol Hill this past June. This legislation would have mandated that carbon dioxide emissions be cut by 60 percent from where they were in 2005 by 2050. The bill would have set up a cap-and-trade scheme to ration carbon dioxide emissions. Such rationing aims to increase the price of fossil fuels relative to carbon neutral sources of energy and thus encourage consumers and energy producers to shift to higher-priced climate-friendly energy. The bill's proponents had the bad luck to propose it just as gasoline prices were soaring to historic highs. Senators McCain and Obama did not show up to vote on procedural motions that aimed to push the bill forward. "The candidates were hiding. The candidates both support the concept of cap and trade, but neither of them showed up," says Eric Pooley.

Heat does a good job illustrating the interplay between politics and economics that drives and stymies global and domestic energy and climate policies. But there is one glaring flaw. Heat treats cutting greenhouse gases as the only way to deal with climate change. There is another strategy—adaptation. Adopting policies that encourage people to build better roads, erect more hospitals, supply sanitation, improve farming practices, raise sea walls, construct superior houses, provide access to electricity, and expand communication networks would make them less vulnerable to whatever weather disasters a changing climate might bring. The best way to do this is the old-fashioned way: encourage economic growth and free trade to alleviate poverty, illiteracy, maternal and infant mortality, and so forth. Heavy-handed government efforts to cut greenhouse gases could easily result in lowered economic growth and thus diminish humanity's ability to adapt to climate change. The big question that Heat does not attempt to answer is: Is global warming worse than what governments might try to do about it?

Heat airs this evening (Tuesday, October 21) at 9 p.m. on most PBS stations. Check your local listings.

Ronald Bailey is reason's science correspondent. His book Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution is now available from Prometheus Books.

Disclosure: I was interviewed for this documentary, but I ended up on the cutting room floor. I bear the producers no malice. Also, I have in the past been accused of being a climate change denier.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • ||

    But as Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey writes in his preview of the show, previous government pushes haven't exactly been huge successes.

    Isn't that because (a) we didn't have the Right People in government to do the pushing and (b) the government just didn't push hard enough?

  • ||

    Best Bailey article ever.

  • JP||

    Nobody at PBS stops to ask whether any "action" by big business will make a damn bit of difference.

    Big business is against it. Ergo, we must force big business to do it.

  • ed||

    ...what are the legal liabilities and what are the permitting requirements [for storing carbon dioxide]....Jeff Goodell, author of Big Coal, reminds Smith, "The problem is carbon dioxide is an asphyxiant." Leaking carbon dioxide kills people.

    Yucca Mountain, anyone? "Nuclear waste lasts forever!" say the nimby crowds. (Neglecting to mention the fact that the slower the decay, the more benign the "threat" of low-level radioactive waste.) Who will want a carbon dioxide repository in his back yard?
    Oh, the ironies.

  • Guy Montag||

    "The problem is carbon dioxide is an asphyxiant."

    In a 98% CO2 environment maybe, but if you have 20% Oxygen and 80% CO2 iot is not a hazard.

    Cerbon monoxide is a real problem, not its dioxide cousin.

    And with that, I will reveal that I have finally discovered the perfect green engine for my '1972 Hybrid Dodge Charger': 520 ci. HEMI. Someone has to take up the slack for you small carbon footprint folks. That motor will turn organic hydrocarbons into horsepower quicker that a Major Party Congress can grab your wallet.

  • ||

    Damn! I didn't know they made HEMIs that big.

  • Guy Montag||

    Damn! I didn't know they made HEMIs that big.

    Actually, "they" don't, one must build it themselves. With the help of Stage V Engineering heads, rods and pistons, plus a machine shop (if you don't have your own, of course).

  • ||

    this comes on the heals of friedman's latest masterstroke and appearance on meet the press last sunday.

    not sure why i bought it, but boy does the soapbox get big on this one.

    not exactly journalism, friedman knows the results of his thesis from page 2.

