Robert Samuelson on the Political Grandstanding Over Global Warming

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Today, Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson is basically agreeing with what I've been saying for years about how politicians will not risk tanking their countries' economies to avoid man-made global warming. As Samuelson forcefully puts it:

The dirty secret about global warming is this: We have no solution. About 80 percent of the world's energy comes from fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas), the main sources of man-made greenhouse gases. Energy use sustains economic growth, which—in all modern societies—buttresses political and social stability. Until we can replace fossil fuels or find practical ways to capture their emissions, governments will not sanction the deep energy cuts that would truly affect global warming.

Considering this reality, you should treat the pious exhortations to "do something" with skepticism, disbelief or contempt. These pronouncements are (take your pick) naive, self-interested, misinformed, stupid or dishonest.

Throwing any modesty aside, I will point to two 2004 columns in which I analyze how the interrelationships between politics, economics and global warming are likely to play out here and here. In addition, Samuelson is right that technological innovation, not energy rationing, is the "solution" to climate change as I argued here. Finally, I note that I am generally much nicer when describing the motivations of politicians than is Samuelson. I suspect that he hangs out with a lot more of them than I do.

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  1. Lincoln freed the slaves. It took decades of ppl saying “do something.” Then he did.

  2. “Energy use sustains economic growth” in the early 21st century to exactly the same extent that tillable acreage sustained economic growth in the 12th.

    “In addition, Samuelson is right that technological innovation, not energy rationing, is the “solution” to climate change.” Oh, if only there was some connection between policies that create a market for clean energy and the creation of technologies to address those needs.

  3. joe: I guess it is too much to ask that you RFTA before commenting?

  4. Yes, yes, yes, we should be listening to people like “Reason’s” Ronald Bailey, a man whose cautious skepticism has a proven track record. Anybody have a barf bag?

    I think I recently read a Bailey column where he downplayed his relationship to the oil industry by imagining money wrapped in brown paper bags and claimed the provactively titled book _Global Warming and Other Eco-Myths_ meant, you know, not that global warming isn’t happening. Not that global warming isn’t caused by humans. Not that global warming isn’t bad. He was really referring to the myth that we can do anything about global warming — which, by the way, probably isn’t happening, and if it is, probably isn’t caused by humans, and even if that’s true it probably isn’t bad.

    Well, let’s see. One side could not rationally scrutinize the scientific evidence during the first phase of the debate (either because of ideology or self-interes)t. I’m sorry if they’re not exactly oozing credibility on the policy side. Market fundamentalism sounds like a fine religion, but can you people — yes, _you people_ — go sit back at the kiddie table and quote Galt’s speech, pray for inspiration from Julian Simon, whatever, while the adults figure out what to do? I mean, I know all that negative liberty crap says we don’t have obligations to each other, let alone future generations, but for some reason I think there is something unmistakably wrong with human suffering and (non-human) species extinction caused by our profligate (ooh, “wealth creating”) consumption patterns.

  5. Natural Global-Warming: quite possible.

    Man-Made Global Warming: dubious, but possible.

    Man-Made Global Warming cured by national and/or international bureaucrats: an impossibility.

    Global Warming as an opportunity to tax, regulate, employ politican’s kids and nephews, erode national sovereignty, boss people around and place governments even farther from citizen control: now pretty much a certainty.

  6. RFTA? Rise From The Ashes? Radio-Frequency Thermal Ablation? Roll on the Floor with your Tits Askew?

  7. “Oh, if only there was some connection between policies that create a market for clean energy and the creation of technologies to address those needs.”

    You mean like government subsidies to politically powerful special pleaders? Considering the marginal gains derived from ethanol motor fuel, would the ethanol craze exist in the absence of lobbyists from Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, et c?

  8. Nice summary, wertheim. I’d say you hit it spot-on.

  9. Lincoln freed the slaves. It took decades of ppl saying “do something.” Then he did.

    Lincoln freed the slaves as part of the most incredibly destructive thing ever to happen to the United States. And he wouldn’t have freed the slaves absent that thing. And — highlighting Samuelson’s point about what’s politically possible — he only freed the slaves in the seceding states.

    I don’t know if you could have found a better example for how destructive dealing with CO2 emissions could be…

  10. Is it wrong to sum up Samuelson as “we will never be able to do anything about climate change, therefore stop trying”?

  11. “Is it wrong to sum up Samuelson as “we will never be able to do anything about climate change, therefore stop trying”?”

    Add in one more thing, stop trying if trying is just doing damage. IF there is a way to lower emissions such that the benefit of doing so is greater than the cost, fine. But no one has come up with a way to do that.

    2012 will the interesting year. That is the year that the solar physicists say that the earth will start cooling because of sun spot activity. Who knows if they are right, but contrary to the allegations of the global warming proponents, they are nuts and not paid shrills for the oil industry. If they are, there are some people who are going to have some explaining to do.

  12. Is it wrong to sum up Samuelson as “we will never be able to do anything about climate change, therefore stop trying

    I guess if you actually read the article…

    I do not say we should do nothing, but we should not delude ourselves. In the United States, the favored remedy is “cap and trade.” It’s environmental grandstanding — politicians pretending they’re doing something.

  13. policies that create a market

    Policies don’t create markets. Neither do politicians. Or city planners. Capitalists create markets and wealth. Policy makers do everything in their power to thwart them.

  14. 2012 will the interesting year. That is the year that the solar physicists say that the earth will start cooling because of sun spot activity.

    Headline from 2013:

    Global Warming Saving Mankind from New Ice Age

  15. Lamar

    I’d say its more:

    Fossil fuels are such a huge part of the economy that we can’t do with out them.

    There is nothing on the technological horizon which can effectively replace fossil fuels.

    Politicians who cry “do something” have no idea what can be done. They are grandstanding to a political constituency.

    What follows from that is that politicians and bureaucrats will “do something” in order to be seen to be “doing something” even if what they do is ineffective or counterproductive. Whatever they do will almost certainly not serve the overall economic good.

    My own belief is that the technological change will overtake fossil fuel energy. [eg: I was once highly skeptical of solar energy, but the costs keep dropping and the efficiency keeps rising. There MAY be potential there for part of the solution.]

    If there is something that will solve the problem of CO2 emissions, it will probably be done by some greedy b*****d who sees a way to make a buck. Naturally, he will be condemned as a “parasite” by the lefties and greenies.

