We Are the Green Team

Will Obama's environmental advisors spearhead a new global warming treaty by next year?

On Monday, President-elect Barack Obama revealed the "Green Team" that will guide his energy and climate change policies. Its members include Nobel physicist Steven Chu as Secretary of Energy; former New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection chief Lisa Jackson as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency; and Carol Browner, former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under President Bill Clinton, as the White House's "energy/climate czar," a position tasked with leading the Obama administration's battle against man-made global warming.

Their nominations came just after the United Nations' annual climate change conference sputtered to an indecisive close at Poznań, Poland last week. Climate negotiators from nearly 190 countries made little headway toward a new global warming treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol which expires in 2012. At the Bali climate change conference in 2007, negotiators promised that the world would adopt binding greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions limits at the 2009 Copenhagen conference.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, industrialized nations are supposed to cut their emissions of greenhouse gases—chiefly carbon dioxide—by an average of 5 percent below the levels emitted in 1990. According to the latest United Nations data, the emissions from former Soviet Bloc Kyoto Protocol signatories fell 37 percent, largely due to the collapse of their economies. On the other hand, emissions from modern industrialized Kyoto signatories rose by 3.7 percent. For example, between 1990 and 2004, Canada's emissions increased 27 percent, Australia's 25 percent, Japan's 6.5 percent, Italy's 12 percent, Turkey's 72 percent, and Spain's 49 percent. Emissions from non-Kyoto parties rose steeply from 1990 levels as well, including China's by 47 percent, India's by 55 percent, and the United States' by 16 percent. China is now the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases. In fact, global emissions grew by 28 percent during this decade, three times faster than the 9 percent increase that occurred in the 1990s.

Turning these global emissions trends around may be much harder than United Nations analysts previously thought. A sobering new study in the journal Climate Research by researchers from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the University of Colorado, for instance, suggests that it is unlikely that most developing countries will be able to afford new low-carbon energy technologies on their own. "There is simply no evidence that developing countries will somehow become wealthier and be in a position to install more environmentally friendly technologies," says Patricia Romero Lankao, an NCAR sociologist who is the lead author of the study. The study projects that the economic growth of many poor countries will overwhelm increases in energy efficiency, resulting in ever higher emissions of greenhouse gases.

During the negotiations at Poznań, representatives of the developing countries pointed out that rich countries have loaded up the atmosphere with extra carbon dioxide as their economies grew. They argued that as a matter of climate justice, poor countries can either use cheap carbon-based energy to lift their people out of poverty or else rich countries can agree to install more expensive low-carbon energy production technologies in their countries. As part of a new global climate treaty, poor countries want rich countries to pay $50 to $80 billion per year into a climate adaptation fund to finance their energy transformation. Why this form of foreign aid would be any more effective than the massive failed programs of the past is not addressed.

For years, the United States has been cast as the villain in the global warming negotiations, contrasted against the ecological saints that make up the European Union. However, during the Poznań conference, EU leaders squabbled over a plan to reduce the EU's emissions by 20 percent below their 1990 levels by 2020. Disappointed environmental activists argue that this commitment is a "mirage," and that the EU will actually cut its emissions by around 4 percent.

Meanwhile, the world waits to see what Barack Obama will do. During the campaign, Obama pledged to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions back to 1990 levels by 2020—which implies a decrease of 16 percent from current emissions. In order to do this, Obama wants to impose a cap-and-auction system that would ration the amount of greenhouse gases that businesses would be allowed to emit. Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), who opposes carbon emissions limits, has dubbed Obama's proposal a "cap-and-tax" scheme. Each year, under Obama's plan, the feds would set the number of tons of greenhouse gases that could be emitted and then auction that number of permits to the companies and organizations that need to emit them. Thus the auction functions as a variable tax on carbon.

Besides raising revenue for the government, the goal of such a rationing scheme is to increase the price of energy produced by burning fossil fuels, thus spuring the development of low-carbon and no-carbon energy supplies. At his press conference introducing his new Green Team, Obama promised to address the "long-term threat of climate change" with "a 21st-century economic recovery plan that puts Americans to work building wind farms, solar panels, and fuel-efficient cars." But will the Obama administration be ready to cut a deal on a new global climate change treaty at Copenhagen one year from now?

Some political progressives don't think so. For example, Eileen Claussen, the president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, told the Associated Press, "The U.S. won't be in a position to negotiate with specific targets and timetables in 2009." Why? Because she thinks that the new Obama administration won't have time to finish domestic climate change legislation by next December. In addition, Joseph Romm, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, noted at his ClimateProgress blog, "It is all but inconceivable that Obama can deliver the 67 votes in the Senate needed to ratify a global climate treaty—no matter what happens in the 12 months between Poznań and Copenhagen."

Inconceivable? Well, yes. As Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Obama's emissary at the Poznań talks, explained to Reuters, "What's important is that we go to Copenhagen understanding that no treaty is going to pass the U.S. Senate unless it is a global solution. China, India, Russia—all countries have to be part of the solution." The big, rapidly growing developing countries must make some kind of commitment to rein in their greenhouse gas emissions, or it's a no-go in the U.S. Senate. On Monday, President-elect Obama also stated, "Just as we work to reduce our own emissions, we must forge international solutions to ensure that every nation is doing its part." Recall that back in 1997, the U.S. Senate voted 95 to 0 for a resolution opposing any global warming treaty that did not include emissions reduction commitments from developing countries. As a result, President Bill Clinton never bothered to submit the Kyoto Protocol to the Senate for ratification.

President-elect Obama and his Green Team have their work cut out for them if they plan to meet the Copenhagen deadline. They must persuade not just American citizens but citizens of both rich and poor countries that they will have to start paying substantially more to heat and cool their homes, drive their cars, and run their factories in order to avert the indeterminate threat of man-made global warming.

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.

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.

  • ||

    "Obama and his team must persuade American citizens that they will have to start paying substantially more to heat and cool their homes, drive their cars, and run their factories in order to avert the indeterminate threat of man-made global warming."

    I would have thought that was a ridiculous mandate, but that was before I saw the president scare the American people into a costly and unnecessary war. That was before I saw the the president rally Americans behind an $800 billion bailout of Wall Street.

