Science

Carbon: Tax, Trade, or Deregulate?

Something is going to be "done" about global warming, so what should it be? A debate.

|

On August 11, 2005, Ronald Bailey, reason's science correspondent and the author of such enviro-skeptic books as Eco-Scam: The False Prophets of Environmental Apocalypse, wrote the following words at reason online: "Anyone still holding onto the idea that there is no global warming ought to hang it up. All data sets—satellite, surface, and balloon—have been pointing to rising global temperatures. In fact, they all have had upward-pointing arrows for nearly a decade."

Although there are still plenty of free market thinkers who aren't yet ready to "hang it up," the center of the debate has shifted in recent years from contested science to proposed policy. And with the prospect of an anti–global warming crusader—either Barack Obama or John McCain—joining forces with a Democratic Congress carrying years of pent-up environmentalist frustration, significant new global warming regulation isn't a matter of "if" but "how much."

Assuming that humanity is contributing to the carbon-fueled warming of the planet, what, if anything should governments do? That question, it turns out, is just as contested among skeptics of environmental hysteria as the famous "hockey stick" graphs in Al Gore's movie An Inconvenient Truth. So we discovered last October, when we matched Bailey on a climate change panel with Lynne Kiesling, a senior economics lecturer at Northwestern University (and former director of economic policy at the Reason Foundation) and Fred L. Smith, president and founder of the pro-market Competitive Enterprise Institute, which in 2002 published a Bailey-edited book entitled Global Warming and Other Eco-Myths.

Bailey painfully concluded that climate change "is a real problem" and reluctantly favored a tax on carbon. Kiesling pointed to the difficulty of assigning property rights to the atmosphere and tentatively came out for a "cap and trade" system of creating a market for pollution credits above a government-imposed ceiling. Smith robustly rejected both ideas in favor of private innovation. The debate, held at a reason-sponsored conference in Washington, D.C., was moderated by Matt Welch.

Click here to watch Lynne Kiesling, Ronald Bailey and Fred L. Smith debate climate change at the at the Reason in DC conference.


Lynne Kiesling
: From an economic perspective, the problem of climate change is twofold. First, there are incomplete and uncertain property rights in the air. It's ludicrous to imagine us each walking around with a bubble over our heads so that we can only breathe and use the privatized air sphere around us. Second, there's a large number of affected parties. In the limit, some would argue the entire planet is affected.

When a common-pool resource is shared by millions of diverse individuals, defining the use rights over that resource is really hard and costly. This is the kind of situation in which decentralized market processes have trouble even emerging. In this imperfect world, we're considering two imperfect alternative policies: a carbon tax and cap and trade.

Our experience with common-pool resources, ranging from agreements to share the team of oxen in the medieval village to the development of the sulfur dioxide acid rain program in the 1990s, tells us that effective policy focuses on reducing transaction costs and better defining property rights so that private parties can engage in mutually beneficial exchange. That's the logic behind the carbon cap-and-trade policy.

Like all policies in such a complex area, it's got problems itself. How do you allocate carbon permits? There's the knowledge problem: How do we know how many carbon permits is the right number? Also, as a policy instrument, it's prone to political manipulation. Electric utilities are already seriously jockeying to make sure they're playing a part in getting the rules written and that they're involved in determining the allocation mechanisms if such a policy comes into place.

Another problem is that unlike with sulfur dioxide, the likely participants are really heterogeneous. When we were dealing with sulfur dioxide, it was mostly large-scale central-generation power plants, a pretty homogeneous bunch.

A carbon tax is also prone to some of these problems, particularly the knowledge problem and the political manipulation problem. The benefits to a permit market that have been shown in other situations are that defining property rights and reducing transaction costs does a better job of taking advantage of diffuse private knowledge. It's also more likely to induce the process that's at the foundation of economic growth, which is innovation. So I tend to come down on the side of cap and trade, although it's not a ringing endorsement.

People are already doing this voluntarily. I encourage you to look up a group called the Chicago Climate Exchange, or CCX. CCX is a global carbon permit financial market, and it's got a nice portfolio of instruments. They've got spot permit markets. They've starting to do futures now. The entrepreneur behind this, Richard Sandor, has also talked about doing funky derivatives. The participants got together voluntarily and negotiated to determine the number of permits that they were going to have. There were participants on both sides—carbon producers and carbon sinks—so you had this multilateral stakeholder negotiation to determine the number of permits in the market.

Finally, I think most people fail to realize that the abysmal job we do of pricing electricity contributes substantially to our energy use. The only resources that are priced as badly as electricity in our economy are highways and water.

Retail competition and choice for consumers would increase the offering of time-differentiated dynamic pricing, which shifts resource and electricity use across time. Research shows that this promotes conservation and more efficient use of electricity, increases offerings of green power to consumers who want to choose a green power option, and increases the incentives to develop and adopt technologies, such as price-responsive appliances, that enable private individuals to control their own energy use.

So the message from me is this: It's a complicated, imperfect world, and the policies we can adopt that induce innovation and harness diffuse private knowledge will be the most effective for this long-term problem.

Ronald Bailey: Before we began this session, Fred Smith asked me would it be all right if he referred to me as a commie symp. I think that might be a little harsh. I hope I can persuade you of that.