  • ||

    I am wondering if Mr. Bailey will take the time to address the increasing evidence of an end to global warming, and an actual swing towards global cooling. I think the continued obsession with warming is about to be undermined by - pardon the pun - the cold hard facts.

  • ||

    Disclosure: I was interviewed for this documentary, but I ended up on the cutting room floor.

    The denier denied! Oh, that's rich. Rich like the nations more concerned with a couple degrees of heat than feeding the children! I'm surprised no one ever thinks about them except when they might see boobies on tv. Oh, the irony: here kids are fed but can't see boobies, and over in Africa they're not fed but they see boobies everywhere they look!

    (Just kidding about the denier bit.)

  • Guy Montag||

    punk7,

    Actually, the tree-hugging enviroid classes are way ahead of you with that "Climate Change" phrasing, so that any commerce human activity that they don't like can be blamed for any variation in climate, of course.

    No, this was not a criticism of the fine Mr. Bailey.

    BTW, Ron, need to get your list of favorite contraband cigars before I leave the country after the innaguration.

  • Canada||

    before I leave the country after the innaguration

    No vacancies! Keep out, ya' damn free-market freaks!

  • Guy Montag||

    @KKKnadia,

    Sorry you self important, Whitest Third World 'country' on earth, tundra farm. Your 'nation' is not on the way to or from my destination.

  • Guy Montag||

    Sorry, Left out 'Socialistic Utopia' from that list. My bad.

  • TallDave||

    There's still some unanswered questions about the alleged warming trend. The satellite data contradicts not only the GISS (which is hopelessly corrupted both by Hansen's algorithmic shenanigans and the poorly situated monitoring stations, both of which are well-documented) but also theories of how CO2 would supposedly warm the Earth.

    Also, there has now been no net warming since 1980.

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/10/20/national-post-thirty-years-of-warmer-temperatures-go-poof/

    The trendline may start going up again soon, of course. But it's getting harder to tie the trend to CO2 levels.

  • Guy Montag||

    TallDave,

    You are sounding like a non-believer, who the Left will demand burned. Especially if you weigh more than a duck!

  • ||

    Aren't we in a 3 year cooling trend that is below the levels of 20+ years ago....all while CO2 continues to rise...yet, the push for man-made GW continues....

    ..asshats.

  • Paul||

    Things getting murky. Nature reported global warming flat or reversed 'til 2015.

  • TallDave||

    Wouldn't it be funny if Obama and Dems passed a carbon tax scheme in 2009 -- and temperatures fell below average the next two years?

  • Guy Montag||

    Won't anybody think of the Polar Bears?

  • ||

    Fucking hell, now you guys are buying into the value-neutral sophistry of calling this hoax "climate change"??

    Stop referring to it by this insidious term. It's just spin b/c "global warming" never held up to rational scrutiny. "Climate change" is utterly meaningless.

  • Paul||

    "Climate change" is utterly meaningless.

    Daveednyc

    The term "Climate change" was ushered in as a bet-hedging mechanism. Global Warming may not pan out, may reverse, may not be what we think it is. But we want to emphasize that humans can have a "discernible impact" on climate. So we'll just call it Climate Change, so if, well, the climate "changes", then we're still covered. We won't have any more Lowell Ponte embarassments.

  • Guy Montag||

    Paul,

    Is there an echo in here from around 1:58pm?

  • ||

    Wouldn't it be funny if Obama and Dems passed a carbon tax scheme in 2009 -- and temperatures fell below average the next two years?

    That would only prove that the Dali Bama had, indeed, Healed the Earth!

  • ||

    TallDave - The left will undoubtedly take credit for falling tempratures regardless of how meaningess the carbon nonesense they pass is.

  • ||

    "Isn't that because (a) we didn't have the Right People in government to do the pushing and (b) the government just didn't push hard enough?"

    RC Dave, I can only pray that you are being sarcastic. If not, you must be channeling Robert Reich.