    Scare the shit out of Americans and most of 'em will rally behind even an unpopular president. So brace yourselves, the Green Scare is coming.

    There will be fulcrums to leverage the Green Scare. Oil prices may shoot up again with inflation. Another especially devastating hurricane may hit. Hell, isn't the Green Scare already supposed to be part of the solution for Detroit?

    Oh, and has anybody used "Green Scare" to describe this before? Because if they haven't, then I'm officially coining it now.

  • ||

    I think Kyoto is the way to go. Promise everything, then do nothing and laugh behind your hands when some countries actually do damage their economies trying in vain to comply.

  • Paul||

    According to NPR, progressives are already pissed at Obama for his pick for dept. of interior.

  • Mike Laursen||

    Scare the shit out of Americans and most of 'em will rally behind even an unpopular president.

    Scare the shit out of Americans and most of 'em will be complacent. If they actually had to do something or sacrifice something, instead of letting things happen that aren't easy to understand and happening right in front of their eyes, I think it would be a different story.

    I'm not sure you even have to do the part where you scare them.

  • ||

    Thank God for that 2/3s ratification requirement. Even with the Northeast RINOs, few left that there are, 67 votes probably is impossible. Unfortunately, insane energy prices won't lead to the Democrat's demise before the 2010 election and redistricting..

  • ||

    I don't think you can scare people who are busy freezing their asses off into paying extra taxes to thwart global warming. Even the sheepiest of sheep have their limits of gullability.

  • sage||

    I like it, Ken. The "Green Scare" it is. Congratulations.

  • ||

    They are trying to scare us already, but it's not working. Despite all the gloom and doom, AGW still ranks nowhere in rankings of problems to be fixed. It helps that it's been cold lately.

  • Kevin Carson||

    Thanks to Peak Oil, people will be "paying substantially more to heat and cool their homes, drive their cars, and run their factories" no matter what Obama does.

  • ||

    Hey geniuses just because it's cold doesn't mean global warming isn't happening. Or do you get your information from eminent climatologist Matt Drudge?

    It may in fact be too late to save life on earth from the consequences of global warming. I'd like to engage in a robust discussion about how free markets are supposed to handle environmental destruction (I'd suggest the markets on Easter Island were pretty unrestricted), but you'd have to admit scientific reality first.

  • ||

    It may in fact be too late to save life on earth from the consequences of global warming

    I'd like to engage in a robust discussion about how free markets are supposed to handle environmental hyperbole. I don't think they can.

  • ||

    Science is our worship word! You will not speak it!

  • MikeB||

    Hey geniuses just because it's cold doesn't mean global warming isn't happening. Or do you get your information from eminent climatologist Matt Drudge?

    Of course the current temps don't prove global cooling. Perhaps the ten year trend also proves it, but I would agree no.

    I will also argue that the fourty years of somewhat accurate global temps (satellites) do not prove global warming.

    Prior to that the numbers are either close to being made up or of limited regional scope.

  • Kaiser||

    It may in fact be too late to save life on earth from the consequences of global warming



    If that is true then why should we give a damn. I say we live it up 'till it implodes. Of course I should remind everyone once again I am a stead fast disbeliever in this whole "green scare" (excellent terminology btw) and will be until I can actually get some solid evidence to support it. I am not going to get into this whole debate/expert war/hooplah on yet another thread so I will leave it at this.

  • Kolohe||

    free markets are supposed to handle environmental destruction

    Free movement of people to places that aren't destroyed (but where they have to pay market prices for lodging, food, etc)

    Businesses buy up the destroyed land and then abate or recover from the destruction, then sell it back to people who want to move back there or move to there for the first time (like ones that restore brownfields)

  • Kolohe||

    It may in fact be too late to save life on earth from the consequences of global warming

    and has been aluded to, life on earth will pretty much go on no matter what happens until the sun does it's thing that boils the oceans.

    Human life, otoh...

  • ||

    Episiarch,

    I believe the free market's approach to environmental hyperbole is to allow it to drone on and on, waiting for consequences that we can actually respond to, if any such consequences occur. Fortunately, the government can trump the market in this regard and try to accurately anticipate and respond to events in the future in a chaotic system we neither understand very well or comprehend the causes thereof, injecting trillions of tax dollars into the economy. So that we all win!

  • ||

    "I'd like to engage in a robust discussion about how free markets are supposed to handle environmental destruction (I'd suggest the markets on Easter Island were pretty unrestricted), but you'd have to admit scientific reality first."

    We've had those discussions around here quite often actually. Bailey's been effectively sparking that discussion among free market people who are concerned about global warming with his posts here a few times a week or so for, I think, years now.

    Oh, and I'll keep myself in check, but I wish more environmentally concerned people did that too. Any proposals that don't take account of the economic realities are nonstarters.

    Crafting an environmental policy that doesn't take free markets into account is like designing an airplane that doesn't take aerodynamics into account--even if you do get it built, it ain't gonna fly. ...and I can't believe how many designs I've seen like that.

  • Lefiti||

    Calling Father Lomborg. Calling Father Lomborg.

  • stuartl||

    Prices on oil are so low right now that the government could probably get away with adding a hefty tax*. How many people will complain if the price of regular goes from $1.50 to 1.75 a gallon? Three months ago it was $4.00. They just need to do it before the price of oil bottoms out and starts going back up.

    *I am not saying this is a good thing, I am just saying people might not notice.

  • Johnny Nowhere||

    Ken Shultz,

    I've never seen "Green Scare" before, so congrats on that. However, environmentalists have been leveraging fear since Carson's "Silent Spring." So your revelation is 40+ years late.

  • ||

    Calling God Emperor Gore. Calling God Emperor Gore. Lefiti needs your love.

  • ||

    Ken Shultz,

    I agree with you, but I don't buy the idea that government action (carbon taxes, contracting out green infrastructure building, etc.) impedes the free market, only coaxes it into a necessary direction. The marketplace will always be there, but I think it's the government's role to restrict industries that are directly contributing to the destruction of the planet's ecosystem. If we can have regulations that prohibit a factory from polluting a river, why can't we have regulations that prohibit much, much greater damage being done to the whole planet?