I stand before you as somebody who's been reporting and writing on environmental issues for over 20 years. To the extent that I'm known at all, I've been known as someone very skeptical of all kinds of environmentalist dooms. My first book was called Ecoscam: The False Prophets of Ecological Apocalypse. It pains me to have concluded, following the scientific data, that one of the dooms is a real problem.

As Lynne very ably pointed out, one of the problems with global warming is that it exists in a commons—that means the atmosphere is very hard to divide up and make into private property.

When you have an environmental commons, we typically have two ways of handling that problem. One is that we privatize it. In many environmental issues, we're moving in that direction. Fisheries, for example, are being privatized. Forests are being privatized. Water resources can be privatized as well.

The problem with air pollution—and global warming is a form of air pollution—is that I don't see a good, easy way to privatize it. The transaction costs are too large. And if you can't privatize it, you have to regulate it. So now the question is: What's the least bad way to regulate? And that is why I've come out in favor of a carbon tax.

As a good libertarian, I thought I would like cap and trade. The problem is I've been watching the European attempt to do this, and it's a complete disaster. The governments, not surprisingly, cheat constantly. Their carbon market collapsed a year ago because the governments allocated more permits for carbon emissions than were necessary to cover what was being emitted, so naturally the price went to zero. And if the Europeans can't pull this off, how could you expect the world to pull this off?

I understand the diffuse knowledge problem—how markets can and, in fact, do marshal that kind of information in very good ways. The problem is that there's no baseline for the rest of the world.
Idiotically, the Kyoto Protocol set it at 7 percent below what was emitted in 1990 for the 36 countries that signed the treaty. Well, how are you going to do that for China and India? We don't know what they're going to be emitting in 30 years. So I come out in favor of the tax because you have a baseline. You have a way of internationally monitoring that. The baseline is a zero tax and from that, you can build up. You could start the tax low and, as you gain more information about what the atmosphere is likely to do, you could adjust the tax over that time.

For consumers, for inventors, for innovators, a tax offers price stability in a way that the cap-and-trade markets don't. For example, in the sulfur dioxide market, sulfur permits have ranged in price from $50 a ton to over $1,000 a ton. And for sulfur dioxide, it's a smaller market. A carbon market would encompass the world.

Fred L. Smith: What's the best way of addressing whatever risks there are in global warming? Should the risk of catastrophic global warming justify abandoning our general preference for freedom over coercion? Should we free market advocates champion carbon taxes or carbon rationing, some form of suppressing energy use, or should we favor economic liberalization?

We've been working on that issue for two decades now. In that early period, I noticed that the catastrophists, the global warming alarmists, had to have answers to three questions positively.

First: Does the science indicate significant evidence of imminent catastrophe? That is, is the earth warming significantly in a human-relevant way? Is the 0.7 degree centigrade increase over the last century offset or not by the 1,800 percent increase in wealth over that same period?

Second: Is the warming impact negative or positive overall? I note in passing that more people seem to retire to Florida and Arizona than Lake Woebegone.

Third: Can the political tools now available realistically restrict carbon use? We may endorse economic suicide. Europe may join us, but should we expect India and China to go back to the Stone Age just because of our political elites?

Over the last decade, I think the evidence for all those questions has moved against the global warming catastrophists. There is evidence that there has been some warming, moderate amounts, but the idea that we're facing imminent catastrophe has weakened. Our ability to do anything about CO2 increases for the next half-century is now obviously nonexistent. And the tensions we could create by pushing the world into some form of energy rationing, I think, are underestimated. Recall that in World War II, one of the incidents that pushed the war party into power in Japan was an energy boycott on that Asian nation. We are going to do that again with China. It doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

Shouldn't we be asking whether the risks of global warming are more or less than the risk of global warming policies?

The costs of energy rationing are not trivial. Energy is what makes it possible to have mobility, to have labor-saving technology, to have lives that are comfortable, to have hope for the future. Energy rationing would lead to slower economic and technological growth, a darker, less human-friendly world. The trillions we're talking about spending over the next generations on global warming could go to much better causes, could save lives and inspire hopes today.

But we've been told—we've heard it from Ron, at least—that we must do something. Perhaps. But why must that something be the expansion of state power over our lives? Why do we limit ourselves to taxes or rationing? There are other alternatives out there.

We could do some more R&D. We could mitigate. What about mirrors in space? What about fertilizing the oceans? Those of us who have looked at NASA and so forth are not overly enamored with government's ability to underwrite those kind of policies, but we should be equally optimistic about government's attempt to tax in this academic-blackboard economic way.

Resiliency is what we should be talking about. Not whether taxes or quotas are the better way to suppress freedom, but how we can use the global warming concerns to advance an agenda of freedom. How do we find ways of accelerating economic and technological progress? How do we liberalize the economies of the world? How do we expand the institutions of liberty even into the air sheds?

We can free biotechnology. I'm sure Ron and I both agree with that. If the world is hotter, colder, wetter, drier, we're going to need the ability to modify our crops much more than we have today. Freeing biotechnology from the regulatory straitjacket it's in today would be a way of doing that.

As Lynne said, we could complete the job of freeing our electricity system, not just for pricing electricity but also for incentivizing the grid to be smarter and more robust so we can free the trapped electricity that sits idle throughout America. Move fire, storm, and other insurance out of the government subsidy range and put it back into the private sector so we can guide people away from living in high-risk areas.