  • Guy Montag||

    Trotter,

    I am pretty 100% sure that was sarcasim. More like mocking one of the frequent Leftoid trolls here.

  • Mike Laursen||

    I am wondering if Mr. Bailey will take the time to address the increasing evidence of an end to global warming, and an actual swing towards global cooling.

    He posted on it a few months ago.

  • DannyK||


    Heat does a good job illustrating the interplay between politics and economics that drives and stymies global and domestic energy and climate policies. But there is one glaring flaw. Heat treats cutting greenhouse gases as the only way to deal with climate change. There is another strategy-adaptation.


    Ron, this is really beneath you. Mitigation is important, but you can't find a single credible expert out there that thinks we can ONLY mitigate without addressing the problem at its source. That's like turning up the A/C when the problem is that the house is on fire -- eventually the problem will come to you anyway, and it'll be a lot worse when it does.

    Dude, you're already in trouble with CEI for saying mean things about carbon dioxide -- why not tell the truth?

  • ||

    That would only prove that the Dali Bama had, indeed, Healed the Earth!

    Wait I thought he was Chocolate Jesus. Did I miss a memo?

  • ||

    According to NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards, the exposure limit for carbon dioxide is 5000 ppm. That's just 0.5%.

    Carbon dioxide is IDLH at 40,000 ppm.

    In other words, it's an asphyxiant at a concencentration of 4%, not 80% as suggested elsewhere.

  • ||

    RC Dave, I can only pray that you are being sarcastic.

    That's R C Dean,Trotter, enemy of the state.

    And yes, I was being sarcastic.

  • ||

    Apologies for the erroneous moniker. And, I too was being sarcastic. Anyone who has ever listened to Robert Reich knows that your comments could have been stolen verbatim from the "good" professor.

  • Canada||

    Dear Americans,

    Canada means nice. If you are planning to move here after your devastating political loss, we must remind you that we Canadians fully respect the concept of nice, and if you insist upon bringing your American notions of volition and responsibility up here, we may be forced to eat you. We have spoken. Go Habs!

  • ||

    Guy and Cato,

    Neither of you are quite correct on CO2 hazard. IDLH is routinely mischaracterized as being immediately deadly. It's actually a 15 min limit that does not produce escape impairing symptoms.

    CO2 is a hazard when it displaces air (20%O2/80%N2). You need about 17% CO2 to be a rapid fatality hazard. This hazard could exist near liquid CO2 plants and/or high pressure CO2 pipelines that might be required to transport to suitable sequestration sites but it would rapidly decrease as you move away from the 100% CO2 concentration at the leak source.

  • Calling all D-Bags||

    Where is Chad, Lefiti, Edward, Neu, Classwarrior, joe, Dan. T, and Mr. Observer?

  • Canada Libertarian||

    I resent Guy Montag's comment on Canada. This is not a third world country, and last I checked the Freedom Index, are markets were actually slightly less regulated than yours. And if you live out in the territories like I do, you'll find a lot of people who are closer to your libertarian ideal than you would find in say, Chicago. And that's accounting for differences in population density.

  • Canada Libertarian||

    However, I agree with you that you might want to move somewhere else after your elections. If you agree not to pull us into any pointless wars in godforsaken parts of the world, I might even take up your cause for naturalization.

  • Neu Mejican||

    Thanks for the heads up Ron,
    I will look for the program.

    A GM spokeswoman tells Smith that Toyota beat GM to the hybrid car because Toyota didn't mind losing money on it for a while whereas GM couldn't justify building hybrids as a business case.

    Correct me if I am wrong here. But Toyota benefited from a government push for cleaner transportation (different government, of course).

    now hugely expensive due to over-regulation in the United States. By comparison

    Regulation is not the primary cost problem as I understand it.

    (c.f., "In the United States, even government subsidies approaching or exceeding new nuclear power's total cost have failed to entice Wall Street." http://www.rmi.org/sitepages/pid504.php )

    There are better bang for the buck solutions.