  • ||

    Shultz

    That was before I saw the the president rally Americans behind an $800 billion bailout of Wall Street.

    With all due respect, I think Americans (as opposed to their reps in congress) remain quite skeptical about the bailout.

  • ||

    Good thing nobody's scaring the public with loose talk about economic devastation.

    I heard that banning leaded gasoline will mean no more American automobile manufacturing industry by 1975.

  • ||

    Oh, and I'll keep myself in check, but I wish more environmentally concerned people did that too. Any proposals that don't take account of the economic realities are nonstarters.


    If only that were true.

  • ||

    joe,

    I actually think that's a great point. It seems vested interests on both side like to use economic arguments to get their self serving policies enacted.

  • ||

    "I'd suggest the markets on Easter Island were pretty unrestricted."

    Easter Island is a good example of the Tragedy of the Commons. Nobody owned any of the trees, so when it came down to the last tree, nobody could protect it because they didn't own it. If you don't cut it down someone else will.

    In effect there wasn't a market because no one owned any of the resources.

  • Kolohe||

    I heard that banning leaded gasoline will mean no more American automobile manufacturing industry by 1975.

    They were only 35 years off.

  • ||

    Any proposals that don't take account of the economic realities are nonstarters.

    I would have said just the opposite (if you are referring to whether a proposal stands a chance of actually being implemented).

    The proposals that do take account of economic realities will never see the light of day.

    The ones that blithely ignore economic reality? Far from being non-starters, those are the only ones that have any chance of being implemented by Our Masters.

  • Kaiser||

    I agree with you, but I don't buy the idea that government action (carbon taxes, contracting out green infrastructure building, etc.) impedes the free market



    Actually...that is exactly what it does. It isn't free if you can't do what you want. That is just my opinion though.

    Also just to add this food for thought to this thread. Why, has not a single GW supporter/believer been able to respond to my simple question? If CO2 is causing a mass global implosion of astronomic proportions, why can't we just plant more trees? and other plants that use the process of photosynthesis to grow? It seems so simple yet no one can answer that question.

    Oh yes and this as well, free markets are indeed the solution to this so called "problem." (if it even exists which I don't think it does) The #1 thing that no one wants to talk about in this green scare is how expensive it is to "go green." Developing countries do not have the resources to pay for these things, if they were allowed to flourish in a free economy, rather than being ran by either socialist/dictatorship regimes with highly regulatory policies, that would go quite a long way to solving this "problem."

  • sage||

    If we can have regulations that prohibit a factory from polluting a river, why can't we have regulations that prohibit much, much greater damage being done to the whole planet?

    Because the alarmists are the only ones saying there will be "much, much, greater damage." There is such a thing as the cure being worse than the disease. Wasn't it determined that to implement Kyoto for just one year would cost the same as for providing clean drinking water and sanitation for the entire planet?

    If Obama wants to provide jobs and help the environment without being too much of a pain in the butt he should pay people to plant trees on public lands. And I mean trees everywhere.

  • ||

    It may in fact be too late to save life on earth from the consequences of global warming.

    WooHooo!

    Gaia grinds out a tough one- nil victory over the carbon weevils.

  • Kevin Carson||

    TonyQ: The worst-case scenario, if global warming reaches a tipping point at which methane is released from the tundra and seabeds, will be something on the order of the "Late Eocene Thermal Maximum." And the latter came nowhere close to endangering "life on earth."

    I lean pretty strongly toward the anthropogenic global warming thesis, but COME ON!

  • ||

    They were only 35 years off.

    Six minutes. Not too shabby. :-)

  • ||

    Kaiser,

    Carbon sequestration via reforestation is often discussed as part of the solution, but there's a problem of scale. The plausible number of trees that could be planted, and the amount of carbon each one would store, would fall well short of the amount of carbon emitted by human acivity.

  • sage||

    Ah, but that's where the market comes in to play, joe. We must use more wood, not less. Using wood sends a signal to the marketplace to grow more trees and produce more wood. That means we can use less concrete, steel, and plastic -- heavy carbon emitters through their production. And as you probably know, younger trees sequester carbon at a higher rate than older trees that are near the end of their growth cycle.

  • ||

    cmace,

    So who should own the atmosphere? It seems to me the tragedy of the commons applies just as well here, only on a global scale, and in a way much less amenable to the privatization solution.

  • ||

    TonyQ-

    As Al Gore has often stated, the central organizing principle of the 21st century will be global warming/climat change. Translation: Green Scare.

    Ken Schultz-Is it okay that I used your phrase? My intellectual property counsel has advised me that she could argue fair use, but I want your consent.

  • ||

    What if we just freeze a lot of stuff in carbonite?

    You can either profit by this...or be destroyed. It's your choice. But I warn you not to underestimate my powers.

  • ||

    I should amend my first post. Life itself will surely go on; however human life will probably not be so lucky.

    sage,

    Calling mainstream scientific consensus "alarmist" doesn't make it any less the mainstream scientific consensus. Unfortunately, in this case, it is difficult to overstate the problem we face.

  • ||

    TonyQ,

    Without delving into what I consider the proper role of government, I think your question shows where the line must be drawn. A company polluting a river has done tangible harm to identifiable individuals. One argument for using a regulatory solution over a legal one is that nuisance law has traditionally not worked very well for the longer term damages caused by pollution. This type of situation is understood well enough to allow for anticipatory regulation, as well.

    In the case of AGW claims, we don't have that kind of tangibility or identifiable victims, and, until (and if) we do, government action will be be complete guesswork at best.

    In a perfect world with perfect knowledge, our robot overlords could assess the situation and respond appropriately and with the correct level of intervention. But we don't have that today, and there are dire consequences to placing AGW correction ahead of economic needs, particularly when that correction is so uncertain in form and in consequences. Even if AGW really has a massive anthropogenic component, that doesn't necessarily mean that human action at this point can change the consequences of the past. In which case we could waste massive resources on the wrong problem, just to later face with the real problem and with less resources available to deal with it.

  • ||

    You've got it Mike!

    But "Shultz" is spelled without the "c".

  • sage||

    Tony, I'm not sure mainstream scientific consensus has concluded that we need expensive, ineffective regulations in place unless the goal is severely stunting economic growth on a global scale. And "much, much, greater damage to the whole planet" sounds almost like a meteor is about to strike.