    If the politicians do anything, I hope they will concentrate on funding research instead of destructive taxation and piling on bureaucracy. That, however, is a very faint hope.

  16. Lets start with an increased gas tax. Offset the tax increase by, say, increasing the lowest tax bracket. People adjust habits. Spurs demand for new technology. New technology creates economic expansion. Alternative energy reduces dependence on Middle East, Russian, and Chavez owned oil. Eliminates ridiculously high costs of our current foreign policy.

    Why is something like this politically unfeasible, as both an environmental and security measure?

  17. ed, lets assume the US decided to put the 700 billion we are using in Iraq into developing a clean burning engine, and were successful.

    Would that be a policy that created a market, or a policy thwarting the existing engine market?

  18. Global Warming Saving Mankind from New Ice Age

    That’s my view: Considering how many ice ages there have been in the past 2 million years, we might just need that extra CO2 in the air….

  19. steveintheknow:

    I always read the articles. FYFI.

    The reason I posted what I did is because Samuelson says “I do not say we should do nothing” then advocates doing nothing because the short-term costs are too great and the politics are not conclusive. If I call you “naive, self-interested, misinformed, stupid or dishonest” because you want to “do something” about climate change, why is it inaccurate to say that he advocates doing nothing?

  20. Already R’ed T F A, Ron. Without “energy rationing,” or at least fossil-fuel rationing, energy buyers aren’t going to have any motive to buy the alternative energy products he mentions.

    Would it be too much to ask you to make a point instead of bitching at me to reread something written by Bob Samuelson?

  21. I think that Samuelson’s message, and Bailey’s, is that the way forward is “through”, to be cryptically concise: That is, the best way to return the CO2 levels to pre-industrial times (leaving aside whether or not they are responsible for climate disruption) is to leave the market anarchy alone. The global climate system has historically failed very gracefully, so there will be plenty of feedback into the market to encourage the technologically innovations to limit and then reduce the CO2 levels as the symptoms impact the market.

    Their other message is that throttling energy use is a way to worsen the problem: That is, it will artificially extend the time that the global economy is in a state that worsens the CO2 levels. Also, it will eliminate all viable solutions other than economic regression, which will only work if attempts at reengaging progress are treated as a crime.

  22. If the sunspot cycle goes quiet and repeats the “Maunder Minimum” of the 17th century, it will be a respite, not a cure.

    We’d be back on the global warming track within a century.

  23. ed,

    “Policies don’t create markets. Neither do politicians. Or city planners. Capitalists create markets and wealth. Policy makers do everything in their power to thwart them.”

    You mean like the capitalists who created the markets for radar, jet engines, sonar…

    Stop reciting prayers and THINK, man!

  24. We’d be back on the global warming track within a century.

    It will be worse! We’ll have to burn so much more fuel to stay warm!

    GLOBAL COOLING IS CAUSING GLOBAL WARMING!

  25. Yo, Samuelson allies, you read this last graf?

    “Meanwhile, we could temper our energy appetite. I’ve argued before for a high oil tax to prod Americans to buy more fuel-efficient vehicles. The main aim would be to limit insecure oil imports, but it would also check CO2emissions. Similarly, we might be better off shifting some of the tax burden from wages and profits to a broader tax on energy or carbon. That would favor more fuel-efficient light bulbs, appliances and industrial processes.”

  26. Politicians who cry “do something” have no idea what can be done. They are grandstanding to a political constituency.

    What follows from that is that politicians and bureaucrats will “do something” in order to be seen to be “doing something” even if what they do is ineffective or counterproductive. Whatever they do will almost certainly not serve the overall economic good.

    I think Areson has it exactly right. After all, the politicians are ‘doing something’ about the supposed nasty liquids terrorist plot in England, so now we can’t take shampoo on an airplane, despite the fact that no reputable chemist thinks anything bad could have happened in the first place.
    So now we’ll have ‘environmental theatre’ to go along with our ‘security theatre’.
    No, I don’t trust George Bush or Hillary Clinton to get it right. That’s why I’m a libertarian.

  27. “If there is something that will solve the problem of CO2 emissions, it will probably be done by some greedy b*****d who sees a way to make a buck. Naturally, he will be condemned as a “parasite” by the lefties and greenies.”

    You mean like how lefties and greenies are always condemning the greedy bastards building wind turbines, energy-efficient buildings, and solar panels?

    You need to drop the culture war against “the lefties,” and worry about the facts.

  28. You mean like the capitalists who created the markets for radar, jet engines

    Someone is confusing “market for” and “invented by”. It’s okay Joe, we know that you have a REALLY hard time with context and language.

  29. “If the politicians do anything, I hope they will concentrate on funding research instead of destructive taxation and piling on bureaucracy.”

    I guess you have a lot of faith in politicians to pick technological winners.

    Personally, I believe more in the innovative capacity of industrial captialism to adapt to a changing incentive/cost structure. But that’s just me.

  30. TPG,

    Read gooder. That totally went over your head.

    Would you like me to explain how you blew it?

  31. “…it will probably be done by some greedy b*****d who sees a way to make a buck.”

    An unsubsidized, independent, greedy b*****d; who, by being unsubsidized and hence not locked into specific methods or technology, can abandon his failures remorselessly.

  32. A greedy b*****d who sees a way to make a buck because the older technologies he’s competing with have become so expensive that the cost of alternative energy becomes competetive.

  33. Lamar

    Sorry about the tone. I suck at this medium.

    I guess we could disagree on whether he is advocating “doing nothing” by virtue of the word “doing”. I saw a short laundry list of things revolving around developing new technologies and shifting over to nuclear and blah blah blah, of course that’s more private sector stuff so it might not constitute as doing something from a policy standpoint. However he did propose an oil tax to temper consumption, but again whatever.

    There is probably more agreement on the issue then not. I guess what I took away from it, and where I stand on the issue now, is how hard solving the problem is going to be. In other words, it seems like the “inconvenience” part of the “inconvenient truth” isn’t getting as much attention.

  34. “Man-Made Global Warming: dubious, but possible.”

    Indeed.

    Despite all the yammering about “consensus” and the “debate being over”, there is not a single person alive on this earth who is the least bit capable of definitively proving that such a thing as man-made global warming exists.

  35. Ah, the “no one alive today can say Jesus didn’t ride a dinosaur” argument.

    And how about that “the planets were formed by material ejected by the Sun” theory? Like anyone alive today witnessed that!