    Many of the currently viable/emerging technologies are the result of government research programs that had their funding dry up when gas became cheap...if that funding had been prudently continued, they would have, perhaps, been ready for deployment when gas prices rose.

    Governments can facilitate longer-term solutions than most private sector companies are willing to invest it. (See GM quote in the story).

  • Neu Mejican in Snark mode||

    Damn there is a lot of ignorance on display up-thread.

    Damn.

  • Rationalitate||

    It's very frustrating that Reason, the libertarian flagship, is so ignorant when it comes to one of the most important liberty-related issues of our time: our government's command-and-control transportation and land use policy. There was a day when intraurban transit wasn't achieved with cars, but rather with competing private rail systems.

    Then the government came, massively subsidized their own public road system, and then when all the big capital investments were made (including a huge unaccounted cost: the price that they should have paid but didn't do landowners use land they took), they made the system more-or-less profitable (actually, they're in the red about 20% of the total costs, but when we're talking about government, that's as close as you're gonna get to profitable). Only, there's a problem with having the government build roads and still remain profitable: the roads are going to get too congested, and it will be politically impossible to widen the roads, but impossible congested otherwise. The solution? Trample property owners' rights and demand that they not build too densely, lest the government-built roads get too congested. Thus began the suburbs. Including the majority of US emissions (once you factor in the emissions from transportation and heating and cooling our suburban mansions, not to mention transporting things out of the regional hub into your person suburb, as opposed to centralizing things in cities).

    If developers didn't face land use restrictions, they would build much more densely - which is to say, people would demand more dense dwellings, and they would get them. The country would reurbanize. Eventually, private transit systems ("mass transit" in the beginning, but eventually probably personalized) would spring up, and be profitable, and rebuild urban mass transit the way that they originally built your NYC subway line, or the street car line that's now the bus that goes by your house.

    And yet this doesn't figure into anyone's equation at Reason. It's a major shortcoming.

  • Neu Mejican||

    Global Cooling

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2008/05/global-cooling-wanna-bet

  • ed||

    Wow. Watching the Frontline hack-job propaganda piece as we speak. Just witnessed the piling-on of political types over the oil companies. The political types are demanding to know why the oil companies have not developed technologies that will put themselves out of business. The oil company suits are playing the game, badly. Midget-cunt Senator Boxer just said something. Nobody paid attention. Oddly, no one has asked who or what is preventing some other entity from producing alternative energy sources. It seems that only the oil companies can accomplish this. No one else in the world can do it! They are omnipotent in their monopoly! In closing, I have come to the conclusion that, according to Frontline, the oil companies are to blame. For everything. And the car companies too. Somehow they both have conspired to prevent the rest of the world from developing Alternative Energy Sources™. How can this be? I'll bet capitalism is to blame. That's just a hunch. Oh no. Now they're talking about ethanol! I retire to bedlam.

  • ||

    Let's see now,
    An uncontrolled fire has started in your house, threatening to burn it all down. You can't leave, can't call for help. If you act early enough you can put it out. But that would require getting up, doing things and taking responsibility.

    Ron Baileys solution: Learn to adapt to flames.

    Good one.

  • ||

    P.S.
    When the Oceans heat up enough, they release Hydrogen Sulfide...fatal to humans and anything aerobic, while destroying the Ozone Layer.
    http://tinyurl.com/5tbrb

    Events which preceded such releases were massive releases of otherwise sequestered CO2...like we are doing now.

  • ||

    Dear Sam-Hec,

    The house isn't on fire. It MAY be vulnerable to fire, so you want me to spend all of my income and take out a 2nd mortgage on my house in order to buy a fire truck to park in my driveway. I can think of better ways to invest my money. The health and well being of my children comes to mind, as well as in their education. Perhaps they will invent newer, better, ways to build fire resistant houses at half the cost of funding the fire truck.

  • ||

    no, the house IS on fire. But it's small right now

    You don't need to take out a second mortgage to begin to take action. One Third(ish) of the action needed pays for itself; another third has low costs; the last most costly third can wait for new technologies etc.

    But if you wait for those new technologies before taking any action, it will be too late.

  • Neu Mejican||

    Watched most of the show.
    Not the best I've seen.
    I agree that the Exxon should do more, GM should do better argument was odd.

    The contrast that I found interesting was the difference in consistent policy between the US and Europe/Japan. The US seems to have trouble with long-term political thinking. This is a problem that requires long-term thinking.

    Sam-Hec,

    Nice analogy.

    One Third(ish) of the action needed pays for itself; another third has low costs; the last most costly third can wait for new technologies etc.

    I would say that first third pays for itself and covers at least some of the cost of the other two thirds. Many of the things you need to do make economic sense even if the house isn't on fire.

  • ||

    Neu-Mej,
    The most important ascpect of the dealing with the 1st and second thirds of CO2 emission reduction is that it buys us time to work on the last third.

    And for all you Jimmy-Pops out there, I like to concentrate on these things on a Libertarian board because I don't want to see the end of liberty and capitalism in resolving climate change. Indeed I think it impossible to resolve CLimate Change without liberty and capitalism.

  • ||

    it's been cooling for ten years now. If CO2 were the cause it would have gotten hotter. It cooled between 1940-1970...if CO2 caused nheating it would have gooten hotter druing this perion. CO2 is plant food, taxing it is a scam, if you are buying the global warming propaganda you are truly lazy.

  • ||

    Sam-Hec & Neu,
    Accepting the validity of the analogy it's more of an condo complex. How are we supposed to get the upstarts in teh east wing (china, india, etc) on board.

  • Remarksman||

    Mr. Bailey spends most of the article trying to prove how much smarter he is than the show's authors. Yes, some of his points are valid and interesting - good, thoughtful stuff. But then, his grand conclusion in the final paragraph:
    The solution is 'let climate change continue and adapt better via trickle-down economics and increased corporate power and control.'
    That's the dumbest 'solution' I can think of, since trickle-down economics and "free" trade have impoverished people in the U.S. and around the world and made their societies less able to cope with climate change, not more.

  • ||

    Picasolll,
    Primarily, all we as a nation can do is Lead the Way. Secondarily, we can impose tariffs on imports into the U.S. Tertiarily, all we can do, at this point in time, is shame those who do not share interest in global survival.

    Being libertarian means not wanting to control others, including other nations.

  • ||

    p.s.
    Those aforementioned Tariffs should be used to purchase Certified CO2 Offsets.

  • ||

    I know this has been partly addressed already

    In a 98% CO2 environment maybe, but if you have 20% Oxygen and 80% CO2 iot is not a hazard.

    but I wanted to add something: if you don't think a big leak from a C02 repository might be a serious problem, go read about Lake Nyos.

  • ||

    Pedantry Alert!

    CO2 is toxic in concentration due to the following:

    Animal cells use carbo's in the presence of O2 to create energy utilizing an organic acid swapping "scheme" known as the Kreb's Cycle.

    At the end of this swapping scheme, the two main byproducts are CO2 and water. CO2 dissolved in water is known as Carbonic Acid.

    The human body only functions properly within a fairly narrow pH range, therefore it must constantly remove excess CO2. Respiration not only takes in needed O2, it removes excess CO2, playing an important role in pH regulation.

    As lung tissue exchanges gasses between the atmosphere and the blood stream through "concentration pressure differential", if the atmospheric concentration of CO2 rises to X, no net outward flow of CO2 occurs during exhalation.

    CO2 then builds up, and pushes pH to acidotic levels, and we die.

  • ||

    And Tbone was right about this, distance from source is a key when discussing toxicity of inhaled agents. Concentration drops rapidly as an inverse of x squared for every foot of distance from the 100% source.

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