  • ||

    "In the case of AGW claims, we don't have that kind of tangibility or identifiable victims, and, until (and if) we do, government action will be be complete guesswork at best."

    But the only reason for the lack of tangibility is the global scale of the problem. The victims are actually easily identified: everyone. We are not flying blind here--science has a marvelous tendency to be progressive. Requiring a perfect world with perfect knowledge before we do anything about global warming is akin to saying we shouldn't teach evolution in schools because scientists haven't figured out which puddle of mud life began in.

    "Even if AGW really has a massive anthropogenic component, that doesn't necessarily mean that human action at this point can change the consequences of the past."

    Perhaps not, but this Lomborgian line of reasoning is a little fatalistic for my taste. If we have a reasonable chance at reversing the potential disastrous effects of global warming with significant cooperative action, why shouldn't we at least try? Better to use "massive resources" in the attempt than leave our children with a planet in which there are no resources at all.

  • sage||

    And I'm doing my part. Over the last few months I've put in about 750 square feet of red oak hardwood flooring. Does my heart good.

  • ||

    I heard that banning leaded gasoline will mean no more American automobile manufacturing industry by 1975.



    Since leaded gas wasn't actually banned until 1996 I'm sure we'll never know.

    And the reason for the change over to unleaded gas originally had little to do with the well documented harmful effects of lead it was because catylitic converters* could not function properly with leaded gas.

    The big adjustment was how to effectively stop car engines from getting damaged due to pinging and and burnt valves was the biggest concern.

    And yes, it's true that there was some griping about automotive air quality regs, but it was mostly just political bargaining.

    *Which were mandated for the mid 70s to deal with the well documented and highly visible problem of smog.

    If AGW were anywhere near as obvious to everyone as smog was in the 60s and 70s its devotees would have a much easier time.

  • ||

    I understand the threat is supposed to be to humankind as a whole, but that's quite abstract when the actual damage to humanity is unknown. Sure, we can guess and make extrapolations, but it's all very, very fuzzy.

    Consensus is a difficult word to bandy about. What is the consensus, and to what degree is that consensus based on scientific evidence? I'd say that a general consensus exists that there has been a warming trend in the late 20th century. A smaller, yet still large percentage of climatologists appear to accept that there is a significant anthropogenic component to that warming trend. A much smaller percentage appears to think that man is principally to blame.

    Where I don't think there's any consensus at all, particularly one based on science versus other belief systems, is on what to do about the problem or in identifying to what extent the past predicts the future. Certainly, some of the claims by professionals in the field have been demonstrably wrong. Like those relating to hurricane behavior and predicting the imminent collapse of the planet. That doesn't discredit the rest of the profession, though it does throw cold water on the idea that there's complete agreement.

    All of this aside, I suspect that climatology is going to continue to be more akin to psychology and economics than to physics until we get better at understanding chaotic systems and get a better handle on all of the variables.

  • ||

    Prices on oil are so low right now that the government could probably get away with adding a hefty tax*. How many people will complain if the price of regular goes from $1.50 to 1.75 a gallon? Three months ago it was $4.00. They just need to do it before the price of oil bottoms out and starts going back up.

    All of the poor and fixed income folks in the northeast who use oil to heat their home to start. Independent truckers will happily join in.

  • ||

    Maybe I should stop investing in stocks and should start buying oil. Not the futures, the stuff itself. Or maybe just gasoline.

  • ||

    Isaac,

    Even if global warming produced effects that were obvious to the layman (its actual effects are alarmingly obvious to climatologists), they'd still blame El Nino or some such. Why so many people are so credulous when it comes to anti-GW propaganda, perpetuated for decades by interested--and very very wealthy--parties, but bury their heads in the sand in the face of scientific evidence, is beyond me. Could have something to do with the anti-intellectual/anti-science crusade of a certain powerful political party in this country, which just so happens to be allied with the interests I mentioned.

  • ||

    If we can have regulations that prohibit a factory from polluting a river, why can't we have regulations that prohibit much, much greater damage being done to the whole planet?

    If we can't have regulations that prohibit a factory from polluting a river in Bangladesh, how can we have regulations that prohibit much, much greater damage being done to the whole planet by India and China?

    Therin lies the problem. Three billion people are energy poor and they are understandably getting tired of it.

  • ||

    J sub D,

    Indeed, so it happens that perhaps the only way to solve the problem is massive, global cooperative action. It's highly probable that our options consist of that or the eventual total destruction of human civilization. Not a good set of options, and I'm not actually very optimistic. But saying it's too big a problem to solve makes my point: libertarians don't have anything to offer because this type of global problem doesn't factor into their worldview. How do we preempt the tragedy of the commons? Either privatization of the resources (dubious in any case--impossible when it comes to the entire planet), or centralized government action. The third option, favored by many here, is to pretend the problem doesn't exist.

  • ||

    TonyQ

    Even if AGW's "effects are alarmingly obvious to climatologists" (I confess that I have seen little evidence for such a sweeping statement, but let that pass) the policy prescriptions to deal with it are not.

  • ||

    Indeed, so it happens that perhaps the only way to solve the problem is massive, global cooperative action. It's highly probable that our options consist of that or the eventual total destruction of human civilization.

    I find it very difficult to believe that "total destruction of human civilization" is anything other than fearmongering hyperbolic nonmsense. Say billions will starve, say living standards will be reduced to the level of Europe in the dark ages and I might give some credence to your argument.

    The "total destruction of human civilization" is flat out bullshit and makes your other arguments much less credible.

  • SIV||

    AGW/"climate change" producing the total destruction of human civilization?

    I call troll

  • ||

    China, India and another billion people are not going to accept greenhouse gas emmisions restrictions unless it is imposed by external force. It should be noted that both of thiose Asian nations possess nuclear weapons which makes applying external force problematical at best.

  • ||

    Maybe I should stop investing in stocks and should start buying oil. Not the futures, the stuff itself. Or maybe just gasoline.

    Dennis: Now explain to me how exactly we're gonna calculate the totals.

    Charlie: Oh, it's easy, dude. You pour gas into the car using one of these funnels, right? And I count how much gas is going into the car.