  36. You know, if a carbon tax was offset by, say, an across-the-board income tax reduction, so there was no net increase in federal revenues, I might be able to get behind it.

    How about it, joe?

  37. You mean like how lefties and greenies are always condemning the greedy bastards building wind turbines, energy-efficient buildings, and solar panels?

    When they build them off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, yes.

  38. joe deflects the gist of the post as quickly as possible: Politicians don’t dare do something to endanger their grasp of power.

  39. Read gooder. That totally went over your head. Would you like me to explain how you blew it?

    Nono, I understand what you THINK you’re trying to say. But, as usual, you’re wrong.

    You’re like the guy in the commercial that thinks he gets French benefits — always wrong. It must be difficult being you. Do you wear a helmet?

  40. joe and others are right about quite alot of things on this debate…

    I seriously don’t think that there is any confusion on weather global warming is happening, or weather it is the result of green house gasses. that phase is over. It is time we move on to the next phase of the argument/problem.

    The ad hominems (by either side) aren’t helping, and neither is the GW denial.

    but thats just me.

  41. When they build them off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, yes.

    Or the florida island coast.

  42. Graphite,

    Al Gore has suggested replacing the payroll tax with a carbon tax. It’s an interesting idea.

    The downside is that, if it works, we’d have a revenue problem. On the other hand, we’d have a much bigger revenue problem if we have to deal with the fallout of sea levels rising and increases in the number and severity of extreme weather events.

  43. If it were a proven fact that manmade CO2 emissions are creating significant global warming, then I would say something should be done about it. The problem is, in spite of what Airhead Gore says about a consensus of climatolagists beliveing man is contributing significantly to global warming, that just isn’t the case. It’s the SUN, not your SUV. There was 14 times the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere during the Ordovician than now without any bad effects. In fact, there was an ice age at the end of the Ordovician. Some climatologists even doubt the existance of the greenhouse effect. They have discoverere a natural vent over the Pacific which is a certain type of cloud covering which allows the escape of greenhouse gases through the atmosphere.

  44. “… the older technologies he’s competing with have become so expensive that the cost of alternative energy becomes competetive.”

    And as soon as that actually happens, we’ll see some real progress.

  45. You know, if a carbon tax was offset by, say, an across-the-board income tax reduction, so there was no net increase in federal revenues, I might be able to get behind it.

    No. The government would temporarily lower income tax levels in agreement and then congress would kick them right back up.

  46. Captain Holly,

    Kennedy is getting pasted for opposing the wind farm by the greenies and lefties.

    Just because your side of the aisle marches in lockstep behind its leaders doesn’t mean everyone else does. I’m from the “herding cats” side, remember?

    TPC,

    No, you don’t understand. You think I was saying capitalists create markets, when I was refuting that point, and pointing out that government policy can create or shape markets. You repeated my point back to me as rebuttal, dumbass. Just go play with your play-dough, kid; the grown-ups are trying to talk.

  47. P Brooks,

    “And as soon as that actually happens, we’ll see some real progress.” Yes. Hence, all the talk about carbon taxes and limits on fossil fuel usage.

  48. The downside is that, if it works, we’d have a revenue problem.

    I believe that’s properly referred to as a “spending problem”, not a “revenue problem”, which implies an inherent natural right of the govt to the fruits of private production to support its myriad whims.

  49. And how about that “the planets were formed by material ejected by the Sun” theory? Like anyone alive today witnessed that!

    Joe, how does solar activity affect climate? Sun spots? What about clouds? Changing levels of dust? Water Vapor? Jet Exhaust?

    What about changing ocean temperatures, expecially in currents? What about new growth forest versus old growth forest?

    Don’t know? Didn’t think so.

  50. For an interesting look at just what it would take to change our energy consumption habits, here’s a graphic from IEEE…a sobering view replacing fossil fuels with alternative energy…for instance, nuclear power would require that 52 nuclear power plants be built every year for 50 years to replace the energy contained in one year’s global energy consumption…

    http://spectrum.ieee.org/jan07/4820/ncmo01

    I think one point of this might be that technological innovation contributing to efficiency will likely remain the foreseeable path forward…unless hydrogen becomes real.

  51. joe

    “You need to drop the culture war against “the lefties,” and worry about the facts.”

    This sort of crap is why I stopped replying to your posts several weeks ago.

    You are intelligent; you are well-read; you make many comments that I can agree with (as well as many that I don’t); you can even be quite witty.

    However, you are also frequently rude, condescending and insulting, with a nasty tendency to go for an ad hominem argument when you simply can’t agree with the other party. I enjoy debates, not slanging matches.

    Therefore, I will not engage in discussion with you, pro or con, on any position, until you demonstrate by your posts that you can maintain courteous discourse.

  52. Based simply upon the past episodes of environmental histeria, I would be willing to bet that in ten years, global warming will get as much mention in the popular press of the day as acid rain, the ozone hole, global cooling, overpopulation, or deforestation get today. Which is to say – not much.

    And if you ask the average person in 2017 what they think about global warming, they’ll say something like: “Global warming? Oh, yeah… what was that all about again?”

  53. Who could ever have predicted that Ron Bailey lying-for-hire for all those years could have led to so many people still thinking that global warming is a made-up conspiracy?

  54. “Joe, how does solar activity affect climate? Sun spots? What about clouds? Changing levels of dust? Water Vapor? Jet Exhaust?

    What about changing ocean temperatures, expecially in currents? What about new growth forest versus old growth forest?”

    You should ask a climate scientist. I’m certainly no expert. Would you like me to explain how division of labor works?

  55. Arensen,

    If you’re going to misstate someone’s position, you should expect to be called on it.

    If you’re going to slander a group, you should expect members of that group to tell you to knock it off.

    You want more civilized discourse? “Be the change you want to see.”

    You made a blatantly inaccurate, unfair charge about “environmentalists and lefties.” You should stop doing that.

  56. Kennedy is getting pasted for opposing the wind farm by the greenies and lefties.

    Just because your side of the aisle marches in lockstep behind its leaders doesn’t mean everyone else does. I’m from the “herding cats” side, remember?

    And what real price has Kennedy paid for his self-centered opposition? Loss of seniority in the Senate? Official rebuke by party leaders? Failure to win re-election? Just when will that wind farm be built?