Unilateral free trade. Extend property rights to water. Liberalize energy exploration. Cuba can drill off the coast of Florida; why can't America? Where is nuclear power? Certainly Al Gore hasn't mentioned it. Eliminate the corporate income tax. Accelerate the turnover of capital goods and equipment. That would mean a much more efficient world to live in.

Our agenda is the agenda of freedom, not the agenda of some form of a rational economic suicide pact.

It is understandable that many people grow weary. I know people very close to me who have grown weary in this fight. We get a bit depressed when we realize that logic is for losers in the political process. It's hard to be the dissident at the cocktail parties. Any of you who have had the situation where your friends look at you and shake their heads sadly and walk away know how hard it is, but our challenge remains to speak truth to power, to find ways to make good policy good politics.

I chaired a global warming panel in Bucharest earlier this year. There are some European think tanks that have withdrawn from this battle also. It's too costly, they say. It's too difficult to resist the consensus. We have to give up a little bit. To them, I'll argue as I do to you today, that we must fight; we must continue to risk. The loss of freedom in the global warming debate is far too great. That is our duty. That is our challenge.

For events of this type have happened before. In August 1914, European nations found themselves trapped in a consensus, a set of entangling treaties that forced them to move in an inexorable way towards disaster, towards World War I. Edward Grey, the British foreign minister, noted, "The lamps are going out all across Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime."

Today, fears about global warming are pushing the world towards disaster. This time the threat is not just to the lamps of Europe but to the lamps of the world. Energy suppression, if it happens, might last for many lifetimes.

Statist intellectuals still dominate the global warming debate. We economic liberals are few, but we few are the thin line resisting those who would return us to the Dark Ages. This is not any time to go wobbly.

Matt Welch: Lynne, could you speak to Ron's critique of cap and trade? Is it basically a great idea in theory that you're wishing might work someday 20 years in the future? Is Europe really a catastrophe, and what's keeping it from working?

Kiesling: Just because Europe can't implement this doesn't mean the idea is bad. The E.U. carbon scheme is a poster child for what can happen when you have too centralized and too politically motivated a process for allocating the permits. The E.U. decided how many permits each country would have, then each country then got to allocate them among their industries as they saw fit. This was the most politicized process imaginable. With a good market design and good testing and good analysis, we could do better.

It does highlight the important fact that political manipulation is going to happen in whatever policy we choose. But I wouldn't throw the idea out just because the E.U. can't do it. There's a lot of stuff the E.U. does really badly.

Smith: I have one strong procedural difference with both Ron and Lynne on this. The argument is that when you have a common property resource, your choices are either to privatize that resource, move towards institutions of liberty, or politicize it in some enlightened way as Lynne and Ron have talked about. But Ronald Coase said there's always a third option, that the costs of transaction in that area are much higher than the failure to have transaction in that area and therefore we should allow evolution to proceed and see what creative solutions emerge. That is basically what we should be doing in the global warming area.

European taxes are just as bad as European cap and trade, and American taxes aren't anything to write home about either. The idea that a tax policy will emerge through the political process unsullied is unlikely. Energy taxes in Europe and the United States are already a mess. If we raise them, they'll be a bigger mess.

Bailey: One of the problems is that the new energy technologies are very unlikely, in my judgment, to arise merely because we ignore carbon dioxide. If it were already easy to create low-carbon energy, inventors would have done it. It would be here now.

If you look at the projections from the International Energy Agency, the amount of energy the world will be using in the next 30 years or so is going to get much vaster. China is building one coal-fired plant a week, and they're probably going to ramp it up to two a week. Those plants are going to be there for 50 years. If you think that carbon dioxide is a problem now—

Smith: And if you think energy rationing—

Bailey: Fred, when we privatize a forest, is that lumber rationing? When we privatize the fisheries, is that fish rationing? We have people pay for what it is that they use.

If you could persuade me, which you have failed to do with your rhetoric, that we can in fact repair to markets to get this done, I would be more than happy to do that. I don't want the lights of the world going out. But I also wonder, by the way—this is a question you've never answered when I've asked you several times—what temperature rise over the next century would in fact cause you to worry about humanity's ability to adapt?

Smith: Over 20 degrees, certainly.

Bailey: How about—

Smith: Not 0.7.

Bailey: Not 0.7, but 6.

Welch: Ron, you mentioned at the beginning, sort of in jest, that it pains you to come to the conclusion that global warming is a problem. Is that a scientific approach, to be pained by the results? Has there been a mind-set to debunk when looking at this issue, and has that caused conclusions that were wrong?

Bailey: Yes, in some cases. I did not want this information to go in that direction. And I had good reason, given my career, to expect that it wouldn't. The environmentalists have been wrong about the population problem. They were wrong about trace exposures to synthetic chemicals causing cancer. They were wrong about running out of natural resources. I've happily and joyfully reported this for years and annoyed a lot of people.

I, against my values, have decided that this is a problem. I would really like to be persuaded that classical liberalism and markets and so forth have a way of solving this problem. I'm still waiting for Fred's proposal. I don't think it can be done voluntarily around the world. The voluntary carbon markets are tiny—

Kiesling: It's very unscaled.

Bailey: Right. And if you don't have an economic incentive to participate in those carbon markets, like a tax or like a cap-and-trade permit, most people aren't going to do it. Why would they? Why would they spend money that they don't have to spend?

Kiesling: In this case of Chicago Climate Exchange, the biggest participants are Ford Motor and American Electric Power—the largest coal-fired generation owners in the country. So for them, it's a strategic action. They're hoping to forestall regulation but also it's a P.R. and reputation capital building exercise.

Smith: I think one of the problems our movement has is we're a think tank movement. We believe that if we just go out and talk to everybody for a few hours they'll become libertarians. That's not a wisely thought-through process, and it misses the whole point. Most people are—have to be—rationally ignorant. Our challenge is to make them understand that for their values, freedom is better than coercion. It's why I think we have to recognize that where there are risks of global warming, there are also risks of global warming policies. I see nothing in Ron that represents any understanding of that balancing.

Welch
: Following up on that, Fred, do you see some kind of political market value therefore in, for lack of a better word, Al Gore jokes? Is that a way to get the message across because at some point you realize you just want people to feel that they're all part of the anti–Al Gore team more than being persuaded by your logic?

Smith: Ridicule is a very important tool. It's one that has to be wielded very carefully. The difference between ridicule and being mean is very close, and I think sometimes libertarians are far too easily led into being mean. We win the debate and we lose the audience. I think ridicule by other people is damn useful. Every time liberals make fun of Gore, I love it. When we make fun of Al Gore, I get very nervous.

Bailey: And then you make fun of Al Gore.

Audience question: Ron, what entity would collect the carbon tax? Local government? Federal? The United Nations? And what would that money be spent on and how would it reduce actual CO2 usage?

Bailey: No, it would not be a U.N. tax. I'm channeling William Nordhouse, the Yale economist who does a lot of work in this area. Basically it would be a globally harmonized tax, but the money would be collected by each country and spent by the governments in each country.

In the ideal world, you would recycle that money by reducing other taxes, so the overall tax level in the country would not increase. What you would be doing is incentivizing people to conserve energy but also incentivizing people to innovate, to find new ways to produce energy that people would want using low-carbon technologies or carbon-sequestering technologies.

It's a deep, dark secret, but back in the 1970s, during the glorious era of the Jimmy Carter administration, I was a regulator for three years.

Kiesling: You've seen the dark side.

Bailey: I've seen the dark side. I worked for the world's most boring regulatory agency, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Kiesling: I knew he was going to say FERC when he said "boring."

Bailey: And I think I understand some of the problems that go with regulation. My intellectual disdain for government was honed into a white-hot hatred after that experience. One of the things I got to regulate was the synfuels plant that you may all remember was being built in North Dakota. At the time, it was the world's largest construction project. It cost $2.1 billion to build. It never produced any natural gas of any sort. That money, by the way, would have grown at 5 percent interest to $6.5 billion had it not been wasted.

Government does not innovate. So by creating a carbon tax you would encourage private people to marshal the information in response. So carbon tax is a price, to figure out better ways to make energy, low-carbon energy. I don't know what those energies will be. I'm sure the government doesn't know either, and I don't want them wasting the money doing it.

Smith: I should point out that we have that experiment going on today. Europe—500 million people—experiences gasoline taxes in England of $8 a gallon. We experiment with $2.50, $3 a gallon. Yet one doesn't find these new technologies rushing out of Europe. How high does—

Kiesling: Actually, that's incorrect. All of the new diesel engines—

Smith: Oh, no. Diesel has nothing to do with the economics. Diesel has to do with the low tax of diesel and the fact that the air pollution laws don't ban diesel in Europe. It's not the energy taxes. It's regulatory policy.

Bailey: So, Fred, are you saying that human beings are not clever enough to come up with low-carbon energy?

Smith
: I'm saying that technocratic social engineering projects aren't the best way to free the creative energies of mankind.

Bailey
: Unfortunately, Fred, you haven't shown a path for evolution to this. I'm sorry. I realize that you believe that somehow the invisible hand will take care of a commons problem always, but commons problems are solved by creating property.

Smith
: Government.

Bailey
: And the government helps create property, defends property. It's an institution.
It's not a great institution. Right now all the big emitters are coming to Washington and begging for free permits so they can get tons of money, basically, and extract it from our pockets—which is another reason I don't like cap-and-trade systems. They want the government to create an asset for them worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

Welch: I have to impose my liberty here. The panel will be in the back alley after this, but the rest of us have to go to lunch now, which is next door.

NEXT: Next Up on the Homosexual Agenda: Ambiguous Parade Floats

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.

  1. Nuclear. “Green”s hate it, along with any source of technology or reasoned discourse (Ignore that ANWR behind the curtain and that oil China’s tapping near Florida. We’re screaming about peak oil here, man!).

    Also: space mirrors — because we need all the sun we can get.

  2. I was heartened to see that liberalization was a possible solution to the problem, but disappointed that you guys missed the biggest illiberal cause of global warming: transportation and land use controls. The US decided in the beginning of the 20th century that it was giong to forsake the private mass transit operators, and killed them by overregulation, anti-trust laws, and (ironically) giving them monopolies over certain areas which ensured that they didn’t receive the competition necessary for innovation. Eventually, the system collapsed and the US essentially nationalized the human transportation sector by collecting gas taxes and building roads from here to Timbuktu. While the gas tax approximately covers the costs of all these roads and their maintenance (from big highways to local roads), it does not cover their opportunity costs – a vital thing in the business world – and therefore cannot be assumed that they would exist the way they do if their allocation and upkeep were left up to the private sector. (As a though experiment, imagine if a sidestreet in NYC were put up for auction. Likely it would be bought in a second and skyscrapers would by build on every inch of it. Extend this to one of NYC’s main boulevards, and it’s not difficult to imagine most being taken up by skyscrapers, with a small right-of-way for privately-owned mass transit.) These roads engender the sort of sprawl and low-density development that you see across America today.

    Furthermore, land use restrictions like mandatory low-density development and mandatory minimums on parking skew the market towards low-density development. In Jonathan Levine’s Zoned Out, he finds that a whopping 78% of developers across the US believe that regulation is the biggest impediment to higher-density development, with a paltry 26% who think that lack of market interest is the biggest roadblock (no pun intended).

    So, what’s wrong with density lower than the market would otherwise provide? Density is a huge benefit to the environment. Cities are more environmentally-friendly than suburbs, because people have to move around less within them. High-density buildings are good because they share walls, lowering heating and cooling costs, as well as saving in materials. They take up less space on the ground which returns more of the land to the wild, where nature can decide the best way to suck up the carbon from the atmosphere. However, more than half of all Americans live in the suburbs, with all the environmental degradation that comes with living somewhere where you need to drive 10 minutes to get anywhere.

    The markets America needs to liberalize to deal with global warming are transportation and land use, despite the fact that many see those as only tangentially related to the problem of global warming. It’s disappointing that a conference of libertarians discussing this issue doesn’t even mention it.

  3. These roads engender the sort of sprawl and low-density development that you see across America today.

    The American way of life is non-negotiable, we need to drive and we need to drive big SUVs. There is no global warming, the increase in temp was < 1 degree for the last 100 years, that means it doesn’t exist. Peek oil is a myth, there is no other source of energy on earth and earth has an infinite amount of the oils.

    Ignore that ANWR behind the curtain and that oil China’s tapping near Florida. We’re screaming about peak oil here, man!

    True, there is enougth oil there for us to use it forever.

  4. Economic theory predicts that the oil supply is infinite because as it becomes scarce the price goes up meaning we will drill in new places. We have got to drill anywhere and everywhere to get more cheep oil to keep the SUVs running.

  5. I don’t understand. Are the three of them polar bears? On a melting iceberg? I didn’t know bears could type. Maybe it was being transcribed. But I didn’t see a stenographer. Maybe they ate her.

    If this is true, I can see their situation well-qualifies them to comment on this debacle.

  6. Re: the picture, similar pictures could have been taken every spring since the invention of the camera. Icebergs melting is not an unprecedented event.

    And IIRC polar bears can swim.

  7. And IIRC polar bears can swim.

    What’s more troublesome is that they can climb way up there on ice. #1 Threat: Bears

  8. The problem with Smith’s “solutions” is twofold.

    One is that his proposals are merely things we should do anyway, regardless of global warming problems.

    Two is that none of them directly address the central issue, which can be basically seen as a tragedy of the commons, i.e. no one individually has the incentive to curb the use of things that inevitably affect us all. There may be some indirect incentives to voluntarily reduce greenhouse emissions, such as business PR and consumer choice among those willing to sacrifice some material gain in order to feel virtuous, but whether these factors can adequately compete with material gain worldwide is dubious.

    Smith’s best argument is that government mechanisms may just make things worse just because of their inherent inefficiencies. Right now, there’s pretty much no telling for sure! But if we can link a carbon tax to a reduction of other taxes, I think the chances are decent of doing more good than harm.

  9. “if anything-should be done about global warming.”
    Objection; This assumes fact not in evidence.
    Fact: No increase in temperature since 1998.
    Fact: Greenland used to be green, not a shit of ice.
    Where is proof of global warming?
    Where is proof that global warming is a danger to human civilization?

    Bailey are you still a member of the ACLU?

  10. “not a shit of ice.”
    Sorry, I meant “not a sheet of ice.”
    Apologize if any children were tramutized by reading my post.

  11. Among the (many) unanswered questions was Smith’s asking whether global warming policy is worse than global warming. Discussion of even Smith’s idiotic 20 degrees crisis point versus .07 degrees change is pointless if you don’t monetize the effect. So, also, are discussions of proposed abatements or alternatives.

    In any case, if carbon taxes are intended merely to discourage carbon use until more environmentally benign but economically viable alternatives arise, I see two purely political problems.

    First, there is, as far as I know, absolutely zero reason to believe that governments will impose carbon taxes but reduce other tax burdens. Who believes that will happen?

    Second, given the howls from Americans now at $4 a gallon gasoline, which Smith significantly compares to current European prices, what is the likelihood that a tax high enough to genuinely dissuade usage is politically viable?

  12. Fact: Greenland used to be green, not a shit of ice.

    BZZZZZZZZZZ Sorry Wrong. Core samples from Greenland’s ice sheet date back over 100,000 years.

    Thank you for playing, Johnny has some nice parting gifts for you.

  13. ACK stupid tag

  14. Where is proof of global warming?
    Where is proof that global warming is a danger to human civilization?

    The temperature in NYC today is going to be 94. Six months ago it was in the 20s. At this rate in a year the Hudson River will be near boiling.

  15. First, there is, as far as I know, absolutely zero reason to believe that governments will impose carbon taxes but reduce other tax burdens. Who believes that will happen?

    Well of course it wouldn’t happen on its own or without pressure on governments to do so. But our entire discussion presumes we as citizens may have some influence. If a significant political faction takes the position that it’s open to carbon taxes but only if accompanied by lowered other taxes, then yeah, it’s potentially realistic. If we oppose carbon taxes under any circumstance, we risk being marginalized and having less influence.

  16. so let me get this strait:

    1.There may be global warming, we’re not sure.
    2.If there is global warming, it might be cause by humans, but we’re not sure.
    3.Global warming might cause more harm than good, but we’re not sure.
    4. IF GW causes harm, we might be able to slow or stop it, but we’re not sure
    5. Slowing or reducing GW may cost more than the damage it would cause, but we’re not sure.

    Am I up to speed?

    My contribution: The people who say global warming is a looming threat also say that peak oil is imminent. If oil causes GW, won’t thes two problems cancle each other out without huge growth in government and corresponding loss of wealth and freedom?

  17. The answer is so simple: One world government. Bicycles. Rice paddies. Secret police to keep the peace. And me as your Dear Leader. Think about it. Loyalty will be rewarded.

  18. Will using white bears in the photo garner more sympathy for the plight of all God’s creatures in our race to prevent Mother Earth from becoming a lava planet?

  19. BZZZZZZZZZZ Sorry Wrong. Core samples from Greenland’s ice sheet date back over 100,000 years.

    Yes, Greenland has had an ice sheet for a loooong time. But the climate has been warm enough at times in the past to support colonies in it southern coastal regions.

  20. Turns out that probably due to warmth and CO2, the earth’s inventory of biomass has increased 6.2% over the past couple of decades.

    Now just imagine that it had gone the other way — decreased by the same amount — the greenies would be screaming their heads off.

    So why is it again that that’s the direction that they’re trying to take us?

    Watch those sunspots. Government carbon meddling may well turn out to be right up there with Fed monetary policy of 1929 — but the next Great Contraction may be the biosphere.

  21. Is it just my eyes or does the bigger bear have a picnic basket?

  22. Oil at $135 a barrel has done more to reduce AGW that all actions taken by all governments to date.

  23. Nope.

    Only the bears in Jellystone park have picnic baskets.

  24. I don’t know ed. This sounds familiar. Throw in some arbitrary power over . . . the Czech Republic, I guess, and I’ll pledge my support.

  25. Only the bears in Jellystone park have picnic baskets.

    That is Jellystone, Boo Boo! It’s been flooded by the melting polar ice caps!

  26. All the government talk about GW worries me far more than GW itself. This will be yet another massive governmental grap for power.

    I am surprised that Reason and many posters here are warming (sorry for the pun) towards it. Both cap & trade and carbon taxes need to be opposed strongly. The earth has gone through much much greater climate changes in the past and it is foolish to believe in climate stability.

    The current climate models are so inaccurate, they have to be adjusted every year to accurately predict the present. Even the present temp isn’t accurate as there are significant modifications to the raw weather station data to adjust for land use changes in the area.

    In my opinion, GW anlong with universal health care are scams to further allow the government to micro-manage our lives. I am so fed up, I have decided to vote straight L from now on.

  27. Is it just my eyes or does the bigger bear have a picnic basket?

    Yeah. That’s the stenographer, there, in the picnic basket.

  28. It’s Pic-a-nic baskets, you miscreants!

  29. It’s Pic-a-nic baskets, you miscreants!

    You aren’t smarter than the average pedant.

  30. “The” issue of global warming is actually a series of issues. Is global warming occurring? If so, how much is actually being caused by man and not natural causes? How much can man actually do to mitigate it? Do we really NEED to mitigate it–how much of a problem would GW actually cause, anyway? In short, it’s not enough to prove that GW is occurring. Much, much more needs to be proved to show that GW isn’t just the latest fear-crazed hysteria of doom-and-gloomers and power-hungry politicians.

  31. But our entire discussion presumes we as citizens may have some influence…If we oppose carbon taxes under any circumstance, we risk being marginalized and having less influence.

    The game is rigged–you only have influence by granting the legitimacy of the organization who set up the rules, and by compromising your beliefs. It’s like a person in the 1840’s deciding that the best way to “have influence” on the slavery issue is to come up with some slightly less onerous way of managing slaves, instead of being an abolitionist. If a significant political faction takes a position, ANY position, then you will have influence.

  32. Or you could reach down your pants, find your long lost testicles, and tell the world that global warming is a creepy millenarian scam that tries to extract money from people by telling them their killing themselves with the fruits of their prosperity.

    Or you could be a Bailey surrender monkey, idk…

  33. Larry N. Martin,

    If one does not believe AGW is occurring or that it can result in serious violations of individuals’ rights to self or property or that those violations are anybody’s business, then you would be correct that advocating coercive means to restrict greenhouse emissions would be a compromise of libertarian core beliefs. But if one does believe those things, then while textbook libertarianism does not account for such a position, it is consistent with the same principles that criminalize assault and vandalism, and it’s those principles that are most important to my own beliefs.

  34. Global warming is the symptom, overpopulation is the problem. Simple math folks.

  35. “And IIRC polar bears can swim.”

    If I recall correctly they’ve been known to swim as much as 50 miles in search of delectable seal morsels.

    I think we should have something like the running of the bulls at Pamplona, only make it with polar bears chasing environmentalists. Maybe they’d have a more reasonable view of the long-term survival chances of those cute white bears.

  36. Global warming is the symptom, overpopulation is the problem.

    And nuclear winter is the solution.

  37. But if one does believe those things, then while textbook libertarianism does not account for such a position, it is consistent with the same principles that criminalize assault and vandalism, and it’s those principles that are most important to my own beliefs.

    Ah! Now we’re getting somewhere. So, to engage in coercive actions, it’s only necessary to *believe* that harm is being done? Or is it necessary to prove that harm is being done, and the cause of that harm? If the latter is possible, then it doesn’t matter if there are no property rights in the atmosphere–what matters is that rights violations are occurring, and a human cause can be shown for those violations. If the police won’t act on it, you take the violators to court. Neither carbon taxes nor Cap & Trade are necessary or necessarily helpful because they don’t address individual rights.

  38. Global warming is the symptom, overpopulation is the problem. Simple math folks.

    Are you one of the “overs”, or one of the “unders”? Just to know who to off first, mind you.

  39. Mike Clem wrote:

    “Ah! Now we’re getting somewhere. So, to engage in coercive actions, it’s only necessary to *believe* that harm is being done? Or is it necessary to prove that harm is being done, and the cause of that harm? If the latter is possible, then it doesn’t matter if there are no property rights in the atmosphere–what matters is that rights violations are occurring, and a human cause can be shown for those violations. If the police won’t act on it, you take the violators to court. Neither carbon taxes nor Cap & Trade are necessary or necessarily helpful because they don’t address individual rights. ”

    DING DING DING! We have a winner! Take a bow, Mike. You nailed it.

  40. Michael A. Clem,

    Well obviously one’s beliefs should be based on evidence. My understanding is that the evidence supports AGL.

    When the vast majority of people on Earth are having their rights violated (to varying degrees) by things the vast majority of people on Earth are doing (to varying degrees), it’s rather hard for anyone to take anyone else to court, to put it mildly.

  41. My proposal:

    Carbon tax.

    Set by each country to its revenue-maximizing level, ensuring competition between governments, and penalizing those who set the carbon tax rate too high.

    Levied at source for simplicity, directly on producers of fossil fuels (coal, petroleum, natural gas), and emitters of other greenhouse gases as a price per tonne of CO2 equivalent.

    The higher energy and product prices get passed along to consumers who derive benefits from the fossil fuels and derivative products, and can voluntarily adjust consumption to a more optimal level.

    Critical: The tax proceeds get used to reduce income taxes (since it’s better to tax “pollution” rather than to tax productivity).

    Without that last paragraph, I’d be entirely opposed to a carbon tax.

  42. “…it’s rather hard for anyone to take anyone else to court, to put it mildly.”-fyodor

    I will go out on a limb and say that no condition, not even the one you specified, could possibly make that statement true.

  43. I feel sorry for Fred. He takes his basket of “Planet Gore” arguments to market and gets totally schooled!

    Nice one, Ron. My faith in you as a reluctant rationalist is restored.

  44. It would have to warm by over 20 degrees C to worry Smith. That’s pretty scary.

  45. Smith is one sick mutha. To save a few pennies per gallon, he is literally willing to fry the planet, devastate every ecosystem on earth, and put the homes of 1/3 of the people on earth under water…and that’s the best case. There is no assurance that our atmospheric composition would at all stay breathable under 20C warming. I hope he would be the first to choke.

    I quit reading anything he said after that point.

  46. MikeB | June 9, 2008, 2:24pm | #

    The earth has gone through much much greater climate changes in the past and it is foolish to believe in climate stability.

    Yes, and these times of great climate change resulted in mass extinctions, with much of the life and species on earth obliterated. I think I’ll take the carbon tax instead, thank you very much.

  47. Chad,

    Not sure how your reasoning follows.

    Major changes in the past have occured without man’s input and now we are facing a tiny climatic blip. Sure lets destroy our prosperity because it must be man’s fault. This will make the devestation caused by Rachel Carson’s crap look like childs play.

    The temperature numbers are bad.

    The models are faulty

    There is no evidence of man’s impact.

    There is no evidence that higher temps are bad (ie extictions were caused by ice ages)

    Right now our congress is passing legislation to destroy our way of life based on GW hysteria. Starvation has already increased around the world due to the ethanol scam. I really don’t want my standard of living to be destroyed by the nuts that buy in to this garbage.

  48. Chad your an idiot.
    If most “climate change” is due to the sun or an astroid striking the earth. Can’t do anything about the first, and even now, very little about the second.

    BTW: If you want to pay more taxes, I would be happy to take them from you and I promise to use it greenly.
    For example, instead of renting a car for Vegas I would go Greyhound.
    Thanks.