    Dennis: All right, let me-let me just stop you right there. How exactly are you planning on counting a liquid?

    Charlie: Uh, I know how to count, dude.

  • SIV||

    beat by Jsub......

    Think of the environmental upsides to climate change such as all the energy savings from northwest passage commercial shipping lanes.

  • ||

    Speaking of nukes, I read somewhere that the nuclear winter model is generally viewed as discredited today. I can't remember where I read that, so maybe I'm wrong.

    This is not to say, I hasten to add, that I ever want to see any nukes used or think that the absence of the nuclear winter argument makes the prospects of nuclear war any less horrific.

  • BDB||

    If nuclear winter is true, and AGW is true, couldn't they "solve" the problem of climate change by blowing up some nukes in a desert?

  • ||

    J sub D,

    Just because it sounds like hyperbole doesn't make it so. The oceans are acidifying. We are facing the greatest disruption in the global climate human beings--not to mention most other extant species--have ever or will ever experience. Human civilization only exists at all because the climate has been uncharacteristically stable for a long enough period of time for it to develop. It's likely the climate would have shifted on its own eventually so as to make human civilization impossible--the massive, unprecedented disruptions humans are causing only make it certain.

  • Paul||

    It's highly probable that our options consist of that or the eventual total destruction of human civilization.

    You're kidding, right?

  • ||

    Paul,

    I wish I were. Unfortunately not every fact can be characterized as the mean between perceived hyperbole and denial. It's difficult to overstate the problem in this case.

  • grrizzli||

    TonyQ,

    Can you name climatologists who in 1998 predicted that the global temperatures would not rise in the next decade? Isn't it too much to ask from a scientific theory that it makes predictions that are empirically confirmed? Note, that I'm using a much weaker criterion to determine whether global warming is a scientific theory than Popper's falsifiability.

  • SIV||

    We are facing the greatest disruption in the global climate human beings--not to mention most other extant species--have ever or will ever experience.

    Hyperbole Troll

  • SIV||

    It's difficult to overstate the problem in this case.

    You are doing an excellent job of it.

  • stuartl||

    And the reason for the change over to unleaded gas originally had little to do with the well documented harmful effects of lead it was because catylitic converters* could not function properly with leaded gas.....

    *Which were mandated for the mid 70s to deal with the well documented and highly visible problem of smog.


    Introducing those catalytic converters that stopped particulate carbon from going into the atmosphere also apparently ended global cooling in late '70s. It isn't unreasonable to make a tradeoff between smog and warming.

    All of the poor and fixed income folks in the northeast who use oil to heat their home to start. Independent truckers will happily join in.

    J sub D, I do not know the current price of heating oil, but my guess is that it is substantially lower then it was last month or last year. If I were a clever government type who wanted to tax oil, I would do it now.

  • ||

    Interesting. Well, if there's consensus on mankind's impending death due to warming, I haven't heard about it. We may find a way to off ourselves, but I doubt it'll be due to AGW.

    It's not difficult to overstate the problem. Just say that all mankind will die from AGW. There. That's overstating the problem and throwing credibility out the window. Even if that statement were true, the evidence doesn't remotely support it today.

    Science involves the scientific method, including hypotheses based on observable facts and on repeatable observations. Hypotheses that are not disprovable are not real science.

  • BDB||

    You know who really got fucked by the oil price collapse? People who pre-bought their heating oil for the winter last spring, thinking prices would be higher by fall! Fail.

  • ||

    Fine, meet me back here in 100 years and we'll see who is right. The wonderful thing about the 21st century is that there exists a marvelous tool known as "Google," which will lead you to all the evidence you could possibly need (and also an infinity of unscientific garbage). From there you should use your brain and a rigorous understanding of logic to decide what is trustworthy.

    But for the sake of argument let's assume I'm right and the situation is as dire as most concerned scientists say it is. How does the libertarian deal with it?

  • Neu Mejican||

    Regarding:

    Late Eocene Thermal Maximum

    An interesting detail.

    This natural event was so radical that it resulted in carbon being released into the atmosphere at rates that approached the current rate at which humans are releasing carbon into the atmosphere.

    It resulted in a loss of around half the species on the planet.

    Not the worst warming related extinction by a long shot. At a rise of around carbon dioxide levels to about 1000 parts per million, oceanic anoxia resulting from warming may have been the primary mechanism of several mass extinction throughout history that killed perhaps 90% of all plant and animal species on land an in the oceans around at the times they occurred.

  • ||

    Hyperbole Troll

    Well, it's more of a Hyperbolic Concern Troll. Or Concerned Hyperbole Troll?

  • NM Copyeditor||

    At a rise of around carbon dioxide levels to about 1000 parts per million =

    At a rise of carbon dioxide levels to...

  • ||

    We'll have fusion power in twenty years, anyway, so this is all for naught.

  • Neu Mejican||

    BTW,

    TonyQ is overstating the dangers.

    However...he is balanced out by others here who are understating the dangers.

    He is also balanced by those that clearly overstate the economic dangers of addressing AGW, and by those that REALLY REALLY overstate their certainty that those economic dangers exist.

  • ||

    You know who really got fucked by the oil price collapse? People who pre-bought their heating oil for the winter last spring, thinking prices would be higher by fall! Fail.
    You know who else? Speculators that bet wrong. The market punished those that "drove up the price of oil". That should make some lefties very happy. Or not, seeing as how the market, not government, did it.

  • Paul||

    TonyQ

    I think this is exactly what causes skeptics to be really...skeptical.

    Global warming, by no current metric, is probably going to result in the "total distruction of human civilization".

    We know that we're not on track for the 'worst case scenarios' which leaves us with a hodgepodge of effects, some bad, some good. People who are worried about global warming believe that the negative effects, of course, outweight the positives.

  • Neu Mejican||

    JsubD,

    China is a more aggressive adopter of green energy than the US many times over. They don't need to be forced...they are already doing it. They are the world's leading renewable energy producer.

    Why?

    Because most green energy choices (efficiency, recaptured waste heat, etc...) make good economic sense.

    Don't be fooled by all those coal fired plants they are building...they are also actively developing greener solutions to their energy needs.