    It’s like Robert Redford’s ski resort next to a federally-protected wilderness, or John “Man of the People” Edward’s Versailles-like mansion, or John Kerry’s opulent, jet-set lifestyle: To the Environmentalist Left they may be hypcritical bastards, but they’re THEIR hypocritical bastards, so it’s okay.

    All they have to do is say the right things, or vote the right way on a certain bill, and all is forgiven.

  57. Acid raid – successfully mitigated through a cap and trade program, at much lower cost than originally expected.

    The ozone hole – in the process of being mitigated by regulation of chemicals.

    It would be nice to believe that by 2017 we’ll have addressed global warming as comprehensively as these other two problems, but that’ probably optimistic.

  58. “And what real price has Kennedy paid for his self-centered opposition?”

    Your asking the wrong question. This isn’t about whether Ted Kennedy gets his wrist slapped, but about whether he’s going to win.

    He’s not, and the people who are beating him are environmentalists and lefties.

    There really are elements to politics that go beyond rooting for or against personalities.

  59. joe,

    It’s only a “revenue problem” if you think the government not having revenue is a problem. 🙂

    TPG,

    Believe me, that thought occurred to me about .3 seconds after the whole offset-tax thing. But couldn’t a carbon tax be constructed legislatively so that every dollar had to be returned to taxpayers via a transfer payment of some kind? (I’m less concerned about whether those transfer payments are regressive or progressive than with just keeping the money out of the feds’ hands and in the private sector where it belongs.)

  60. Where the manmade global warming argument runs into serious problems is when you attempt to find a correlation between human CO2 emissions over time with world wide temperature shifts.

    If the genuine warming now being seen is caused by human emissions of carbon dioxide, it would have started earlier. If this were a CO2 driven warming it should have started in 1940 and risen strongly from there. In fact warming started in 1850 and rose sharply until 1940 then decreased for 35 years.

    There are good reasons to believe that only half the warming that has happened since 1940 – 0.2 degrees according to his measurements – can be ascribed to man made emissions; the rest is natural variability.

    If you factor in the warming from the cyclical trends, it is not very frightening.

  61. “You mean like how lefties and greenies are always condemning the greedy bastards building wind turbines, energy-efficient buildings, and solar panels?”

    “When they build them off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, yes.”

    It is not just the Democratic Party elites of Martha’s Vineyard & Cape Cod that “want to do something”, until it is time for the “do something” includes them. The good people of Argyll have good reason to believe that city politicians are screwing them again.

    http://www.argyllwindfarms.com/

  62. Against a background of weather variability that includes multiple major Ice Ages and major Warming Periods, how can anyone not be skeptical? Our window on the climate even a few hundred years ago is almost entirely circumstantial and subject to all sorts of observer bias. Undoubtedly, the Earth has warmed up during the 20th Century, but… so what? It is not like that hasn’t happened before.

  63. “Ah, the “no one alive today can say Jesus didn’t ride a dinosaur” argument.”

    Nope.

    Didn’t say anything about Jesus or dinosaurs.

    The existence of man-made global warming is a computer modeling based theory. No one has definitvely proven it to be an established fact.

  64. Ape, Graphite,

    Whatever term you like to use, the effects of global warming, unless mitigated, are going to cause both a drop in revenue as the economy suffers, and produce the need to additional spending (from both the public and private sector) to remedy the problems.

  65. “The ozone hole – in the process of being mitigated by regulation of chemicals.”

    Was it mitigated by regs or did the whole close up becuase of a natural cycle.

  66. “The existence of man-made global warming is a computer modeling based theory. No one has definitvely proven it to be an established fact.”

    Ditto the creation of the planets from material ejected from the sun.

  67. aPP,

    I don’t know about what has happened to do. What we do know is that the emissions which caused the hole to grow have been severely reduced. It is possible that, given the life of these materials in the atmosphere, the benefits of banning them have not yet been realized.

  68. er, “to date.”

  69. Considering this reality, you should treat the pious exhortations to “do something” with skepticism, disbelief or contempt. These pronouncements are (take your pick) naive, self-interested, misinformed, stupid or dishonest.

    I want to have this man’s baby.

  70. If we’re gonna push all this paper in the name of the environment, can’t we at least use paper made from hemp so we can save a few forests?

  71. “Ditto the creation of the planets from material ejected from the sun.”

    Irrelevant.

    It makes no difference whether that theory is correct or not, since no one is proposing any extremely expensive and intrusive government mandated policies to “fix” it.

  72. “The existence of man-made global warming is a computer modeling based theory. No one has definitvely proven it to be an established fact.”

    Establishing anything as “definitive” is a tough nut to crack. Is it your position that no action should be taken on any intiative (not just climate change) until the science is “definitive”?

  73. how come the fact that “there is not a single person alive on this earth who is the least bit capable of definitively proving” something is a legitimate reason to ignore the possibility of global warming, but the exact same rationale is silly and not worth discussing when it is spouted by:
    -the intelligent design “scientists”
    -the hiv-doesn’t-cause-aids activists
    -the 9-11 conspiracy loons
    -the few remaining hard core “wmd’s in iraq just haven’t been found yet” folks
    -the vaccines-cause-autism “murderers” (which, btw, is the stupidest trolling i’ve seen in a while)
    -etc.
    -etc.

    considering how impossible it would be to completely research every issue myself, i’ve decided that the smartest overall approach to scientific uncertainty is to believe the exact opposite of whatever the “cannot be proved definitively” crowd is saying. essentially the same philosophy as choosing to oppose anyone proposing to do anything “for the children”.

    the only other approach i can think of for decision-making in the face of scientific uncertainty is to just agree with everything thoreau says.

    not sure which approach would be better in the long term.

    -cab

  74. A carbon tax is not a bad idea. We can argue about overall levels of taxation, but if you have to fund things somehow, I’d prefer a higher tax on energy consumption and a lower tax on productivity.

    If you sell such a thing as a remedy to global warming, you are overstating the case though. A remedy to resource politics, maybe, but not global warming. You might have an impact after centuries, but you can’t even remotely formulate a picture of what society will look like in a century with or without your policy, so making the argument that way is not putting your best foot forward.

    My view is that we should be able to hammer out a compromise between people like joe and people like me by having a carbon tax but keeping overall levels of taxation low. joe doesn’t get to sodomize as many rich people as he wants, and I only get marginal hits to economic growth.