  49. Frederick,

    True, there is enougth (sic) oil there for us to use it forever.

    Yes, I’m glad you noticed. See how oil reserves have always grown? From thousands of barrels before the beginning of the 20th century, millions a few decades later, to trillions today. That’s technology. When it becomes economical, Canada’s tar sand stock will probably double what’s available. And that’s ignoring the fact that ever-abundant cellulose is what all this stuff used to be and can be transformed into it again, if we figure out how to do it economically (straight to methonal via sour mash isn’t all that difficult, after all).

  50. Great discussion.

    Green initiative have historically struggled to embrace a free market approach. It is a fair point to note that cap and trade is great in theory and bad in practice. Lobbying in the US is as strong as in the EU and cap and trade would turn into something like the CAP.

    Libertarians have historically suffered from a similar predicament. They have failed to embrace ecological solution in favor of technological ones. GMO mono-culture rather than say perma-culture. It is the same “ideological” mistake that the Greens fall into. “Doing something”, intervening sounds more “man-like” and seems more intuitive to our species than trusting the market or nature without intervention.

    But I understand the social challenge that Ron has touched upon. His social territory is probably conservative or libertarian. It is those folks who in theory support the “free” and “limited intervention” but for some reason have been most skeptical of environmental destruction and least knowledgeable of ecological laws and nature in general. No – the farmers do not know more about nature and animals than Thoreau. No – the folks who brought us mono-culture and factory farming and recently GMO do not know more about nature and ecology than naturalists. Libertarians and conservatives usually apply the right policies but sometimes pick the wrong targets and battles.

    Similarly – the Greens are surrounded by ideological and economical lefties and tend to support the right ecological solutions with the wrong statist policies.

    I hope that we pick the best of both worlds soon and not the other way around.

  51. The temperature numbers are bad.

    The models are faulty

    There is no evidence of man’s impact.

    There is no evidence that higher temps are bad (ie extictions were caused by ice ages)

    Yes, and the earth is flat, smoking doesn’t cause cancer, and we don’t need to worry about global warming anyway, because Jesus will save us. The second coming is nigh!

    There is no point in discussing with you further. If God himself came down and told you that you were wrong, you would stick with your position all the way to the seventh level of hell. Your unwillingness to admit you are wrong in spite of both common sense and overwhelming evidence is amazing.

  52. Terry | June 9, 2008, 8:47pm | #

    Chad your an idiot.
    If most “climate change” is due to the sun

    It isn’t. This question has been studied to death. The sun has had negligible impact on current climate changes.

    or an astroid striking the earth.

    Most major extinctions and climate events (including the current one) have nothing to do with asteroids.

    BTW: If you want to pay more taxes, I would be happy to take them from you and I promise to use it greenly.

    There are already people out there who do a much better job and have independant auditors. I’ll just use them, but thanks for the offer.

  53. The Polar Bear pictures were taken by an Australian tourist on vacation in Alaska. The month the pictures were taken was August. They were actual hitching a ride farther off shore to avoid seal hunting quotas put in place by US gov’t. they are now being distressed by the Law of the Seas Treaty. They are concerned they may have to give up new born cubs on a 1 to 1 basis to the UN.

  54. “…it’s rather hard for anyone to take anyone else to court, to put it mildly.”-fyodor

    I will go out on a limb and say that no condition, not even the one you specified, could possibly make that statement true.

    Uh…..your point being, what? That you could always find a way to take someone to court? Sheesh, okay, I guess I missed one word. It would be rather hard to legitimately take someone to court! Better now?

  55. Nn related news, Aspen will be open for skiing next week.

    Heh, yeah it’s been a cool spring here in Colorado after a pretty good snow season. The latter is more a function of moisture than temperature and the former, well, y’know, back when I followed Ron B. into AGL denial I gave my lefties royal shit for their “anecdotal evidence.” Don’t work no better in the opposite direction, and just as dumb.

  56. What global warming?

    When there’s no problem, the right response is to do nothing, especially when doing something costs a lot of money and provides little if any benefit.

    Didn’t the Copenhagen conference just conclude that spending money to fight global warming would be woefully inefficient, even if you assume the problem exists?

  57. What global warming?

    Exactly. The ice caps are going threatening our liberal democracies, and the polar bears are just the first wave. Their numbers are increasing. Soon we will be overrun. The only solution is to club their ice and melt their seals.

    If you’re not burning baby seals, you’re helping the furry, white menace threatening goddess gaia!

  58. Craig | June 10, 2008, 2:27pm | #

    Didn’t the Copenhagen conference just conclude that spending money to fight global warming would be woefully inefficient, even if you assume the problem exists?

    Copenhagen found that fighting global warming passed a cost-benefit analysis in every scenario but one, and every scenario they looked at had the odds stacked against it passing (steep discount rates that negated most of the benefits, little or no accounting for species loss and side benefits).

  59. Denying the existence of global warming in the face of the evidence that has been compiled to date is a good way for right-libertarians to win back the guffaw-inducing obscurity that Ron Paul squandered with his intelligent and serious paleo-con criticism of the Iraq War.

    No, I don’t want to argue and convince you. I want you to stay right where you are, keep yammering, and fade back into the comic relief role you rightfully play in our political culture.

  60. evidence is the plural of anecdote

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.