  • Neu Mejican||

    Some interesting facts about China and energy from the Rocky Mountain Institute...


    http://www.rmi.org/images/PDFs/Energy/ChiEdnPrefaceDr4final.doc

  • Neu Mejican||

    A good starting place for energy policy?

    http://www.rmi.org/images/PDFs/Energy/E06-02_SenateTestimony.pdf

  • SIV||

    But for the sake of argument let's assume I'm right and the situation is as dire as most concerned scientists say it is. How does the libertarian deal with it?

    Argue with the troll till Neu gets here and links to a bunch of pdfs and some papers you need a University account to access then go home or get off the 'puter.

  • ||

    I should amend my first post. Life itself will surely go on; however human life will probably not be so lucky.

    Oh, please. This planet would have to get one hell of a lot hotter than even the most deranged Gorista claims before it would become uninhabitable by homo sapiens.

    Because most green energy choices (efficiency, recaptured waste heat, etc...) make good economic sense.

    Well, some of them do, I wouldn't argue. Many so-called green energy sources, though, are not yet economic (that is, they cost more than their more carbon-intensive brethren).

    It would also be interesting to know the extent to which incorporating "green energy" concepts is economic when done as part of an original installation, but not when done as a retrofit. China's doing a lot of original installs; more developed economies, though, are looking at more retrofits.

  • Neu Mejican||

    RC Dean,

    Regarding retrofits...
    That is a good question, but from what I have seen, retrofits can be nearly as cost-worthy...particularly when it comes to capturing waste heat and on-site power generation.

    SIV,
    Sorry, I only used public links today...I'll try and find you some restricted ones later.

  • Paul||

    They are the world's leading renewable energy producer.

    Why?

    Because most green energy choices (efficiency, recaptured waste heat, etc...) make good economic sense.


    Neu, not entirely.

    China, despite being the oldest civilization is still an emerging economy. It's a lot easier to start with green technology than it is to retool.

    Also, define "green" power. The Three Gorges project, while impressive, will produce a lot of power with 'no emissions'. However, it's not an environmentally friendly project.

  • ||

    NM,

    I'm not sure how well that jibes with the fact that China is emitting greenhouse gases in excess of the rest of the world. They're building more factories at a faster rate, so they may be using some greener technologies, but I find it hard to believe that they can be going all green with their hugely polluting ways. And if data is coming from China directly, I'm rather dubious about its veracity.

  • ||

    ...they are also actively developing greener solutions to their energy needs.

    ...

    Including a kickass electric car according to NPR this AM.

    Sorry, no details...kind of only heard the story in passing. But if it's as good as they made it sound we should see a lot more about it shortly.

    Mind you, it still needs a source to plug into and if said source is a coal fired plant how much progress have you made?

    No plans to export to the US, though.

    ....

    And speaking of NPR, there's another reason I find TonyQ over the top.

    Of all the commentariat there representatives of the Coal Council or such are a small part of the dissenting voices on this issue.

    Opinion is spread so far over the map I cannot see how anyone camake statements like "[AGW's]...effects are alarmingly obvious to climatologists".

    Few people are outright denying AGW but adverse reactions the type of hysteria contained in An Inconvenient Truth are widespread and not something limited to Republicans, coal miners or oil barons.

  • ||

    Speak for yourself, Isaac. I'm wearing a top hat and am employing children to type up contracts in sweatshops in the Everglades. On coal-powered typewriters.

  • Paul||

    Neu

    What has changed since I completed this book in mid-2004? The world was then a less danger-ous place.



    I found your author's first inaccuracy.

  • Neu Mejican||

    Pro lib,

    Mind you, it still needs a source to plug into and if said source is a coal fired plant how much progress have you made?

    Well, you get the equivalent of about 100 miles per gallon...rather than the 200 you might get from a cleaner source.

    As for their moving into first place, they have done so on about 1/3 the energy that was projected for that growth previously, iirc.

    Read the link above, it has some details.

    Paul,

    3 gorges has trade offs for sure...as do all choices.

    Again, I am pretty sure the retool vs. build to specification cost differences are a red-herring.

  • ||

    Well, we already know you're evil, PL.

    China and India currently use 3 to 5 time as much energy per unit of gdp as the US. I'm not sure if that figure is still up to date, I heard it some time ago, but it's a good starting point.

    I'm sure as they grow and develop those ratios will drop.

    Whether they will drop fast enough to satisfy the "OMG the world is coming to an end" crowd is another matter.

  • ||

    NM,

    That was Isaac.

  • ||

    Isaac,

    It's not me, it's society.

  • ||

    3 gorges has trade offs for sure...as do all choices.



    Another name for the "OMG the world is coming to an end" crowd is "the people who do not accept the fact that some trade-offs are inevitable in human existence".

  • ||

    Or, it's one thing to debate the extent of trade-offs it's another to insist that absolutely no trade-offs are acceptable.

  • ||

    Don't be fooled by all those coal fired plants they are building...they are also actively developing greener solutions to their energy needs.

    I'm not. Why would I let a binge of coal fired electric plants from the largest CO2 emitter on Earth blind me to the wonderful environmental concern displayed by China? Especially given the track record of other communist regimes as stewards of the planet.
    [/uber-cynic]

    When CO2 free energy is cost effective it will be adopted. Not instantly, economic changes take time, infrastructure needs built and the old must wear out.

    Look at fuel efficiency in autos of the same size and utility. Carburetors were economically and environmentally obsolete with the invention of fuel injectors. Did everybody scrap their carbureated Camaros and Falcons for the more economical fuel injected versions? Nope. The one in the driveway is paid for and thus cheaper than getting a new one that isn't.

    If "green energy" (wavelength 520-565 nm*) is cheaper for producing electricity that China and India are racing to provide their people, why the coal fired plants?

    * Joke

  • Neu Mejican||

    Sorry for the name confusion...

    Paul,

    Looks like wind is the primary renewable in China.

    Isaac,

    http://seekingalpha.com/article/82481-energy-use-per-gdp-unit-by-country

    Only about 4% higher than the US, it seems.

  • Paul||

    Will China have a better quality of life if we design our communities around cars, or around people?



    Another fallacy. Sometimes basing transporation systems around cars is basing communities around people. Especially if people want or choose to drive cars. Unless of course the cars are robotic and have no human driver...