  75. The problem with the just do something now crowd is this.

    1. The rent seekers exploit public concern about an issue to create a market for their product.

    2. The result is policies and mandates that sound good but are actually more destructive to the environment then the status quo

    3. For a good example of this see
    A. Ethanol
    B. Bio diesel

    Native rainforests are being destroyed to put in palm oil plantations to supply a bio diesel market that would not exist if someone had not gotten the brilliant idea of do something right now. The Bio Diesel that caused the destruction of the native rain forests will then be marketed as a “green fuel”

  76. Ditto the creation of the planets from material ejected from the sun.

    Non sequitor. There are no pending policy actions to debate over the manner of planet formation. And if there were, what could be done about it?

  77. Gilbert, uncle sam,

    The only irrelevancy here is your argument that the political implications of an idea have bearing on its truth.

    Human activity is causing global warming, whether you like the policy efforts that flow from that or not.

  78. “Establishing anything as “definitive” is a tough nut to crack. Is it your position that no action should be taken on any intiative (not just climate change) until the science is “definitive”?”

    My position is that there are precious few things in the universe that are more important than MY absolute individual freedom to the max.
    So if you want to voluntarily take action on some initative on your own dime, that’s fine – but if you want to mandate me doing so, it better be pretty damn definitive.

  79. “Human activity is causing global warming,”

    Not on your say so – or anyone else’s

  80. The idea that we can discourage some social evil by taxing it is dubious. As soon as the government starts taxing something, it becomes dependent on the continuation of that something as a revenue source.

  81. Native rainforests are being destroyed to put in palm oil plantations to supply a bio diesel market that would not exist if someone had not gotten the brilliant idea of do something right now. The Bio Diesel that caused the destruction of the native rain forests will then be marketed as a “green fuel”

    Another aspect of the BioDiesel Fantasy is the use of waste oil from restaurants to fuel cars. For some reason, most environmentalists think this stuff is just thrown away, when in reality it’s a valuable commodity that is largely recycled and used in all sorts of products like soap and cosmetics.

    The competition from the biodiesel refiners will make it more expensive, and force those manufacturers who use it to find other alternatives, most likely from fossil fuels.

  82. With so many signs that there is global warming – glacier loss, the trend of rising sea levels, shorter winters, higher average global temperatures – I think it is reasonable to treat the computer models as having some force and the issue as a valid, serious one.

    One policy change that could be fairly made is to eliminate any policy that favors carbon energy producers – tax breaks, easements, whatever.

    I am dubious as to any government sponsored attempt to cause change as I think there would be unintended bad consequences – not just establishment of a huge bureaucracy, but consequences that would actual retard the change that would really solve the problem. [Private attempts to do so could also have bad consequences, but these would be limited by the more limited resources of private individuals and corporations.]

  83. “So if you want to voluntarily take action on some initative on your own dime, that’s fine – but if you want to mandate me doing so, it better be pretty damn definitive.”

    Ha!! Like your support for the Iraq war? Pretty definitive there, huh?

  84. In fact warming started in 1850 and rose sharply until 1940 then decreased for 35 years.

    1850 was the begining of the industrial age and the beginning of economic well-being unprecendented in the history of the world. From 1940 to about 1975 there were about 50 million human beings slaughtered, what with Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, et al running around.

    No doubt about it, economic well-being is causing global warming. If we ruin the economy, global warming will go away.

  85. One could also say that global temperatures have risen as the size of the US government has increased. And we’re going to combat that temperature rise with even MORE government? Preposterous!

  86. It looked like a dismal thread with that ‘Lincoln freed the slaves’ fiction (hint, find the date of ratification of the slave freeing amendment and compare with the date Lincoln was shot. If the Emancipation Proclaimation is used as evidence, produce the law that it was enforcing or just read the thing and see who was exempted from freedom. Reperations were paid for slaves freed in 1862, by the federal government to the slave owners, google “Emancipation Day DC”).

    Anyway, in shor order some sanity arrived:
    wertheim | February 7, 2007, 10:38am | #

    Natural Global-Warming: quite possible.

    Man-Made Global Warming: dubious, but possible.

    Man-Made Global Warming cured by national and/or international bureaucrats: an impossibility.

    Global Warming as an opportunity to tax, regulate, employ politican’s kids and nephews, erode national sovereignty, boss people around and place governments even farther from citizen control: now pretty much a certainty.

    Good show! Every time I see a picture of The Great Lakes I am reminded that the glaciers are receding. Why is it news now? It really was news pre-1983 that the planed was supposed to be cooling. If the glaciers begin an advance again, please wake me from my nap?

    Now, I need to start shopping for bigger carbs for my 1972 hybrid, because I love trees more than you people.

  87. So, can we plan our way out of climate change? I doubt it.

  88. I’d also like to point out that the slaves freed themselves. It was the actions of slaves – that is fleeing to oncoming Union lines – that started to force the hand of the Union military commanders and that eventually led to the policy of keeping escaped slaves as “contraband.”

  89. “With so many signs that there is global warming – glacier loss, the trend of rising sea levels, shorter winters, higher average global temperatures – I think it is reasonable to treat the computer models as having some force and the issue as a valid, serious one.”

    But is this global warming caused by man’s activities? If this is a cyclical phenomenom as may climatologists argue, there isn’t anything we can do about it. We just have to adjust to it.

    Pertaining to the models, they have been wrong in the past so adjustments have had to be made to include relevant data that had been left out before. The climate is just too complicated to predict with models. There are debates among climatologists whether certain types of clouds reflect the sun to create cooler temperatures or if they hold in heat. As I said earlier, some clouds are believed by some climatologists to act as a vent to let some greenhouse gasses and trapped heat escape through the atmosphere.

  90. “Pertaining to the models, they have been wrong in the past so adjustments have had to be made to include relevant data that had been left out before.”

    As the models and other data sources have been refined over time, the effect has been to increase climatologists’ level of confidence that human-induced global warming is occuring, and will get worse.

    Yes, there’s Zeno’s Paradox – we get closer and closer to 100% certainty without ever getting there – but that is a thin reed on which to hang the assertion that there is a great deal of debate.

    A few outliers aside, the debate among the IPCC was whether to say they were 90% certain that we were causing global warming, or 99% certain.

  91. [i]wertheim | February 7, 2007, 10:38am | #

    Natural Global-Warming: quite possible.

    Man-Made Global Warming: dubious, but possible.

    Man-Made Global Warming cured by national and/or international bureaucrats: an impossibility.

    Global Warming as an opportunity to tax, regulate, employ politican’s kids and nephews, erode national sovereignty, boss people around and place governments even farther from citizen control: now pretty much a certainty.[/i]

    This is rather pathetic. Governments have, unfortunately, been slow to act because of ideologues like yourself, science writers like Bailey, the scientists Bailey cites, and the energy industry. No one today is talking about a “cure,” but mitigating the unintended consequences of our consumption. And isn’t it funny how suddenly have to be super-duper cautious of the unintended consequences of government policy, and this comes from people who *praise* grotesque and historically unprecedented life style choices of people in rich countries.

    As for governments being ineffective with respect to global climate change I wonder if that’s anything like the hole in ozone layer (which, according to free market fundamentalists, didn’t exist, and then banning CFCs wouldn’t do anything, and it’s denial of liberty, and all that other nonsense).

  92. This isn’t about whether Ted Kennedy gets his wrist slapped, but about whether he’s going to win.

    Has the wind farm been built? No. So I would say he’s winning so far.

    I seriously don’t think that there is any confusion on weather global warming is happening

    I would agree there.

    or weather it is the result of green house gasses.

    Not so fast. This planet has had innumerable warming trends in the past, some in recorded history, and all without the driver of an industrial economy. How is it that we know that the current warming trend would not be occuring if there was no industrial economy?

    But couldn’t a carbon tax be constructed legislatively so that every dollar had to be returned to taxpayers via a transfer payment of some kind? (I’m less concerned about whether those transfer payments are regressive or progressive than with just keeping the money out of the feds’ hands and in the private sector where it belongs.)

    Non sequitur alert.

    A “transfer payment” is money that passes through the government’s hands, having been taken from people with insufficient political pull to escapt the tax, and given to people with sufficient political pull to get the payments.

  93. “Has the wind farm been built? No. So I would say he’s winning so far.”

    And I’d say you don’t have the foggiest idea what you’re talking about.

    Quick, RC, where does the permitting process stand?

    Which federal agency has to sign off on off-shore wing farms?

    Cue Jeopardy theme.

  94. “number and severity of extreme weather events.”

    Even the IPCC has stated that weather events such as hurricanes and tornadoes won’t increase in quanity and intensity due to global warming. In fact, the opposite is the case since most of the warming will occur in the Northern latitudes, thus less temperature differential between the southern and northern latitudes. This is also verified in history as there were more hurricanes and tornadoes and more severe ones during colder times.

  95. Joe, did you know that that IPCC report was doctored after the scientists signed off on it. Conclusions about man-made causes of global warming were not in the original paper. It goes to show how political this issue has become.

  96. In fact warming started in 1850 and rose sharply until 1940 then decreased for 35 years.

    1850 was the begining of the industrial age and the beginning of economic well-being unprecendented in the history of the world.

    Around 1850 was also the end the Little Ice Age (1300-1850), which was preceded by the Medieval Warm Period (800-1300).

    Was there political grandstand in the late eighth and early ninth century about the warming climate?

  97. joe asked

    Which federal agency has to sign off on off-shore wing farms?

    Depending on the area and situation it could be at a minimum the DOD and the FAA. For offshore facilities I suspect there would be more federal agencies involved.

  98. Joe,
    The point is that policies have consequences and the 3 point theory of global warming is clear on one point, fuzzy on another and highly speculative on the third.

    Scaring people with highly speculative disaster scenarios is not a rational way to develop policy. It’s a method of stampeding, and stampedes can cause a lot of damage and unpredictable consequences. We don’t want that to happen, do we?

  99. Joe, did you know that that IPCC report was doctored after the scientists signed off on it.

    I haven’t heard that before. Where did you see that? (Not arguing with you. Honestly asking.)

  100. “I haven’t heard that before. Where did you see that? (Not arguing with you. Honestly asking.)”

    I read about it in Fred Singer’s latest book, “Unstoppable Global Warming”.

  101. Grotius,

    Didn’t President Lincoln give orders that slaves were not to be freed in territory captured by the Union?

    I have heard this before but have not seen any documentation, but it sounds consistant with other things that he did.

  102. I accept the science. But Sameulson is right. Until we have viable replacements for fossil fuels as energy sources as the basis of our economy, all this talk by politicians about reductions is so much hot air.

    On the first round of the Emissions Trading Scheme in Europe, emissions credits issued were 15% more than what was required. ETS has been a resounding failure.

    So, what can we use as a fossil fuel replacement? How about our own power plant emissions? GreenFuel Technologies, as well as other companies, are working on algae bioreactors that recycle the CO2 and turn it into biofuels. Algae can produce 5,000+ gallons of oils per acre, compared to 50 for soybeans.

    The result is a net reduction in emissions since the algal oil displaces the petroleum that would otherwise come out of the ground. The company estimates that there are 1,000 powerplants with enough land nearby for their system, and a potential of 40 billion gallons of biodiesel. That’s all the diesel we use in a year.

    The way things are going, we should see the first commercial production of algal biodiesel and ethanol in 2008.

  103. Joe, did you know that that IPCC report was doctored after the scientists signed off on it. Conclusions about man-made causes of global warming were not in the original paper. It goes to show how political this issue has become.

    I don’t think that’s exactly true. A couple of members of the IPCC (Singer was one) did put out statements warning people that the executive summary (the only thing that most people ever read) overstated the conclusions they actually reported in the main body of the report. But that was an earlier report. I don’t believe that is the case for this one.

    The executive summary was not written by scientists but by technical writers on the staff. It is what most of the media reports and public perceptions are based on.

  104. On the matter of the “ozone hole”. It was first observed in 1985 (it’s existence was based on readings on the ozone layer made since the mid 1970s). It has receded and grown cyclically since.

    Because no readings were made before the 1970s, there is no way of knowing that there was ever a time when there was not a hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica.

    This is not a phenomena like historical temperature levels which can be determined from things like tree rings, ice layers and even silt deposits.

  105. Global warming or not, swapping payroll taxes for consumption taxes on petroleum and coal is a wonderful proposal, for many other reasons. It would better internalize the cost of obtaining oil from foreign producers, and it would better illuminate the inherent silliness of thinking that the bonds placed in the Social Security Trust Fund are akin to the bonds purchased by the Chinese or Aunt Millie. I’ll be happy to join forces with the most alarmist views regarding global warming to get this measure passed.

  106. Guy Montag,

    I don’t know who gave the order (indeed, for some reason I remember Congress being mixed up in this), however it was the initial policy of the Union to return escaped slaves. As I recall that policy – however – was ignored on the ground by Union commanders.

    Anyway, the role of slaves in their own emancipation was critical throughout most of the struggles for emancipation in the Americas, so it isn’t surprising that was the case in the U.S.

  107. Thank you for correcting me Isaac. I was relying on a faulty memory. The point remains, however that this issue has become highly politicized. Before we do anything that harms our economy, it should be proven that man has contributed significantly to global warming. I can’t help but believe that what’s driving this hysteria is an anti-capitalist resentment against wealth and a socialistic desire of politicians and bureaucrats to have more power and control over business.

  108. Cain

    The CFC comparision does not fit here.

    First, CFCs had readily available substitutes, which could be put in place without inordinate costs. If there had been no refrigerants with comparably small costs, the ban might never have happened. The consequences of doing without refrigeration – in food storage and transportation in particular – would have been catastrophic.

    Second, CFCs were banned outright – far easier to administer than a rationing-and-financial-incentives scheme as would be required with carbon based fuels. I believe some 3rd world countries were given a longer time to make the change. I don’t know if that time has expired yet.

    [One can also snark that the antartic ozone hole was the largest on record in 2006, so just how certain now are we that CFCs were the culprit? The explanations have an ad hoc feel to them, even though I still think that CFCs were and are the probable cause.]

    There is presently no similar substitute for carbon fuel energy sources that is within an order of magnitude as cost-efficient, portable, or capable of delivering the same “fast power” benefits. [One could fly a jet with hydrogen fuel, but the fire safety problems would make jet fuel look like a fire-suppresant.] The economic consequences of strong restrictions on carbon fuel use would be severe. Do not kid yourself that “economic consequences” just means that some people do without luxuries. People – mostly poor – die in economic recessions, as happened in Latin America, Africa and Asia when the sovereign debt crisis of the early 1980s. Governments also become unstable, leading to civil unrest, revolutions, and wars.

    Government plans to “mitigate” C02 omissions will inevitably involve a huge, costly bureaucracy, which will be pressured by endless special interest groups pleading why they deserve special treatment/exemptions. The tradeoffs that arise will inevitably be a net drag on the ecomomy, especially where a special interest is given an exemption that allows them to continue old, inefficient practices in order to “save jobs”. [For a historical precedent, see the US steel industry’s performance on tariffs.]

    As all organizations do, such a bureaucracy will seek to preserve itself more than it seeks to solve the problems. Potential solutions will be stifled by having to go through long, bureaucratic reviews at every stage.

    The skepticism of many about global warming, particularly when the idea was first bruited, is justified by the extremely poor record of doomsayers of the past, many of whom are the same individuals who are now crying doom over global warming. [See the “Club of Rome” report of the 1970s, which made many predictions of catastrophe by the year 2000 and none of which occurred.]

  109. Yea, CFC ban, great. Now my hybrid can no longer be cooled to a temprature suitable for preserving pork, it can only be lukewarm, just because of a stupid “hole in the sky” rumor.

    What is next? DDT? Oh yea, that was an early victim of hysterical rumors and the ban has killed more people than Stalin.

    BTW, if you guys were driving hybrids like me I might pay attention to your vapid arguments a little more. C8H18 is the hydrogen power for me.

  110. I had to skip along to the comment box and miss about half the thread, because someone made a good point.

    I’m all for a carbon tax, for the same philosophical reason I’m for a national sales tax. By taxing the people who create the most carbon dioxide, the tax will be passed along to the people who use the most. That would work the same way that a consumption tax would tax those who use the most (in this case, money), rather than penalize those who are earning to save, or earning to pay off student loans.

    Am I on the right track here?

  111. Sayeth joe:

    Human activity is causing global warming, whether you like the policy efforts that flow from that or not.

    the effects of global warming, unless mitigated, are going to cause both a drop in revenue as the economy suffers, and produce the need to additional spending (from both the public and private sector) to remedy the problems.

    Why are we spending money on research to prove something that’s already settled? Wouldn’t this money be better spent on alternative energy research?

  112. Without going through the whole thread and pointing out what I like or don’t like, I have to concede that joe in several cases made some good points in the course of this thread. Albeit with some name-calling and pugnaciousness that often seemed unnecessary.

    Lately I’ve been reading lately about how planets form and what makes them habitable, so I’m moved to make two points:
    ——————————————-

    “the planets were formed by material ejected by the Sun”

    This is nitpicking that doesn’t really detract from your point, but I can’t help pointing out that this is not the current theory of how the planets formed. Solar systems are believed to be formed when clouds of gas and dust contract and are pulled together by mutual gravitational attraction into a spinning “accretion disk.” Local condensations within the disk form “planetesimals” that, through further gravitational interactions, either bang into each other to form larger bodies, or get tossed outward from the system. It’s the former process that leads to the creation of planets and one or more stars within the system.
    —————————————

    One thing that bothers me about attempts to mitigate global warming through regulation of carbon dioxide emissions: Carbon dioxide is indeed a greenhouse (heat-trapping) gas; however, it is a fairly small fraction of Earth’s atmosphere, and its impact on global temperature is insignificant compared to the effect of water vapor in the atmosphere. Trying to affect global warming by regulating CO2 emissions is like the average person trying to reduce his weight solely by cutting down on the amount of caviar he eats.

    Addressing global warming by focusing on CO2 smacks of “looking for my lost keys over here, even though I probably lost them over there, because the light is better over here.” Which strengthens the impression that politicians are mostly concerned about appearing to do something about it, whether or not there is a real impact on the climate.

  113. Ungar wrote:
    “If the genuine warming now being seen is caused by human emissions of carbon dioxide, it would have started earlier. If this were a CO2 driven warming it should have started in 1940 and risen strongly from there. In fact warming started in 1850 and rose sharply until 1940 then decreased for 35 years.”

    noone answered, so I will. The oceans cause a delay in response to heat related changes in climate. They soak up heat energy and store it, partly as warmth and as expansion, 7 inches so far. Only after it saturates for a bit, a few decades at most, does land surface life really start to notice.