    In mid-2005, Rocky Mountain Institute launched a three-year, $4-million effort to make this book's American implementation irreversible. Our strategy was "institutional acupuncture": find the meridians and points where the business logic is congested and not flowing properly



    Cheap pandering...


    True, China has also been building 1-2 GW of coal plants a week, most of them local or Provin-cial projects unauthorized by Beijing. But I daresay many of these will ultimately be idled as the unsustainable "coal rush" collides with reinvigorated efficiency efforts and burgeoning micropower.



    He wrote this book in 2004, and it shows. He writes about "persistently high" oil prices.

    I'll have to read the rest later.

  • ||

    Going to supper, Neu.

    Be back in a bit.

  • Paul||

    Going to supper, Neu.

    What about second breakfast...elevensies, tea, dinner?

  • Gilbert Martin||

    "So brace yourselves, the Green Scare is coming."

    The Green Scare is coming?

    I'ts been here for years already.

  • Neu Mejican||

    JsubD,

    Answer this.
    Why are wind plants being built at a faster pace in China than the policy prescriptions require?

    The facts don't support your contention.
    Sorry.

    China is moving towards a cleaner energy economy at a faster pace than the US. We are the ones dragging our heels.

  • Neu Mejican||

    Paul,

    Lovins has a pretty good record of real world results under his belt. He's allowed a bit of pandering.

    He is, I will point out, a more savvy market disciple than you seem to be based on your posts.

    His proposals are typically based on economic realities, rather than dogmatic assumptions. They also adjust to changing conditions, when appropriate.

  • Paul||

    Neu,

    Things aren't entirely rosy for China's wind power. To wit:


    Quarter Of Chinese Wind Power Unplugged Due To Bad Planning
    by John Laumer, Philadelphia on 01.20.08

    The Chinese government's growing romance with wind remains significantly unrequited. Many of the recently erected wind turbines remain "unplugged." Either there's no grid connection nearby or grid owners don't want the power for reasons that can only be speculated on. Good green intentions and investments are of little value without social consensus, matched infrastsructure, and market mechanisms in place. Is China just too big and complex to be serious with renewable power?
    [...]
    But because local governments are keen to jump on the renewable energy bandwagon as Beijing pushes greener growth, they are approving new wind farms without proper planning, Shi said.

  • ||

    NM

    I only saw oil use on the link you furnished.

    Sice car ownership is relatively low I would expect both countries to use les or close to tyhe same amount of oil. But, obviously, other enegy sources are use for production of goods and services.

    In the case of India I would expect their use of other fuels like wood and cow dung to cause much less efficient energy usage. Could be wrong, though.

    Now I did say my numbers were a little old so I expect some change and do not swear by them.

    Part of my point is that one is being overly simplistic if one looks at current conditions and insists that the path forward will be a simple extrapolation from conditions in the past.

  • ||

    Whatever the merits of eco-friendly factories and energy alternatives, one thing is clear: They're generally more expensive to implement. That's less of a concern during boom times, but I'm afraid we may see quite a bit of fall out in this area in particular during the recession. I've read just today that Toyota's plans to open a Prius plant in Mississippi are indefinitely on hold. Shades of things to come, I fear.

  • Neu Mejican||

    Paul,

    Designing around people might involve accommodating cars, true.

    But that doesn't make Lovins' statement a fallacy (it is not a false dichotomy).

    It implies that the design is based on the need of the humans to get easily from one place to another for some purpose, and proposes that the design meet that need in the most efficient way possible.

    Designing around cars assumes that a particular solution to the transportation problem is the right solution.

  • Paul||

    His proposals are typically based on economic realities, rather than dogmatic assumptions.

    Building a community "around cars vs. around people" is by its very definition, a dogmatic assumption. Period. the notion that a "community" won't work due to being car-centric is bogus.

  • ||

    PL

    This is why if I have have to take sides in some kind of "what's the best kind of central planning here" solution I'll go with the one that suggests resources should go to building clean water supplies and sanitation systems and providing vaccinations before I'd worry about the ice caps melting.

    A wealthy and healthy population would be much better equipped to deal with the apocalypse I should think. :)

  • Paul||

    But that doesn't make Lovins' statement a fallacy (it is not a false dichotomy).

    I took his statement to be just that. No he didn't write "all will be lost if China starts designing around cars instead of people", but here's the statement in larger context:

    China's transport infrastructure absorbed some $140 billion in investment in 2006, more than half of it for highways and less than 20% for rail; many cities are trying to suppress bicycles and favor cars. Will China have a better quality of life if we design our communities around cars, or around people?



    China is building communities around cars is probably a response to the increased quality of life which is resulting in more people owning cars. Is my interpretation really that far off? Anyone else?

  • Ben Kalafut||

    Obama's "team" will never be able to convince the sort of ideologues who think that, from their armchairs, they can outdo scientists, and with talk arguments.

    Is "Kaiser" publishing whatever he thinks he's trumped the experts with? Are the hired guns like Robert Balling? If positions contra the people working on this aren't being presented for frank evaluation by the best of the best--that is to say, being published in mainstream, peer-reviewed journals, they're beneath consideration.

    Yep, there's no convincing the types who think they've beaten the experts but won't show their hands. Perhaps in a just world we'd find some way to impose 95% the costs of mitigation on such hucksters. But that's impractical. Nonetheless, run them over. No heckler's veto for the willfully ignorant.

  • ||

    Can "free markets" handle lies and deliberate misinformation on climate science? To what extent?

    We have a common law remedy when someone lies about our businesses, "injurious falsehood". Perhaps something similar ought apply when someone lies to facilitiate fouling the nest in the short term.

  • ||

    Answer this.
    Why are wind plants being built at a faster pace in China than the policy prescriptions require?

    The facts don't support your contention.
    Sorry.


    My only contention was China is on a binge building coal fired electric plants. Some snark about communist regimes environmental crimes and their CO2 emissions being higher than the US.

    China - GDP $10.17 trillion (2006 est.)
    United States - GDP: $13.13 trillion (2006 est.)