  114. Carbon Taxes would only get the government addicted to them, much more so if they replaced Income Taxes. Politicians would subvert the process to keep CO2 emmissions up. Diversity of revenue is a good revenue strategy though.

    Carbon Offsets, freemarket format, are a better idea, but revenues and consequent counter-CO2 spending should be managed by non-government non-profit groups. For-profits would have the same problem as taxes, they’d just want to ensure that CO2 keeps getting emmitted.

    Carbon Rationing, forced Offsets, I Guess if the situation is truly bad…

    The best starting idea IMO is to stop corporate welfare, starting with the fossil fuels industries. I read recently that taxpayers through out the world provide $700 Billion in subsidies used to more or less indirectly harm the environment for corporate-welfare financed profit in one form or another.

    http://www.treehugger.com/files/2007/02/subsidizing_cli.php

  115. “You mean like how lefties and greenies are always condemning the greedy bastards building wind turbines, energy-efficient buildings, and solar panels?”-joe

    Yes? Wind and solar power farms take up a lot of area, and some people don’t consider them particularly attractive. Making a building as energy efficient as possible, leads to “sick building syndrome”. There are downsides to every alternative that can be nitpicked by a group who objects to whatever the project is.

  116. When they can accurately predict the weather a week in advance, maybe then I’ll take more seriously scientifical pontifications about MMGW a hundred years from now.

  117. “The oceans cause a delay in response to heat related changes in climate. They soak up heat energy and store it, partly as warmth and as expansion, 7 inches so far. Only after it saturates for a bit, a few decades at most, does land surface life really start to notice.”

    A point well taken, but is CO2 really that great a driver of temperature? After all, there was 14 times the CO2 level during the Ordovician than now. There was even an ice age at the end of the Ordovician. How can this be if CO2 significantly raises temperature?

  118. “Carbon dioxide is indeed a greenhouse (heat-trapping) gas; however, it is a fairly small fraction of Earth’s atmosphere, and its impact on global temperature is insignificant compared to the effect of water vapor in the atmosphere. Trying to affect global warming by regulating CO2 emissions is like the average person trying to reduce his weight solely by cutting down on the amount of caviar he eats.”

    Memo to other scientists:

    Stevo’s on to us. You guys had better stop fucking around and actually go do some research to figure out if this “water vapor” thing really exists and might actually be affecting the climate. I can tell you, this is the first time _I’ve_ ever thought of it, so I’m going to assume all you climatologists are the same way.

    Also, next week, be sure to check out the input of the Sun on the Climate. People out there are starting to ask questions about that as well. What’s wrong with you losers? How on earth could you have spent all these years making climate models that don’t take the Sun into account? Stupid scientists.

    Anybody who needs to get a real computer for their desk instead of one of those furniture-store models, come and see me right away.

    Sincerely,
    The Boss

  119. “A point well taken, but is CO2 really that great a driver of temperature? After all, there was 14 times the CO2 level during the Ordovician than now. There was even an ice age at the end of the Ordovician. How can this be if CO2 significantly raises temperature?”

    To my minions:

    Shit! Now Herb’s on to us too! Good thing the whole Ordovician thing was made up. Right? Right?

    Don’t feed me some bull story about how the other conditions weren’t exactly the same. I’m getting tired of hearing about your so-called “variables”. When are you so-called scientists going to do your job and come up with science I can get behind?

    Sincerely,
    The Boss

  120. “the other conditions weren’t exactly the same. I’m getting tired of hearing about your so-called “variables”.”

    What were those other variables that enabled us to have higher CO2 content during the Ordovician without higher temperatures?

    By the way, this information comes from Fred Singer, former director of the National Weather Satellite Center. Not all climatologists subscribe to the Al Gore sensationalism.

  121. Herb,
    8-20 times to be more informative. To my knowledge, noone has an explanation as to why there was massive glaciation at the end of the Ordovician period. But hey that was 445 million years ago, and the continents were almost pangea like, Gondwanaland to be exact, with shallow intercontinental seasl there were no polar land masses. The Climate then was totally different from now, and even then CO2 was clearly linked and the glaciation did no start until there was somehow a massive draw down of CO2 at that end of the period. While mechanisms for that change are just guesses right now, my best guess is that the shallow seas would suddenly be just right for lots of methane clathrates, sucking up lots of carbon.

  122. p.s.
    The Ordovician Glaciation also occured as Gondwana reached the south pole. Forming the first polar ice cap in a loooong time. Keep ion mind that the cental seas were very shallow, and one significant glacial event would have been all it took to drain those seas, causing massive extinctions. Land plants were also making an entry during this period. Land plants are much more significant today in controling moisture than then. Very different climate now from then. CO2 levels don’t prevent ice formation, warmth does. But CO2 is linked to retained warmth, but so is water vapor, orbits, the sun, vegetation cover, all kinds of things.

  123. Dear Them Climate Scientists:

    Thank you. I trust you will please forgive my scientific curiosity, which I understand must seem unforgivable rude and untoward in a mere lay peasant such as myself. It’s just that I was recently reading, in a totally nonpolitical context, that the role of CO2 as a greenhouse gas was rather insignificant compared to the role of water vapor, and I was wondering aloud why so much focus was being fixed on CO2 (the amount of which may be significantly affected by human activity) and not on water vapor (on which humans can only have a minor and very local impact).

    I just figured, as long as some propose that global warming be dealt with as a public policy issue, that it might at some point involve votin’ and stuff, and just possibly somebody, somewhere, might have taken a crack at explaining this puzzler to us mere citizens and taxpayers. Unless you propose creating a “House of Climate Scientists” and turning all these such decisions to them, and not have the rest of us worry our purty little heads about it. I was just curious.

  124. “it’s just that I was recently reading, in a totally nonpolitical context, that the role of CO2 as a greenhouse gas was rather insignificant compared to the role of water vapor, and I was wondering aloud why so much focus was being fixed on CO2 (the amount of which may be significantly affected by human activity) and not on water vapor (on which humans can only have a minor and very local impact).”

    Because CO2 imbalances are relatively permanent, lasting centuries, whereas imbalances of watervapor last only days. More Useful readin:
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php?p=142

  125. Go on, tell us next that you think we haven’t factored solar irradiation into our models. GENIUS!

    After that we can all go down the hall and rag on the quantum physicists. Good times.

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