    CO2 emissions?

    according to the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, soaring demand for coal to generate electricity and a surge in cement production have helped to push China's recorded emissions for 2006 beyond those from the US already. It says China produced 6,200m tonnes of CO2 last year, compared with 5,800m tonnes from the US. Britain produced about 600m tonnes.



    We produce less CO2 per dollar of economy? Fact.

    China's gonna be lots of producing green (GHG free) energy due to economics and the built in efficiency of central planning?
    Unwarranted speculation due to the historical ineptness of centrally planned economies.

  • Neu Mejican||

    JsubD,

    The contention I was referring to was that China would need to be forced into building green. They have aggressively pursued green energy without force from the outside.

    As for the c02 per dollar, do you have a good source for that claim? I haven't found one.

    Pro Lib,
    Whatever the merits of eco-friendly factories and energy alternatives, one thing is clear: They're generally more expensive to implement.

    Not true. That is a false assumption that prevents people from looking into alternatives.

    Look to interface carpets for a real world example.
    They increased their plant energy efficiency by 92%, reduced building cost, and didn't even need to change the basic technology. They just put energy efficiency higher on their priority list and found that it was cheaper to build more efficiently.

  • Neu Mejican||

    Paul,

    I note that the quote you pull refers to "suppressing bicycles" rather than "expanding options to include cars."

  • ||

    *sigh* Nuclear Power.

    Abundant, inexpensive, low-carbon energy, from an existing tested technology. Capable of reducing CO2 emission dramatically within a decade.

    Problem solved. Now I'm going back to ignoring this issue until y'all want to be serious.

  • ||

    What? I love nukes! And I'll love fusion even more in 2028!

  • Elemenope||

    TonyQ -

    Can you even posit a plausible theoretical mechanism for how raising the global mean temperature will cause humans to become extinct?

    Please keep in mind that coastal population dislocations and regional starvation do not an extinction make.

  • Elemenope||

    Hazel -

    Nuclear is a decent short-term alternative. However, we will fail to avoid many of the same pitfalls as oil (e.g. many uranium mines are in unpleasant countries), not to mention the fact that there isn't much fuel to begin with, making nuclear on average much more expensive than oil.

    So, it wouldn't work for the long term.

  • ||

    As for the c02 per dollar, do you have a good source for that claim? I haven't found one.

    CO2 emissions came from Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency via this Guardian UK article.
    The GDP numbers I used upthread I lazily retrieved by googling China GDP and United States GDP and copied from the first page of entries presented. They're CIA PPP numbers.

    It's not a bit surprising that the US is more energy efficient per dollar since we greedy bastards are always trying to save a buck and the Chinese greedy bastards are relatively new at the exercise.

  • ||

    If you use nominal GDP instead of PPP GDP, it's even more lopsided. I'm trying to be fair.

  • ||

    Elemenope:
    First, there's no knowing how much uranium there is out there, since nobody is really exploring for it. There's no profit to be had discovering uranium deposits these days.
    Second, there's always reprocessing.

    We haven't even begun to bring market pressure to bear on reprocessing and exploration. The oil industry is pretty darn innovative when it comes to finding ways to extract more oil from the Earth's crust, so I see no reason why the nuclear industry wouldn't be too.

    If we actually allowed nuclear plants to get constructed, there would be a market for other people to get into the business of fuel production.

  • Mike Laursen||

    Can "free markets" handle lies and deliberate misinformation on climate science? To what extent?

    What's your alternative to free markets, and how is that system going to hold up to deliberate misinformation on climate science?

  • Mike Laursen||

    But for the sake of argument let's assume I'm right and the situation is as dire as most concerned scientists say it is. How does the libertarian deal with it?

    Well, here's the funny thing. Since we don't have a world government, there's no authority that can impose a solution on the world. That means that, ultimately, individual people around the world have to be convinced to voluntarily deal with it.

  • ||

    That means that, ultimately, individual people around the world have to be convinced to voluntarily deal with it.

    Kind of like how a lot of individual people have to be convinced before it becomes a government policy?

    -jcr

  • Kreel Sarloo||

    "Can "free markets" handle lies and deliberate misinformation on climate science? To what extent?"

    Good question. How would "free markets" deal with people like Algore?

  • Mike Laursen||

    Kind of like how a lot of individual people have to be convinced before it becomes a government policy?

    That would be part of it. But also there are things individual people can do to voluntarily reduce their energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. I hope I don't have to give examples for you to get that point -- you see all kinds of examples all around you every day.

  • ||

    President-elect Obama and his Green Team have their work cut out for them if they plan to meet the Copenhagen deadline. They must persuade not just American citizens but citizens of both rich and poor countries that they will have to start paying substantially more to heat and cool their homes, drive their cars, and run their factories in order to avert the indeterminate threat of man-made global warming.

    Would it convince them if going clean made them more money and economic growth than staying dirty. Independent of the effects of climate change.. eh.. sorry.. for Reason reader: global warming:

    Clean Energy 2030
    Google's Proposal for reducing U.S. dependence on fossil fuels

    Bottom line: undiscounted savings exceed costs by $820 billion over the 22 years of the scenario, or if carbon credits are included, $1,937 billion.

    Here is a video of Google CEO Eric Schmidt talking about this. And how it could save us from recession in contrast to say.. GM bailouts etc.

  • Geotpf||

    I'm not religious, but I think global warming is an example where people should consider the Serenity Prayer:

    "God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other."

    That is, I think global warming is probably in the first category, not the second, and we need the wisdom to acknowledge this. It's probably not fixable, certainly not by reducing carbon emmisions. The only solution I can see is to artifically create global cooling (there are ways to do this). But to try to get to that goal by reducing carbon emmisions is sheer folly.

  • ||

    Geotpf

    Good start.. bad ending.

    I assume you are old enough to recall the ozone hole layer thingy...

    Just wondering. How did you react back then?

    That is, I think the ozone whole is probably in the first category, not the second, and we need the wisdom to acknowledge this. It's probably not fixable, certainly not by reducing CFC emmisions. The only solution I can see is to artifically create an ozone plug (there are ways to do this). But to try to get to that goal by reducing harmful ODS emissions is sheer folly.

    Some of us have a real problem with prevention. Some of do not even know what prevention really means - their brains work only with engineering-like treatment. The technical term for such humans is.. children?

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement