The Copenhagen conference on climate change: what are we learning?

180 Comments

  1. Griff Wigley said:

    The Nfld News has 5 climate change-related letters to the editor in yesterday’s paper, all of them reacting to earlier letters from Carleton College professors Joel Weisberg (11/25 letter) and Norman Vig (12/9 letter) about their comments about consensus among climate scientists:

    Weisberg:

    There is a massive consensus among climate scientists and other scientists who closely follow the research (including myself) that global warming/climate change is a proven theory and that humans are the primary cause.

    Vig:

    The time is long past to claim that there is no consensus on the human causes of climate change. The overwhelming majority of climate scientists support the conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. There are always some dissenters in scientific debates, but that does not mean that we can ignore the findings of the great majority of experts.

    December 13, 2009
  2. Paul Zorn said:

    I read the letters Griff alludes to.

    The main issue these writers raise is whether science proceeds by consensus or whether minority views deserve respect. The writers accuse Carleton Professors Weisberg and Vig, who use the c-word in their letters to the News, of holding the former view.

    Professors N and V can speak for themselves. But I’m underwhelmed by the letter-writers’ logic, for at least two reasons.

    The less important reason is that “consensus” has several different meanings in common use, and this ambiguity tends to muddy discussions in which that word arises. One meaning is something like “unanimity”. By this standard, almost nothing is, or can be, scientifically known. Another meaning is more like “large majority”, which has very different practical implications. Evolution deniers often conflate these (and other) meanings, inferring from the existence of technical controversies that the whole theory of evolution is bunk. I don’t put the News letter writers in this sad camp, but both discussions founder to some extent on use of language.

    A more important objection to these letters is that they assert a truism, but draw from it an unsupported inference.

    That scientific truth is not a matter of majority vote, or even consensus, is perfectly true. If there’s consensus on anything among scientists it’s (ironically) on this very point: scientific knowledge and theories, no matter how broadly accepted, are always “falsifiable” by new data, no matter how inconvenient.

    But that’s not at issue here, and I think we needn’t tremble like the letter writers at the risks to Carleton students’ intellectual development. Where the presence or absence of consensus (by any definition) comes legitimately into discussions like this one is in good-faith efforts—especially by non-experts like me—to evaluate the various claims and scenarios that scientists offer. Climate science is complex, and it’s natural and healthy that climate scientists are not unanimous on lots of things.

    In the real world, citizens and policy-makers need some way to cope with non-unanimity, as regards climate and everything else. Short of becoming climate scientists themselves, citizens and policy wonks have little alternative but to try to gauge the relative levels of informed opinion on either side of an issue — to look for something approaching a consensus, in other words.

    This, too, is an inexact science, and on some issues the appropriate response might be “the jury is really still out” or even “beats the hell out of me.” In climate science there are lots of questions, especially about drivers and rates of change, for which one of those answers is the best I, personally, could do.

    But on the big questions — whether global warming exists and whether human fingerprints are on it — it seems to me that something like consensus really does exist, and should be taken seriously. Saying so does not, Northfield News letters notwithstanding, betray any bedrock principle of scientific openness.

    December 13, 2009
  3. Patrick Enders said:

    A nice, well-written article analyzing one doubter’s supposed “smoking gun” proving that scientists have been making up evidence for climate change. Thanks for linking to that.

    The article’s conclusion:

    So, after hours of research, I can dismiss Mr Eschenbach. But what am I supposed to do the next time I wake up and someone whose name I don’t know has produced another plausible-seeming account of bias in the climate-change science? Am I supposed to invest another couple of hours in it? Do I have to waste the time of the readers of this blog with yet another long post on the subject? Why? Why do these people keep bugging us like this? Does the spirit of scientific scepticism really require that I remain forever open-minded to denialist humbug until it’s shown to be wrong? At what point am I allowed to simply say, look, I’ve seen these kind of claims before, they always turns out to be wrong, and it’s not worth my time to look into it?

    Well, here’s my solution to this problem: this is why we have peer review. Average guys with websites can do a lot of amazing things. One thing they cannot do is reveal statistical manipulation in climate-change studies that require a PhD in a related field to understand. So for the time being, my response to any and all further “smoking gun” claims begins with: show me the peer-reviewed journal article demonstrating the error here. Otherwise, you’re a crank and this is not a story.

    December 13, 2009
  4. Peter Millin said:

    The Climate gate issue has given the cap and trade crowd a real hard body blow.
    Despite much denial from it’s supporters we can not ignore the emails hacked in to from the CRA.

    The CRA has been a main source for projections in climate change justifying the cap and trade tax.

    The destruction of the source data in combination with the emails has casted serious doubt to the science behind climate change.

    This is very unfortunate becuse if there is some truth to manmade climate change then an open and rational discussion has become doubtful.

    CRA has simply overplayed their cards. Too bad.

    December 14, 2009
  5. Griff Wigley said:

    Tim Goodwin has a letter to the editor in yesterday’s Nfld News:

    All the letters attacking Vig and Weisberg attacked their use of the word consensus and similar language and talking points, presumably from ultimately a single coalition of individuals. By the logic of those attacking the professors, as long as any scientists disagree with the majority, we can’t move forward because some doubt? If that is so, then we should remove the warning labels off of cigarettes. There will always be some disagreement in science.

    December 17, 2009
  6. David Henson said:

    The two letter writers merely assert a “consensus view” on global warming among scientists … they assert no facts or special understanding. Even Patrick and Paul Z, this blogs global warming trumpeters, assert they themselves have no educational background that would give their own views merit and are relying solely on a perceived scientific consensus. The danger becomes how much of this “consensus” is among scientists whose opinions are uneducated by facts or specific know how but rather a deep seated belief that man is damaging nature. If one looks at the individuals and could already guess that they would subscribe to any theory that has man damaging nature then one has to be very dubious about giving up human freedom to a elite cabal based on that theory.

    December 17, 2009
  7. Sean Fox said:

    David–I think the two letter writers were responding to the earlier NfldNews letter which claimed that there was no scientific consensus. Regardless of whether you think “scientific consensus” is important or not it seems hard to claim it doesn’t exist. Most major science professional organizations (who’s job it is to represent their constituency) have made statements in support of the ‘consensus’. I’m not sure what better evidence (or possible counter-evidence) could exist to document the consensus. Of course consensus doesn’t mean there aren’t *any* people who disagree. But the vast majority do.

    The ‘danger’ that you cite seems to be that people who don’t have the appropriate expertise (e.g. scientists who don’t study the climate) will make claims and people will give those claims more weight than they might give to non-expert claims. I’ll agree that that can be a problem in all walks of life and with all sorts of expertise. There are two important points in this case:

    1. While not all scientists are experts in the climate (most are not) many are expert in the process of science. They are in a good position (better than most non-scientists) to judge whether the process that led to a scientific claim was, in fact, scientific. This becomes relevant as much of the current public debate around climate change is not around the particulars of the science (which few of the debaters are actually expert in), but on the ‘scientificness’ of the process. I’d claim many scientists are in a better position (they have more relevant expertise) in making these sort of judgment than many non-scientists. It would be great if it weren’t so: if public education would leave most citizens with a clear understanding of what science is, how it works, and how to weigh the merits of its claims. But I will state (as an expert in science education) that that is not the case.

    2. While we might be wrong to rely on the consensus of scientists who aren’t climate experts, happily we don’t have to. It is also the case that there is a consensus among those scientists who *do* have expertise in the climate. See for example the AGU statement on climate change:
    http://www.agu.org/sci_pol/positions/climate_change2008.shtml
    or the IPCC report. Again, it is possible to find *some* folks with relevant scientific credentials who disagree on some aspects of the consensus. But most do not.

    As far as your theory that all these consensual scientists are actually just acting on some sort of (presumptively unscientific) belief that people are damaging nature I’m not sure what evidence you’re drawing on. My observations from having been in many discussions about these issues with practicing climate scientists are quite different. They largely echo my own sentiments which are that the notion that man could ‘damage’ nature misses the point. First, humans are part of nature. Second, nature can’t be ‘damaged’. Nature is what it is. At one point the earth was anoxic and devoid of life. At one time this point on globe was covered in ice. That’s all nature. Neither good nor bad.

    It’s not a matter of ‘damage’ but of change over time.
    Changes have and likely will happen that are advantageous to humans and others have and will that are not. Some will happen slowly, and some will happen quickly. Our choices now are not about ‘saving’ nature but about doing what we can to make sure the nature our children and grandchildren grow up within isn’t radically worse (in the sense of difficult to live productively in) than the one we’ve got now. This is a purely pragmatic perspective: we are changing the earth in ways that will make it more difficult for us to live here. We should do something to slow those changes because (and here’s the belief/faith/non-scienctific part) we would rather not put that burden on our offspring.

    If you’re not concerned with the long-term prosperity of the human race (the value of which science can not weigh in on) then climate change is likely not important.

    Of course there are notions (mostly coming from faith traditions) of nature as ‘good’ and specifically nature *as it exists today* as being the desire/good state of the world. And these beliefs get overlayed by all sorts of people on discussions around the issues. But I personally don’t believe they are serving as motivation for a world-wide movement by scientists to blind themselves to the facts.

    December 17, 2009
  8. David Henson said:

    Sean, you state “we are changing the earth in ways that will make it more difficult for us to live here.” Certainly the scare tactics of Al Gore would suggest this but all economic indicators do not suggest it. Food is not getting more expensive, etc. I honestly see this as more a religious movement and a grab for power than real science. Even if it were real science, one would have to ask how is turning massive control over to an elite cabal going to fix “the problem” … find me a historian that would agree that this process will result in a solution verses corruption.

    December 17, 2009
  9. Sean Fox said:

    David, sorry I don’t quite understand your argument. Are you saying that we should expect current economic indicators (price of food and such) to predict difficulties a generation from now? I certainly wouldn’t. I’m not sure what economic school of thought would. Markets tend to act on information relevant to timescales on which their actors want returns. And most actors in markets I’m aware of are interested in return on investment over years (at most), not decades (or longer). Certainly there are exceptions (institutions making long term investments with no expectation for immediate returns). But they are small players (in total dollar terms) and aren’t likely to sway the entire market.

    As far as fears of turning ‘control’ over to an elite cabal I’d agree that’s a long standing theme/problem throughout human history. I’d argue that we have yet to reach a point in history (ever) when there wasn’t some small group of people wielding inequitable amounts of power in ways that don’t necessarily follow the best interests of the many. Certainly, democratically elected government is a step in the right direction, but by no means perfect. Of course much power is wielded these days by the leaders of multinational corporations. And if I have to choose to ceed my power to an elite cabal that claims to represent my interests (but might not) and which claims not to be corrupted by the influence of money (but might be), or to ceed it to corporate interest that only claim to be interested in their own short-term (in the climate sense of short) profit, and for whom the influence of money represents the normal way of doing business I’d choose the former.

    Of course I’d agree that I’m not holding my breath that humanity is magically going to find the means to positive collective action. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t the right thing to strive for.

    December 17, 2009
  10. john george said:

    There is an interesting commentary, or at least I think so, in today’s Pioneer press. It is written by Daniel Sarewitz and Samuel Thernstrom. The link is here-
    http://www.twincities.com/opinion/ci_14013124?nclick_check=1

    They make two good points

    “The terrible danger — one that has been brewing for years — is that the invaluable role science should play in informing policy and politics will be irrevocably undermined, as citizens come to see science as nothing more than a tool for partisans of all stripes.”

    “…the true complexity of the climate debate has been camouflaged by the myth of pure, disinterested science.

    That myth has allowed politicians to shirk their responsibility to be clear about the values, interests and beliefs that underpin their preferences and choices about science and policy. Better to recognize that decisionmakers, depending on their political beliefs, will weigh the evidence and risks of climate change differently when evaluating policy options. Their choices will influence the distribution of benefits and costs, and will have varying and uncertain prospects for success. Voters should evaluate the decisions on that basis, rather than on the false notion that science is dictating the choices.”

    I feel their presentation is a good balance that differentiates between science and politics. The politicization of climate change is a distration from what we really need to be concentrating on. I appreciate this observation, also.

    “Moreover, problems such as climate change are much more scientifically complex than determining the charge on an electron or even the structure of DNA. The research deals not with building blocks of nature but with dynamic systems that are inherently uncertain, unpredictable and complex. Such science is often not subject to replicable experiments or verification; rather, knowledge and insight emerge from the weight of theory, data and evidence, usually freighted with considerable uncertainty, disagreement and internal contradiction.”

    I respect anyone who is willing to be honest and transparent about the limitaions of the particular discipline they are associated with. Their analysis does not refute the majority opinion in the scientific community, but their presentation of it certainly seems more reasonable than some of the sky-is-falling conclusions that have been presented in the media.

    December 17, 2009
  11. Paul Zorn said:

    Thanks, John G, for the link to the Sarewitz/Thernstrom piece. It’s a good read, and makes (IMO) some valid points.

    Here’s one quote:

    We do not believe the East Anglia e-mails expose a conspiracy that invalidates the larger body of evidence demonstrating anthropogenic warming; nevertheless, the damage to public confidence in climate science, particularly among Republicans and independents, may be enormous.

    In other words, the real damage from the East Anglia affair, say S&T, is to public confidence in climate science rather than to the science itself.

    I agree completely, except to add that public confidence in science has been shaky for a long time, perhaps forever, but surely starting well before the East Anglians’ e-mails got hacked.

    On go S&T:

    The terrible danger — one that has been brewing for years — is that the invaluable role science should play in informing policy and politics will be irrevocably undermined, as citizens come to see science as nothing more than a tool for partisans of all stripes.

    Again, this “terrible danger” is not just “brewing.” It’s fully fermented, and citizens and politicians have been drinking the brew for years. The last administration, fortunately, finally had its driver’s license revoked.

    S&T muse, interestingly enough, on being “seduced, and undone, by the notion of scientific purity”—and their weird coupling of “seduction” and “purity” is good clean fun.

    Where S&T get it a bit wrong is in not sufficiently distinguishing the purity of science from that of scientists . It’s one thing for some or even many scientists to behave badly or insensitively or even dishonestly. (I don’t know that the East Anglians did so — and S&T explicitly avoid asserting this, too.) It’s quite another thing to undermine or invalidate the authority of the scientific process itself.

    The good news about science is not that scientists can do no wrong. It’s that science, when it works right, is always about checking, validating, and invalidating its own conclusions. It’s an imperfect process, perhaps, but it’s very, very good, and it’s the best we have.

    December 18, 2009
  12. john george said:

    Paul Z.- Glad you enjoyed the commentary. I appreciate this one quote in the article-

    “The research deals not with building blocks of nature but with dynamic systems that are inherently uncertain, unpredictable and complex.”

    I’m not a scientist, but it validates my estimation of climate and the way it affects weather patterns. I think these two writers are very aware that applying scientific principles to “dynamic systems” is tricky at best. When we start making world-wide changes in our living patterns and believe we are doing it on settled, provable analysis, then I think we are putting or all our eggs in one basket. I would feel a little more comfortable having a contingency plan just in case our conclusions are incorrect. This is where political trends enter the picture. I agree with you that this is the best we have right now, but I think we need to move forward with caution and still not drag our collective feet.

    December 18, 2009
  13. Peter Millin said:

    The CRA emails are proof positive that numbers around global warming have been fudged. They do cast doubt on the science behind our premise of man made global warming.

    if yoou wanted to know what COP 15 was all about I strongly urge you to listen to the speech of Hugo Chavez. He like nobody else has summed up the purpose of cap and trade.

    The notion that we establish a fund for the poor countries to clean up the environment will have the same effect as years of missguided foreign aid. This money will go to the few rich leaders in those countries and will isolate them even more from the populus.
    Foreign money will be used by the repective leaders as a buffer to the economies in their own countries. If leaders are not depended on the tax dollars from their voting puplic (if there even are free elections)then what is the incentive for the leaders to serve their own people?

    December 19, 2009
  14. Sean Fox said:

    The CRA emails are proof positive that numbers around global warming have been fudged.

    Peter you state this opinion as if it were fact. There are quite a number of organizations that have stated exactly the converse. For example here’s what “Nature” has to say:
    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v462/n7273/full/462545a.html
    and the american meterological society
    http://www.ametsoc.org/policy/climatechangeclarify.html
    or the american association for the advancement of science
    http://www.aaas.org/news/releases/2009/1204climate_statement.shtml

    All of these organization remind us that the conclusion that have been reached are based on the work of many different groups collecting many different types of data. No one group is in the position to ‘fix’ the conclusion even if they had the nefarious motives some would claim. That’s how science works.

    So I find your assertion that ‘proof positive’ exists completely unconvincing.

    The economic/political questions of what a good response to climate change might be (e.g. the merits or lack thereof in cap and trade arrangements, etc…) are a very separate issue. They are not something science can offer a useful opinion on (beyond what the climate impact of a particular scheme *if successful* might be.)

    I’d agree that these are the more important issues and that they are very far from settled. Perhaps if we can all get beyond denial of climate change science we could actually tackle the harder issues here. What productive responses we can make to the situation?

    What action do you suggest we take? Or can you offer insight into why taking no direct action will lead to the best outcome?

    December 19, 2009
  15. norman butler said:

    Whilst climate science (like economics) is rather flimsy and always debatable it is the economics of climate science that makes it controversial.

    Whilst Pearl Harbor was a tipping point in the debate about whether or not to go to war and commit billions of dollars to that decision, it seems impatient and fiscally irresponsible to commit trillions to this massive undertaking (instead of other perhaps more obvious, certain and worthy ones) without better data, more proof or a similar tipping point.

    Global Warming is in danger of becoming just another scare (and hugely expensive one) in company with asbestoses, Y2K, mad cow disease, H1N1 etc.etc. (the list since thee early 60’s is long indeed).

    Climate science, like economic science, is best discussed in terms of the discipline being a “social” or even a “political” science.

    December 19, 2009
  16. Sean Fox said:

    There is no economics “in” climate science. There are economic implications that fall out of the observations and predictions that climate science makes. But economics is a very separate discipline (with very, very different standards as to what might constitute a theory worthy of general consideration).

    In *all* sciences there is a degree of uncertainty in all results. And as with all science we have to clear about the sources and degree of uncertainty in all measurements. Meteorology is a similar science in that its outcomes are often expressed to the general public in ways the make those uncertainties explicit. We’re all used to taking weather predictions with that uncertainty in mind. When the forecasters predict 9-12 inches of snow we (and the forecaster) realize it may be 4 or it may be 16. But few would plan to venture outdoors in shorts on that day. Uncertainty does not mean unknown.

    Certainly it would be nice if there was some dramatic event early in the process that would galvanize public opinion. But waiting for the big dramatic event is not always a good decision. Arguing that the best possible course of action in WWII was for the U.S. to wait until Pearl Harbor to get involved seems silly. Clearly, the best actions (given perfect hindsight) would have been early intervention before any of the hostilities started. Countless lives could easily have been saved if people had taken the ‘scare’ about Nazism (and Japanese expansionism) seriously earlier on. Of course I wouldn’t claim that it was realistic to imagine that early intervention could have happened. But to say that waiting for the ‘tipping’ point always leads to the best outcomes seems odd.

    A more on-topic example, imagine the financial implication of having acted earlier about the ‘scare-mongering’ surrounding New Orleans’ vulnerability to hurricanes. It would have cost money up front, but the net savings (in cash and lives) would have been huge.

    Tipping point events don’t always happen early enough to take useful action.

    Clearly you have to weigh:
    1. the cost of fixing the problem
    2. the certainty of the problem
    3. the cost of ignoring the problem if it is real

    and do the math. It’s a bet and you have to know the odds. Too many people seem to dislike the game and so want to deceive themselves about the odds. It’s certainly human nature. And there are certainly countless wolf-crying incidents throughout history that have inured us to cries of crisis. But neither of those facts changes the actual odds in #2.

    Lots of people seem bent (for I think obvious reasons) on mixing the science with the economics. It only clouds the issue. If you claim that we have no idea (in a political/economic sense) about how to solve the problem I might agree with you. But that’s different than saying the problem doesn’t (or is unlikely) to exist. I disagree with that strongly.

    December 19, 2009
  17. There are both technological and natural ways to lower energy usage whether or not you believe it should be done for political, ecological, moral or whatever cal reasons you can imagine. I am hoping and praying that the era of “this is good enough” and “whatever” give way to “why don’t we do the best job we can with the tools we have and do better when we have better ones” era, so we can move on and leave a cleaner, healthier, and happier world to the children.

    I give a loud shout out to Hennepin County for going telecommute as of late. They are already experiencing lower costs, happier and more productive employees.

    December 19, 2009
  18. norman butler said:

    Sean, though there was plenty of evidence, incidents and intelligence pre 9/11 to recommend counter-attacking terrorism, it took 9/11 to galvanize the country into agreeing to spend billions of dollars and thousands of lives in so doing; many would say over-doing. No such persuasion exists re global warming and, again, it is folly to back the notion that we are all going to die (again) unless we throw away what little treasure we have left on these unproven speculations.

    Contemporary Climatology is a social science (much like economics) in that it does not take a consensus but rather a weight of numbers plus a silencing of dissent to get your theory adopted and to secure your funding. Both are unlike meteorology which more resembles astrology in that the predictions of these disciplines are not pompous and self-important and are fun and lead to good daily conversation.

    Bright, we all agree that it is preferable to drink clean water and perhaps this alone merits the fear mongering; yet I think what comes out of all these scares (and they are numerous) is why we as a species insist on being scared to death in order to get on with out lives.

    December 19, 2009
  19. Sean Fox said:

    Norm, if the point of your 9/11 analogy is: even when faced with compelling evidence of a very real future danger people are likely to wait until it’s too late to take action –then I wouldn’t disagree. All I’ve been trying to say is that the warning is likely correct: not that I believe people are likely to end up taking appropriate action.

    I don’t think anyone is saying we’re going to die unless we throw away all our treasure (at least not that I’ve heard). The IPCC report outlines what seems likely to happen (spoiler: not everyone dies). There have been some arguments that the economic cost of doing nothing (as a result of the sort of things the IPCC report say will happen) will (very very) greatly outweigh the cost of possible solutions. So it’s not an end of the world situation. It’s a good long term economic bet situation.

    Now I don’t know how much we should believe those economic arguments. Perhaps they are wrong and we’re better off (economically) just staying pat and letting things unfold. That may be. But it doesn’t invalidate the science.

    December 19, 2009
  20. Peter Millin said:

    Sean,

    If there is nothing to worry about why was the source data destroyed? Why did it take a hacker to get this information, despite several requests made to release the data.
    The truth should always be under full disclosure anything else is just suspicious.

    BTW I do believe the earth is getting warmer I just don’t believe that it is man made…

    The real reason for the alarmist is to introduce more means to control the populus and for poorer country to extort more money from the rich countries.

    Did you listen to the Hugo Chavez speech…and even more so did you hear the reaction of the people listening to it?

    Cap and trade is just another scheme in the redistribution of wealth. Which makes the CRU findings even more suspicious.

    December 19, 2009
  21. Sean Fox said:

    If there is nothing to worry about why was the source data destroyed? Why did it take a hacker to get this information, despite several requests made to release the data.
    The truth should always be under full disclosure anything else is just suspicious.

    Peter, as I understand it some old source data may have been tossed as it was expensive to store and when tax payers clamor for more ‘efficient’ government costs have to be cut somewhere. At the time the data was tossed (the 80’s) climate change wasn’t on the radar and it seemed a clear choice. I’d agree it would have been better to have bumped peoples taxes a bit so they could have afforded to store the data.

    The request for the information was complicated by the fact that (again because of budget constraints) the original data (which CRU gets from various national weather services) is not given out freely, but is sold. It is sold because that is (in part) how those national weather services fund their operations. So CRU didn’t have the rights to redistribute that data. Hence it’s inability to simply turn over the data when people asked. Again, I’d agree it would be better for the science if those national weather services had been funded sufficiently to be able to make the data available freely. I’d whole-heartedly agree that the ‘truth’ should be freely available. Unfortunately when we choose to rely on free-market forces to fund parts of our science we are choosing data secrecy.

    Nothing about the data handling strikes me as being at all suspicious.

    December 20, 2009
  22. norman butler said:

    This from National Geographic…google “global warming on mars”…

    Mars, too, appears to be enjoying more mild and balmy temperatures.

    In 2005 data from NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor and Odyssey missions revealed that the carbon dioxide “ice caps” near Mars’s south pole had been diminishing for three summers in a row.

    Habibullo Abdussamatov, head of space research at St. Petersburg’s Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory in Russia, says the Mars data is evidence that the current global warming on Earth is being caused by changes in the sun.

    “The long-term increase in solar irradiance is heating both Earth and Mars,” he said.

    Solar Cycles

    Abdussamatov believes that changes in the sun’s heat output can account for almost all the climate changes we see on both planets.

    Mars and Earth, for instance, have experienced periodic ice ages throughout their histories.

    “Man-made greenhouse warming has made a small contribution to the warming seen on Earth in recent years, but it cannot compete with the increase in solar irradiance,” Abdussamatov said.

    December 20, 2009
  23. Patrick Enders said:

    Palin speaks on global warming:

    “Arrogant&Naive2say man overpwers nature,” Palin tweeted.

    “Earth saw clmate chnge4 ions;will cont 2 c chnges.R duty2responsbly devlop resorces4humankind/not pollute&destroy;but cant alter naturl chng,” the former Republican vice presidential nominee wrote.

    http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2009_12/021552.php

    December 20, 2009
  24. Sean Fox said:

    Mars, too, appears to be enjoying more mild and balmy temperatures.

    of course that national geographic article also points out that the scientific community gives no credence to the hypothesis because:
    “the idea just isn’t supported by the theory or by the observations”.

    December 20, 2009
  25. Peter Millin said:

    Yeah Sean those evil free market sources and those mean capitalist made the CRU destry the source data..LOL.

    I bought my daughter and external hard drive for christmas 1 TB for $100 dollars at Best Buy. Data storage is just so expensive.

    America has been made great by free markets and capitalism we didn’t achieve this by being Europeans…quiet the opposite.

    Did you listen to the Chavez speech at COP 15..based on your comments he might be a close kin to you….LOL

    December 20, 2009
  26. norman butler said:

    That’s right Sean; yet another hypothesis. So how about not spending loads of money until we know for sure…continue the search for the scientific “truth” about global warming, humankind’s role is its cause and possible amelioration…rather than buying into “belief”, no matter how many support the hypothesis.

    December 20, 2009
  27. Paul Zorn said:

    Norm,

    You say:

    it is folly to back the notion that we are all going to die (again) unless we throw away what little treasure we have left on these unproven speculations.

    Yes, that would be folly. Does anyone advance such a notion?

    And then:

    Contemporary Climatology is a social science (much like economics) in that it does not take a consensus but rather a weight of numbers plus a silencing of dissent to get your theory adopted and to secure your funding. Both are unlike meteorology which more resembles astrology in that the predictions of these disciplines are not pompous and self-important and are fun and lead to good daily conversation.

    Uff da. I’m no climatologist, economist, or meteorologist, but one suspects you’d get arguments from practitioners of all of those fields. (Less clear to me how an astrologer would feel.)

    The part I find wrong-est—if indeed you’re serious—is the idea that cabals of climatologists, or economists for that matter, have and exercise some mysterious power to “silence dissent” in order to grab big research bucks. Individuals may sometimes behave badly, in any field, but dissent and disagreement are what science is all about. Well-supported contrarian views in science get more, not less attention, than conventional wisdom, and most scientists like nothing better than to upset apple carts.

    The problem with contrarian scientific theories is not, with few exceptions, that they’re ruthlessly suppressed. It’s that contrarian scientific theories are so often wrong.

    December 20, 2009
  28. Sean Fox said:

    Peter I must admit I tossed in the evil free market sources bits largely for your benefit. Glad you enjoyed them. Hard drives are certainly cheap. The CRU data was tossed in the mid-80’s when 1 terabyte worth of disk space cost $100 million. Of course what they tossed was mag tape and paper. And what they tossed was their *copies* of original data collected *and still available* from national weather services who are responsible for curating the information. No data was lost.

    December 20, 2009
  29. Sean Fox said:

    So how about not spending loads of money until we know for sure.

    Norm, in science we have a very specific sense of what it means to know “for sure”; in fact that’s sorta the whole deal with science as a way of knowing. We’ve already reached that point with climate change.

    December 20, 2009
  30. john george said:

    It seems in all this discussion about “knowing for sure”, as the article I referenced in the Strib stated, we are not dealing with building blocks of nature but dynamic systems which are uncertain, unpredictable and complex. Is this statement true or false? If it is true, then we will never be able to achieve a level of certainty about climate that is possible with, say, gravity. If this is the case, then the equation boils down to what or whom we believe, IMO.

    The facet I have not heard posited in this discussion is how the natural world around us is able to adapt. A case in point is the First Gulf War, where Sadam set pretty much all the oil wells in Kuwait afire. I remember reading about this in National Geographic, saw the pictures of the blackened skies, and read the dour predictions of how this would turn the Gulf of Arabia into a lifeless cesspool that might never be able to be cleaned up. Interestingly enough, within a couple years, there was no trace of the polution anywhere in the Gulf, and sea life is flourishing. It seems that scientific certainty is limited to those observations that can be replicated and documented in such a way that the laws governing the observations can be defined with certainty. Maybe I am missing something, but I don’t see that “scientific certainty” in the articles I have read about climate science. I don’t deny that things are changing in our atmosphere, but I think we are exalting ourselves a little by claiming human-only responsibility for it.

    December 20, 2009
  31. Patrick Enders said:

    John, you wrote:

    I don’t deny that things are changing in our atmosphere, but I think we are exalting ourselves a little by claiming human-only responsibility for it.

    Scientists are not claiming that we are the only cause of climate change – just that we are a non-insignificant contributer to it.

    December 20, 2009
  32. norman butler said:

    Sean, what “science” are we talking about here? Climatology? Meteorology? Economics? And pray tell when was that point reached?

    Patrick, sure we are not an insignificant contributor but is it wise to throw away gazillions of dollars on what essentially remains at this stage highly debatable observations, inferences, postulates, data collection, hypotheses, leaps-to-theories, calls for action, pleas for funding, arrogant dismissal of counter-arguments, panic, fear mongering, and hasty international conferences with little of no progress or agreement.

    This is all reminiscent of what John George is talking about as well as WMD in Iraq and all the other scares that we seems to delight in.

    December 21, 2009
  33. Sean Fox said:

    Norm, we’ve reached that point with climate science. An international group of climate scientists gathered a bit ago. They pulled together all the relevant data and publications and drew conclusions about exactly how much we knew and what the uncertainties are. The conclusions were that there were still some large uncertainties but there were still some things we could be confident of. They wrote this up in a report. And then were given the nobel prize for the work.

    Here’s their summary for policymakers:
    http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/syr/ar4_syr_spm.pdf

    December 21, 2009
  34. Peter Millin said:

    The IPPC was one of the main reciipients of data collected by thr CRA.

    Here is a noble idea: create a world body that will force changes in the climate debatte without consent of all the countries.

    Call me paranoid, but this sounds a lot like a “New World Order” to me.

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article6963482.ece#cid=OTC-RSS&attr=3392178

    ttp://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/janetdaley/6845967/Therell-be-nowhere-to-run-from-the-new-world-government.html

    Now where have I heard this before hmm ??

    Yeah, right !

    Volker, hort die Signale!
    Auf, zum letzten Gefecht!
    Die Internationale
    Erkampft das Menschenrecht

    Translation:

    So comrades, come rally
    And the last fight let us face
    The Internationale unites the human race.
    So comrades, come rally
    And the last fight let us face
    The Internationale unites the human race.

    December 21, 2009
  35. Sean Fox said:

    Peter you’re once again intermixing two separate issues.

    The first is the question of whether science has a defensible claim about human activity driving climate change. This is the point I’ve been focusing on. Unless you believe in global conspiracies that encompass almost all climate scientists the answer here is clear. (If you do believe that there’s not much we have to talk about).

    The second is what (if any) actions folks should take in response to this. I’m not making any claims here, and in fact would agree with you about the merits of Gordon Brown’s suggestion.

    The problem is that’s it’s a common (and misleading) rhetorical strategy for folks who want to make an argument about the second issue to (instead of actually making the argument in that realm) just make a claim that first realm is unclear and therefore we shouldn’t talk about the second.

    I can think of all sorts of strong arguments against the current activities that are going on in the second realm. There’s no need to reduce your credibility but mixing in spurious claims about the first.

    December 21, 2009
  36. Peter Millin said:

    The fact that politicians use this to further impose controls over us should be worrisome to all of us, and certainly bring in question SOME scientists motivation.
    Most scientists have rely on government funding to keep their research alive.
    What would happen to all those climatologists if they would declare global warming is just a natural cycle?
    What would be the need for government to support further research? Scientists are not as independend as they used to me..just follow the money.

    December 21, 2009
  37. Sean Fox said:

    True, there may be *some* scientists who imagine they’ll get more money if they falsify their work. But again, the whole point of the process of science is to weed out external influences and indefensible claims and get down to those limited thing for which actual compelling evidence exists. Unless you believe in a world-wide conspiracy in which virtually all climate scientists have been willing to toss their professional ethics to the wind and accept and promote things they know to be false then we’re left with the consensus conclusion.

    That sort of ethical lapse has been seen in some field (look to medical research) and generally goes hand in hand with large sums of money passing hands (usually from drug companies). And those are cases where the particular treatment/drug was only ever studied by one, or a few scientists. So you only need a small group of unethical people to tip the balance. Here we’re talking about an issue that’s being independently studied by thousands of individuals in many different groups.

    I’ve heard no evidence of greenpeace, or the ‘elite cabal that’s secretly planning to control the masses’ passing money to all the climate scientists in the world. Seems like if I was bent on distorting the scientific process to create hysteria and promote some sort cause of world domination then picking climate change as my target would be profoundly stupid. I’d pick some science that wasn’t based on evidence that had already been accumulating for millenia (and so would require a very fancy falsification strategy), that wasn’t practiced by lots of scientists around the world and that had a faster timeline for action. Perhaps some sort of secret disease that was going to kill us all.

    No climate scientists are getting rich on this. They may be hiring more post-docs, they may be switching their research focus to a more climate-change related topic, they may be encouraging more of their grad students to stay in the field as the job prospects are better. But none of those things seems like it’s gonna be worth risking professional suicide.

    Do you really believe this sort of world-wide conspiracy among scientists is going on?

    If I follow the money I see the resources of the anti-climate change groups (big petroleum) far out-stripe what has been spent on climate research and I see a small number of individuals (who get money from those big petroleum companies) spreading lies and dissent–writing into local papers in distant small town with misleading claims.

    December 21, 2009
  38. Paul Zorn said:

    John G,

    You asked:

    … we are not dealing with building blocks of nature but dynamic systems which are uncertain, unpredictable and complex. Is this statement true or false?

    IMO it isn’t clear enough to be unequivocally true or false.

    It is certainly true that dynamical systems can be unpredictable and complex; the mathematical theory of chaos aims to define, quantify, and (to the extent possible) even predict some things about systems that behave “chaotically”. If this seems counterintuitive, note that a coin flip is in one sense completely unpredictable, and yet the percentage of heads in 1000 coin flips hovers quite predictably near 50.

    The first part of your question is, for me, most problematic, as it seems to assume implicitly that “the building blocks of nature” are somehow not uncertain, unpredictable, or complex.

    This assumption is false. A lot of things in nature are, of course, completely predictable, like what happens after an apple drops from the stem. But randomness is built into nature, too, as in determining which stem the apple falls from, and who’s sitting below when it happens. Evolution through mutation — randomness controlled by selection — offers lots of other good examples.

    More:

    … we will never be able to achieve a level of certainty about climate that is possible with, say, gravity.

    So far, so good. Indeed, the findings and predictions of climate science are subject to revision, tuning, recalculation, etc. And gravity is doubtless better understood, and more amenable to confident predictions. (But not even gravity is *fully* understood — see last Sunday’s Strib, for instance, on possible observation of “dark matter” by detectors deep underground in a former mine in northern Minnesota. Dark matter could help us understand better why stuff sticks together rather than flying apart.)

    And this:

    If this is the case, then the equation boils down to what or whom we believe, IMO.

    If by this you mean only that mathematical-style certainty is elusive in natural science, then I’m with you. But if you mean that, lacking perfect certainty, natural science becomes nothing more than believing whatever or whomever you prefer, then I couldn’t disagree more. That way lies real chaos.

    December 21, 2009
  39. john george said:

    Paul Z.- The “building blocks” statement is not mine, but lifted from the comentary by Sarewitz & Thernstrom. I’m assuming that they are refering to those natural phenomina whose interactions can be replicated and predicted with some certainty. Perhaps I am giving them more credit than they are due in that assumption. As I understand mathmatics and science, it is mathmatical models that define or quantify the certainty of the scientific observations, in reference to your last statement, “…If by this you mean only that mathematical-style certainty is elusive in natural science, then I’m with you…” That is indeed to what I am refering.

    That was a very interesting article about the theory of dark matter. Naive as I am, I supposed that gravity was a foregone conclusion. It appears the understanding of the mechanics of it are not.

    Back to the problems we are experiencing with the atmosphere, most of the articles I read claim that man has soul responsibility for these changes. I also read that we can correct this direction, but it involves turning the whole world on its ear. I just don’t believe that, when it can’t be demonstrated mathmatically. Man’s total annual contribution of CO2 into the atmosphere is still less than 4% of the total. Perhaps societies can be directed by minorities, but I have yet to see natural phenomina directed by a minority.

    December 21, 2009
  40. kiffi summa said:

    Anyone interested in reading a very exciting and thought provoking plan for achieving 100% clean energy in 20 years?

    Go to FLYP, an on-line magazine, and read the article entitled “Powering a Green Planet”. It is written by two California environmental research scientists/professors. Their names are Mark Z. Jacobson and Mark A. Delucchi; one at Stanford, one at UC/Davis.

    Whether or not you agree that such a plan is possible to achieve, please keep an open mind. And don’t balk at the cost… think of the cost of building the system we now are functioning with, and its ultimate costs.

    This plan makes the most sense to me of anything I’ve read; making use of all the increments of various systems rather on relying on finding the ONE perfect replacement is so reasonable.

    Twenty years is not a long time at all… in fact an amazingly short time… to build a new energy structure. Think about it…

    December 22, 2009
  41. Peter Millin said:

    Sean,

    Falsifying maybe to strong of a word, but bending the truth in order to justify once job is more plausible.

    Thomas Sowell sums it up much better than I can….the title sums up my feelings.
    If science gets manipulated by poltiticians we the people get hurt in the process.
    Big Pharma is not the only one using money to get their goals….I would add big government in to the mix as well.

    Case in point..Nelson and Landrieux

    Truth Is Victim When The Left Abuses Science
    By THOMAS SOWELL
    Posted 12/21/2009 06:50 PM ET

    View Enlarged Image
    Science is one of the great achievements of the human mind and the biggest reason why we live not only longer but more vigorously in our old age, in addition to all the ways in which it provides us with things that make life easier and more enjoyable.

    Like anything valuable, science has been seized upon by politicians and ideologues, and used to forward their own agendas.

    This started long ago, as far back as the 18th century, when the Marquis de Condorcet coined the term “social science” to describe various theories he favored. In the 19th century, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels distinguished their own brand of socialism as “scientific socialism.” By the 20th century, all sorts of notions wrapped themselves in the mantle of “science.”

    “Global warming” hysteria is only the latest in this long line of notions, whose main argument is that there is no argument, because it is “science.”

    The recently revealed destruction of raw data at the bottom of the global warming hysteria, as well as revelations of attempts to prevent critics of this hysteria from being published in leading journals, suggests that the disinterested search for truth — the hallmark of real science — has taken a back seat to a political crusade.

    An intercepted e-mail from a professor at the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia in England, to a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, warned the latter: “Don’t any of you three tell anybody that the U.K. has a Freedom of Information Act” and urged the American professor to delete any e-mails he may have sent a colleague regarding the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

    When a business accused of fraud begins shredding its memos and deleting its e-mails, the media are quick to proclaim these actions as signs of guilt. But, after the global warming advocates began a systematic destruction of evidence, the big television networks went for days without even reporting these facts, much less commenting on them.

    As for politicians, Sen. Barbara Boxer has urged prosecution of the hackers who uncovered and revealed the e-mails!

    People who have in the past applauded whistle-blowers in business, in the military or in Republican administrations, and who lionized the New York Times for publishing the classified Pentagon papers, are now shocked and outraged that someone dared to expose massive evidence of manipulations, concealment and destruction of data — and deliberate coverups of all this — in the global warming establishment.

    December 22, 2009
  42. Sean Fox said:

    Falsifying maybe to strong of a word, but bending the truth in order to justify once (sic) job is more plausible.

    Peter, no it isn’t. The whole point of the scientific process is to relentless question every theory put forward; whittling away any error (whether an intentional ‘bending’ or an inadvertent error). So while a single scientist may put forward something that bends the truth the process will ensure that what comes out the other isn’t distorted.

    I’d absolutely agree that the outside of the scientific process there are lots of parties cherry picking and distorting information from within the process to their own ends. And I’d agree that this is a huge problem and we have to think very critically about claims made by non-scientists (or scientists who make claims that run counter to what the process has produced) about what the science ‘says’. But that is not reason to toss out the outcomes of the process.

    The emails (when taken out of context) don’t put those particular scientists in a good light. But to leap from there to claims that climate change isn’t justified is an illogical leap. It belays either a profound mis-understanding about how science works, or intent to deceive. And perhaps a bit of both.

    December 22, 2009
  43. john george said:

    Kiffi- That is a good article in FLYP. It is the best proposal I have heard form anyone who might actually have a position to exert some influence. Combining a variety of types of energy production is not a new theory, but this article is the first to give some realistic numbers toward that goal by combining only renewable sources. The proposals I have run across before always had some carbon-based method in the combination. That track does not really free us from the problems we are facing. Hopefully, there will be some political/economic traction to these ideas. Any changeover in technology is alwauys costly, but if we factor in the whole future into the equation,then $100 trillion is probably not that much. The initial investment of that much money over the next 20 or so years is what is perhaps a little scarey, especially with the national debt we are presently facing.

    December 22, 2009
  44. Paul Zorn said:

    Kiffi,

    Thanks for the ref to the FLYP article. The same plan, by the same authors, appeared in the last few months in Scientific American. Another “Grand Plan”, this one focusing almost solely on solar energy for the US, appeared in Scientific American about a year ago.

    Both of these plans would involve gigantic investments in infrastructure, together with considerable political will and courage. Judge for yourself what the opinion of a non-economist and non-politician may be worth. But I expect the financial costs are reasonable, given the pots of money we now spend on fossil fuels — let alone the ancillary costs and troubles. I’m less optimistic on the political front.

    In any event, the best source I’ve seen anywhere on renewable energy is the book Without Hot Air , by David MacKay, a British physicist at the U. of Cambridge. (I’ve recommended it before on this site.) MacKay’s main point is that serious discussion about energy has to be informed by numbers and data — and he provides a lot of them. MacKay looks largely at possible energy strategies for the UK, but nearly all of the analysis makes sense anywhere the laws of physics apply.

    You can download the entire book, free, at http://www.withouthotair.com , or just read sections here and there. (Start with the 10-page synopsis.) If 300 pages on such stuff sounds daunting, don’t be fooled: MacKay is a first-rate science writer, has a nice British sense of humor, and isn’t afraid to gore (Gore?) anyone’s sacred ox.

    you can get all of it, free, at

    December 22, 2009
  45. Paul Zorn said:

    John,

    You say:

    … most of the articles I read claim that man has soul responsibility for these [climate] changes.

    I think you meant sole responsibility, but perhaps there’s something apt about “soul” here, as that, too, may be at risk.

    And then:

    I also read that we can correct this direction, but it involves turning the whole world on its ear.

    A bit of rhetorical overkill, no? Plans I’ve read or heard of—including the one Kiffi pointed to and you praised—hardly amount to inverting the world.

    And then this:

    Man’s total annual contribution of CO2 into the atmosphere is still less than 4% of the total. Perhaps societies can be directed by minorities, but I have yet to see natural phenomena directed by a minority.

    We’ve been over this before.

    In a system that’s evenly balanced even a small extra input will build up over time. The “carbon bathtub” is a nice analogy: check out http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/big-idea/05/carbon-bath

    December 22, 2009
  46. Griff Wigley said:

    Carleton Prof. Norm Vig has a guest column in today’s Nfld News titled Global warming heats up talk in Northfield.

    Unfortunately, as so often happens, citizen debates are hijacked by organized disinformation campaigns. When Joel Weisberg and I wrote letters in support of the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change report, we were attacked in the following issue by skeptics from Chicago, Connecticut and England. Hmmm. The News really gets around!

    A quick check on the Web shows that two of these writers work for organizations that received substantial funding from Exxon Mobil and the third is a coal industry journalist. At least two of them have been involved in the tobacco company fight against second-hand smoke regulation. We need to look at their arguments pretty carefully.

    December 23, 2009
  47. David Ludescher said:

    Copenhagen has taught us that any changes for cleaner energy for the U.S. or other developed countries is going to be offset by more consumption from underdeveloped countries, such as India and China.

    Even if everyone in the world agreed that global warming was true, and if everyone agreed that reducing carbon emissions was the solution, we would still have the massive political problem of implementation.

    December 23, 2009
  48. Paul Zorn said:

    David,

    I think we knew these things before Copenhagen. What’s your point? What should we do?

    December 23, 2009
  49. john george said:

    Paul- I guess that will teach me to write something secular in the midst of a scriptural discussion! My soul could get carried away, but my sole purpose is to repent. I receive your correction. Thanks for pointing out my spelling error.

    We have discussed the fragileness of the atmosphere before. If climate is a “dynamic system” as S & T suggest, then is it not constantly adjusting itself to compensate for short term (century or so) changes? How long a time period has the atmosphere been “equally balanced?” I’m going to do a little research on this, for I honestly do not know what is out there about it. The example I know of is the Gulf of Arabia that I referenced before.

    As far as the rhetorical overkill, that is debatable. If it were an easy task we were embarking on, it seems there would not be quite so much opposition. Perhaps I am wrong in my estimation, but it seems there is a lot of thinking that is going to have to change over the next couple decades to accomplish the task proposed in the FLYP article.

    December 23, 2009
  50. David Ludescher said:

    Paul: My point is that the U.S. focus has to be realistic. Summits like Copenhagen are feel-good political solutions offering very little hope. Summits, cap-and-trade, ethanol, and other proposed solutions are just putting a finger in the dike.

    Ultimately, I think the solution has to be economic. So long as carbon based energy is cheaper than non-carbon based energy, carbon emissions will climb in the world. Spending massive amounts of government money to prop up non-carbon industries is foolish unless those industries can produce cheaper energy in the long run.

    December 24, 2009
  51. john george said:

    David- I think you have a good point, there. The thing I have wondered is if we will see technology advances come at a fast rate, as in home electronics? If this is the case, then manufacturing costs should decrease as companies recoup R&D costs. The one thing we are stuck with is the cost of infrastructure. No one has come up with a way of distributing energy to homeowners aside from a copper wire. Communications are a different story, as these can be done wireless. China is a good example of a country that has leap-frogged the communications infrastructure. They were slow at distributing hard-wired communications, so when cell phones came along, they were able to jump right into the mass communications field. The US is still strapped with hundreds of thousands of miles of copper/fiber optics phone lines that we need to make pay for themselves somehow. It is like the old saying, the early bird gets the worm but the second mouse gets the cheese.

    December 24, 2009
  52. kiffi summa said:

    David: Christmas Eve and all, makes me really object to your notion of world wide conferences, hoping to achieve a world wide treaty, are nothing but “feel good” endeavors.

    We, the ‘exceptional’ USA, cannot do this alone; it is a world wide problem, to state the obvious.

    I consider myself to be ‘ultra- American’, heritage-wise, and I consider that it is America’s responsibility to provide strong leadership in a world-wide solution. There can be no more isolationism even if we favored that position because it’s more simple… but that’s just it…it’s too simple, and our lives are not simple anymore.

    We’re not on a self-sufficient farm.

    December 24, 2009
  53. David Ludescher said:

    Kiffi: We have to take seriously the arguments of the right about the need to be practical, not idealistic. For example, Sarah Palin argues that America can spend massive amounts of money without making a significant reduction in greenhouses gases worldwide. She is right. Do we really want to repeat our experience with ethanol?

    Furthermore, we have no assurances that global warming would be halted even if, by some minor miracle, we could control carbon emissions better. The earth has heated and cooled over the ages for reasons that are out of human control.

    I haven’t heard one good, realistic solution from anyone on either side of the debate. What I heard from Copenhagen is that China, India, and the underdeveloped world are not going to restrict their carbon emissions at the expense of their country’s economic development. They will be at a permanent disadvantage if the status quo is maintained.

    December 24, 2009
  54. Paul Zorn said:

    David:

    Yes, we should be realistic. What “realistic” means is an open question.

    The idea that solutions have to make economic sense is also well-taken. But again it leaves the hard questions open. For instance, deciding whether carbon-based energy is indeed cheaper than the alternatives depends on which costs are accounted for, and how honestly. Spending some “government money” to encourage non-carbon-based energy sources — and to avoid some of the existing “massive” ancillary costs of carbon-based energy — could prove to be a good investment.

    The environmental strategy that makes most sense to me economically is a carbon tax. Some or all of such a tax could be rebated to encourage carbon-free or less carbon-intensive alternatives — or even to offset other taxes, like payroll or Medicare or social security. But it seems cleanest to me to keep it all in the energy family.

    December 24, 2009
  55. john george said:

    Patrick- I just saw your comment in post #30. This is a quote I lifted from one of numerous articles about the cause of global warming.

    “While arguments persist, there’s little doubt that human-produced greenhouse gas emissions play a major role in the current warming trend. Nature has a role, but it pales in the face of increasing emissions from human activity.”

    Here is the link to the article.

    http://blog.sustainablog.org/the-top-causes-of-global-warming-natural-or-human/

    According to the research I have found, manmade contributions of CO2 to the atmosphere have increased by about 1% of the total over the last 150 years or so. That is why I question the accuracy of this statement above “… but it (natural causes) pales in the face of increasing emissions from human activity…” Seems to me like Chicken Little all worked up.

    December 24, 2009
  56. john george said:

    Paul Z.- I really don’t understand the purpose for an energy tax. Is this supposed to be a source of funds for alternative energy systems? Is it supposed to be an incentive to reduce carbon consumption? Or, is this something that is yet to be determined? It seems to me that if we want to reduce CO2 production, then taxing those who produce it is a negative way to approach it. Those persons/industries that have high CO2 output, and can afford the extra taxes, are not going to change their production methods. They will simply raise the prices of their products to cover the extra expense. A case in point is Al Gore. He resides in a 10,000 sq. ft. house that consumes the energy of a small town, but his carbon foorprint is supposedly zero because of the carbon credits (taxes) that he buys. Is his lifestyle and those like him really reducing the amount of CO2 being released into the atmosphere? I think not, but that is my personal vendetta.

    Looking again at industries that emit large amounts of CO2, if new processes are found to produce the same products and reduce the amount of CO2 emitted at the same or less cost of production, then that is real progress. Not only does it energize entrepeneurship, but it actually accomplishes the goal of reduced CO2 contributions. How does a carbon tax relate to this?

    December 24, 2009
  57. Griff Wigley said:

    Lee, Vicki and Riana Dilley have a letter to the editor in today’s Nfld News: Earth’s climate is changing.

    Few people have been privileged to live with or even know the first victims of climate change. Our voice is speaking for the people of the island nations: Tuvalu, Kiribati, Marquesas, Haiti and many other nations. Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are the countries least responsible for global climate change. Scientific assessments consistently identify SIDS in particular as the most vulnerable countries that will suffer disproportionately from the impacts of climate change. What is happening to these nations is not a theory to be debated, this is fact; the islanders are physically threatened. Many have already had to relocate to other land, usually in another country as a climate refugee. Entire nations are likely to become extinct … culture, language, ethnic group will be gone, gone forever.

    December 26, 2009
  58. Paul Zorn said:

    John G:

    A well-known effect of taxing anything is to discourage its use, either altogether or compared to less expensive alternatives. This is so regardless of the taxer’s intent, or of the purpose to which tax revenue is put. (It might not be so in the case where no alternatives exist.) So yes, a carbon tax (note I didn’t say “energy tax”, though perhaps that’s thinkable) could discourage carbon consumption, and encourage alternatives.

    How individuals (like Al Gore) respond to tax incentives and disincentives can make for good journalistic fun, but it has little to do with the larger principle. What counts most is what happens at large scale.

    The idea that rich corporations are somehow immune to tax incentives is wrong. Corporations might try to pass costs off to consumers, but those same consumers, given the choice, could switch to lower-priced alternatives. Just watch beef, pork, and chicken prices.

    How governments should use carbon tax income (e.g., rebate some or all of it to non-carbon-based energy producers, reduce income or business taxes) is a separate question. There are traps to avoid, and in one sense the question is meaningless — money is fungible. Still, IMO, it’s reasonable for a society to divert some of the proceeds of discouraging an unwanted practice to encourage a hoped-for result. We do this already in lots of ways. (One of my favorites is that a portion of visa fees from temporary IT workers in the US is ploughed back into scholarships for US citizens majoring in science and technology disciplines.)

    You rightly praise the hope that CO2-heavy industries might find ways to do their thing at lower CO2 cost. That’s what’s best about a carbon tax: it gives CO2-heavy industries a clear and simple market incentives to reduce emissions rather than to leave cleanup and climate-change costs to the society at large. In your words, a carbon tax can “energize entrepreneurship.”

    December 26, 2009
  59. john george said:

    Paul Z.- My term “energy tax” was just poor composing on my part. I was meaning “carbon tax.” As long as the taxes collected are actually invested back into industry to promote R&D of alternative energy sources, it will be productive. I personally do not have full confidence that the government will be able to hold that course, but time will tell. As long as we are actually producing less CO2, then, according to the science out there, we will see at least a stabilization in the climate change. That issue seems to suggest a responsibility on everyone’s part.

    December 26, 2009
  60. David Ludescher said:

    Paul: I don’t see how Copenhagen got us any closer to a solution.

    December 26, 2009
  61. Paul Zorn said:

    John G:

    Re 49.3 … I think it’s reasonable to invest at least some of the proceeds of a carbon tax to promote alternative energy.

    But note that, even without such reinvestment , taxing carbon-heavy sources would raise their prices and hence encourage alternatives. So reasonable people might argue that at least some of such moneys should offset other taxes. I’d especially expect to hear this from economic conservatives, but am glad to welcome you, John, to the ranks of big government spenders.

    December 27, 2009
  62. Paul Zorn said:

    David,

    Re 49.4: I didn’t follow the Copenhagen summit story closely, so I have no strong opinion about whether it got us closer to a solution. It certainly doesn’t seem to have revolutionized world opinion, or galvanized united action. But it might prove to be part of a long process toward improvement.

    Either way, so what? What does the success or failure of one particular event have to do with pros and cons of various economic strategies? Do I miss your point?

    December 27, 2009
  63. norman butler said:

    “..victims of climate change”..? Where there are victims, there are law suits. Good grief!

    December 27, 2009
  64. john george said:

    Norm- If the US gets trapped with paying for all the clean-up of the climate, you and I will be the victims. Would that be anti-climatic or what?

    December 27, 2009
  65. john george said:

    Oops! I meant to say “clean-up of the atmosphere.” Sorry.

    December 27, 2009
  66. john george said:

    Paul Z.- Part of the money they are spending began in my paycheck, let alone what I pay in increased costs of goods and services. Let’s just say I feel more like a draftee than an inlistee.

    December 27, 2009
  67. Peter Millin said:

    It is sad to see that certain people are losing their homes due to natural occurrences.

    But isn’t that just part of the history of earth. Haven’t we lost cultures and entire species due to natural changes in the environment?

    The only difference today is that we have instant access to this information.

    December 28, 2009
  68. Vicki Dilley said:

    Filifau, Esau, Lasaini, Tulua….these are just a few of the names of the possible climate refugees. Real people with real names. It is easy to sit in our cozy homes (heat in the winter, airconditioning in the summer) and not think about those affected by our decisions. Keeping our heads in the sand and backs to those in need because history has destroyed species and cultures before seems to me to be a very selfish and ignorant act. And Norm, don’t worry about your pocket book, these victims have no resources to take anything from you. You are safe, they are not. We all benefit when we think outside of oursleves and ask what we can do for our neighbors.

    December 28, 2009
  69. Paul Zorn said:

    Peter:

    You ask:

    Haven’t we lost cultures and entire species due to natural changes in the environment?

    Yes, nature can be brutal. But you’re dodging (or assuming an answer to) the most important question here: Are changes in Tuvalu, Maldives, and similar places really “natural”? Or might we all have helped?

    And then:

    The only difference today is that we have instant access to this information.

    The “only” difference? Really? Doesn’t it matter that humans may be partly at fault here? And that we know a lot more about climate science than we did in the past?

    December 28, 2009
  70. john george said:

    Vicki- I appreciate your concern for these people. Since we are seeing a pattern of sea levels rising, for whatever reason, and affecting their island nations, I would think the noble thing to do would be to open our borders to the citizens of those nations. That is action that can be done now to ease a problem they are facing right now. I have a precedent from my particular world view, and that is providing refuge to the sojourner. Since this problem did not arise overnight, it seems to me that any changes we make in our lifestyles will probably not produce perceptable effects overnight.

    December 29, 2009
  71. Mike Zenner said:

    Copenhagen failure: Hard to get an agreement on how to slice up the contracting global economic pie(due to depleting fossil energy,natural resources, and expanding population) when everyone wants to hold onto or expand their piece of it!

    The link below is an 83 page PDF that pretty much spells out the difficult choices that need to be made quickly and how for now we are only giving lip service to (see “The Wrong Tree” pg2). Also, very illuminating on pros and cons of energy choices currently available.

    http://www.postcarbon.org/new-site-files/Reports/Searching_for_a_Miracle_web10nov09.pdf

    Griff, 3rd post underscore spam filter caught?

    December 29, 2009
  72. peter millin said:

    Paul,

    Yes, nature can be brutal. But you’re dodging (or assuming an answer to) the most important question here: Are changes in Tuvalu, Maldives, and similar places really “natural”? Or might we all have helped?
    —————————————————-

    Yes, this is the heart of the question. The one that hasn’t been answered yet.
    I am just pointing out the possibility that it is not man made.
    ————————————————–
    The “only” difference? Really? Doesn’t it matter that humans may be partly at fault here? And that we know a lot more about climate science than we did in the past?
    ————————————————–
    My point was that in the past civilization have been eradicated by natural causes without us even knowing. Since there was no information system in place to notice it.
    We are now much more aware what goes on in the world around us, due to faster and better information.
    This can lead to hasty and/or wrong interpretations.
    What seems to us as an unique event today might have repeated itself many times before as part of a natural cycle.

    What killed the dinosaur? We can only speculate?

    December 29, 2009
  73. David Ludescher said:

    Mike:

    If the only lesson that we learn from Copenhagen is that people and countries will need financial incentives to reduce carbon emissions, then Copenhagen will be a success. It seems to me that we haven’t been very honest in addressing the two different problems to arrive at a solution.

    The “Al Gore Problem” is a real and perplexing problem. For all of his pontification on the global warming problem, Gore still consumes a grossly disproportionate amount of carbon based energy.

    Even if we could solve the Al Gore Problem, and all the developed countries were to band together to reduce carbon emissions, it seems quite likely that the developing countries would just produce more, thereby offsetting any gains.

    The first problem may be solvable; but, the second problem isn’t.

    December 30, 2009
  74. Mike Zenner said:

    David,

    My post was directed more towards the understanding that a lower carbon energy generation complex translates directly to a smaller GDP due to the fact that that any form of work requires energy. Higher cost energy is equivalent to a tax on the economy as a whole which in turn retards GDP growth. Very high energy costs and/or a shortage of needed energy results in negative or contracting GDP. In the absence of our consumption of the worlds fossil fuel endowment, the global GDP must contract substantially and along with it a large part of the worlds population, to match the energy level provided by alternatives alone. This, I feel, is where the honest discussion with the public should be.

    Whatever carbon trading racket that Al Gore and his Wall Street friends are cooking up is only going to inflate their bank accounts and not the world GDP. No amount of Money shuffling, taxing and carbon derivatives will fix the fundamental issue of less energy.

    You are correct in the assumption that the developing nations will consume more energy if they are truly developing (e.g. growing GDP) as stated above go hand in hand, with the cheapest and most reliable energy to be used up first. It would only seem fair that the developing nations get poll position after developed nations had our energy faces submerged in the fossil fuel trough for over a century.

    December 30, 2009
  75. Patrick Enders said:

    David,
    And…?

    Are you suggesting that because it will be difficult to convince developing countries to limit carbon emissions, we should not try to solve either problem?

    That seems rather foolish, unless you believe that neither of the problems is a real one.

    If that’s not your point, then – like Paul – I’m really not sure what your point is.

    December 30, 2009
  76. William Siemers said:

    Mike..What about advances in technology? Your reasoning seems to assume that there will not be improvements in both the utilization and production of energy…some of which are likely unimaginable from a contemporary perspective. And won’t some of these advancements come about because of higher cost and/or scarcity?

    December 31, 2009
  77. David Ludescher said:

    Patrick: I don’t have an answer. But, it seems to me that the only thing more foolish than doing nothing is doing what we are doing. Do you or I or anyone else have an idea what it would take to arrest global warming? If the current level of emissions are causing global warming, what percentage decrease do we need to reverse the trend? What are the chances that we are going to be able to reduce global warming given the current political situation of developing/developed nations?

    My point – We need a broader approach to addressing the issue. All indications are that carbon emissions will continue to climb in the years to come. We need to develop a plan to deal with the obvious. Our current solution is similar to health care – let’s throw money at it.

    December 31, 2009
  78. Mike Zenner said:

    William,

    Incremental improvements in utilization and production of current technologies slows the decline but won’t solve the supply problem.

    Like the title of the PDF I attached above “Searching for a Miracle” anything is possible. However, whatever this yet to be found new energy source would be needs to comprise elements from this planet that are in great abundance and that would require less energy input then what would be obtained from its use.

    Its reasonable to assume that with brute force on a continent wide deployment of renewable energy (solar, wind) at current efficiencies coupled with a massive high voltage DC grids(underground?) connecting all these sources along with pumped hydro storage, that a viable renewable electrical energy system is possible. Question is is there enough resources, political will, and money available to do this? I know the environmentalists would be apoplectic in opposition to a plan like this.

    The primary question is do we need to grow GDP and population anyway? Obviously the banking community says yes because that is what supports their usury system of extracting profit from the larger economy. I feel we as a society might be better off with less energy, less material wealth and healthier too. OMG, I am sounding like a socialist!

    December 31, 2009
  79. peter millin said:

    Great perspective Mike and I couldn’t agree any more with most of your points.

    If we could frame the discussion as pointed out by you we would be able to really address the issue.

    Most people agree that there is a limit to fossil fuel, most people are not out to destroy the environment.
    We need to balance the issue of GDP growth and energy issue in a smart and sensible way. This has to happen in a comprehensive way will all options on the table.
    I don’t believe that we have a single magic bullet to solve our need for energy in the future.
    It has to include the remaining fossil fuels, solar energy, wind mills, nuclear, natural gas, hydrogen, thermo and others.

    I am hopeful that in the coming years we will see political leadership that stays away from interest groups and focus on realistic solutions.

    Between “drill baby drill” and going back to horse and buggy there must be a better way.

    December 31, 2009
  80. Peter Waskiw said:

    We are also learning there is a “good probability” that increases in global warming leading to dramatic changes in climate, on some countries, is caused by human behavior / practices / development patterns.

    December 31, 2009
  81. Paul Zorn said:

    David:

    You say:

    We need a broader approach to addressing the issue. All indications are that carbon emissions will continue to climb in the years to come. We need to develop a plan to deal with the obvious.

    Right. Could anyone disagree?

    Our current solution is similar to health care – let’s throw money at it.

    In what sense do we now “throw money” at this problem?

    January 1, 2010
  82. Paul Zorn said:

    Repeating (or re-repeating) an old theme: advantages of a carbon tax.

    Don’t take my word for it. Read this:

    http://finance.yahoo.com/expert/article/economist/208577

    by the Naked Economist (block that metaphor!), a brilliant (i.e., he agrees with me) U. Chicago economist. Notice, especially, his point that even climate denialists should like this idea.

    January 1, 2010
  83. Mike Zenner said:

    Paul,

    A Carbon Tax may very well reduce CO2 output but its not a booster for the economy in the long term. I hope your not selling it as such. The Naked Economist is a typical credit card Keynesian, spend the money today and pay the minimum payment on the bill tomorrow.

    High energy costs makes everything more expensive which contracts consumption causing lower GDP, which also causes lower tax revenues. Further, will drive what little of the US productive economy off shore to developing nations, who will be pushing harder on the growth accelerator to meet up with the devolving developed economies, somewhere in between where we are now and where they are.

    This new lower economic level will be a point where higher cost alternative energies can sustain lower economic activities. This devolution will be particularly hard on those who are already on the economic margin.

    January 1, 2010
  84. Sean Fox said:

    Mike, you’re equating the economic impact of a carbon tax with the economic impact of higher energy prices. They are not the same. Notably with a carbon tax all the ‘cost’ of the higher energy prices is available (as tax revenue). Until you account for how that tax revenue is spent you have no idea how the carbon tax will effect the GDP. There are trivially obvious examples where a carbon tax would lead to an immediate increase in GDP.

    For instance if we divided all taxed behaviors into those that impact GDP (e.g. the cost of electricity to run your auto plant) and those that don’t (e.g. the cost of choosing to leave your christmas lights on all night) we could choose to refund all the taxed money (and more) to those GDP enhancing activities, while not refunding the tax on the GDP neutral activities. That would immediately result in an increased GDP (though people might not like it).

    Of course you could argue that it’s unlikely the political system will choose to use the tax money in ways that boost the GDP. But that’s a different argument than implying a carbon tax *must* lower the GDP due to some inviolable economic law.

    January 1, 2010
  85. Paul Zorn said:

    Mike:

    You said:

    A Carbon Tax may very well reduce CO2 output but its[sic] not a booster for the economy in the long term. I hope your[sic] not selling it as such.

    I’m not “selling” a carbon tax as an economic panacea — we have more economic problems than any one medicine could hope to cure. But I (and the Naked Economist) think that a carbon tax is better for the economy than no carbon tax. We might hurt a bit now, but (I think) less than we’ll hurt later if we do nothing.

    Then you say:

    The Naked Economist is a typical credit card Keynesian, spend the money today and pay the minimum payment on the bill tomorrow.

    Come again?

    The N.E. may or may not be a Keynesian, whether or not “typical” or of the “credit card” variety. But how would one infer this from the N.E.’s advocacy of a carbon tax. What’s especially Keynesian about that?

    January 1, 2010
  86. Mike Zenner said:

    Sean,

    Sorry, I may have mislead in a quick transition in my thinking, going from speaking of near future Carbon Tax to a more, not so distant future higher costing energy structure.

    I guess I’ve always assumed that Carbon Tax revenues would be directly returned to the economy in help building a viable alternative energy infrastructure. I feel any other type of government spending of this revenue would be squander.

    January 1, 2010
  87. Mike Zenner said:

    Paul,

    I see the Carbon Tax as a tool to push us to make the energy transition sooner, rather than later when there will be less fossil fuel to build a new energy structure from, and consequently fewer options, and time available.

    From NE:

    “Given the current deep recession, we could even introduce the income or payroll tax cuts now and then phase in the carbon tax in a year or two, after the economy has recovered. We would get a stimulus in the present while guaranteeing higher government revenues in the future (to begin paying down our staggering national debt).”

    This is textbook Keynesian, deficit government spending now and assumed increased government revenues in the future.

    Problem is the federal government has been stimulating the economy for over 30 years now with nearly increasing contiguous deficit spending. We never get to the point of balanced budget or surplus which even Keynes himself expected to make his theory work.

    It’s even more disappointing to see that NE views the Carbon Tax to be used as just another tax for use in deficit reduction. Although, as the last 30 years have shown, the deficit is never addressed, and therefore, Carbon Tax will be squandered.

    January 2, 2010
  88. Paul Zorn said:

    Mike,

    Again, the N.E. might or might not be a textbook Keynesian, but I see nothing specifically Keynesian (or anti-Keynesian, for that matter) in a carbon tax.

    You say this:

    It’s even more disappointing to see that NE views the Carbon Tax to be used as just another tax for use in deficit reduction.

    The N.E. does not view a carbon tax as “just” another way to reduce the deficit. On the contrary, his main point is much simpler: taxing carbon would reduce carbon use. Taxing anything, of course, raises tax revenue, and so it’s no surprise that the N.E. discusses possible ways of using this revenue, some of which have nothing to do with the deficit.

    January 2, 2010
  89. Mike Zenner said:

    Paul,

    You’re right. I should have stated it as such: “It’s disappointing that the NE considers the Carbon Tax to be just another tax to be squandered”.

    January 2, 2010
  90. Paul Zorn said:

    Mike:

    I guess we’ll just have to disagree not only about whether the N.E. is right or wrong, but also about what he’s saying. So be it.

    New on the carbon tax front: today’s Strib has a commentary by Timothy Taylor, “managing editor of the Journal of Economic Perspectives, based at Macalester College in St. Paul”.

    http://www.startribune.com/opinion/commentary/80371187.html?elr=KArksc8P:Pc:U0ckkD:aEyKUiD3aPc:_Yyc:aUU

    Taylor’s general point is that a lot of hot-button legislation is unnecessarily complicated and technical. For example (this may sound familiar, Mike):

    There’s a simpler, faster and more direct way to reduce America’s use of fossil fuels, whether because of concerns over climate change, or other air pollution and environmental concerns, or because of the unwanted U.S. dependence on imported oil. Phase in a tax on fossil fuels or carbon emissions. Start at, say, 10 cents more per gallon of gas each year for a decade, with equivalent taxes for other fossil fuels. Use the money to cut other taxes or reduce budget deficits.

    Right on, Tim.

    January 3, 2010
  91. Mike Zenner said:

    Paul,

    Right on Tim, Indeed!

    Good article but he could have boiled it down to this:

    The complexity of legislation these days (health reform, cap and trade, stimulus package, etc ) is the direct product of hiding the true beneficiaries (corporate\government special interests) of these laws, while sticking the average American with the Tab, in the supposed interest of providing for the common good.

    Best rule of advice “Follow The Money”, it will lead to the answer on why the complexity and who’s benefiting from it.

    January 3, 2010
  92. Ray Cox said:

    Paul, you identify the issue in Tim Taylor’s article that really gets lost in all the kurfuffel over the climate change discussion. I think the basic issue was flawed right out of the starting blocks. I personally think it is a real stretch to think man can control our climate….either by warming it up or by doing something to cool it down. I say the discussion is flawed because the reduction of carbon dioxide has been wrapped in this climate discussion.

    It would make a lot more sense to me to focus on the overall benefits of removing pollutants from the air…..period. Some years ago we made great strides in removing sulphur dioxide from the air. We didn’t base the campaign on “we really need to keep our buildings and statues from getting do dirty so lets get rid of sulphur dioxide”. It’s a pollutant chemical that we don’t need to spew into our air. The same thing holds true with all the auto emissions. We’ve removed tons of them over the years.

    I think the link between carbon and global warming was made to try and get some traction for the effort. But I think it compliicated things too much. When I was in the legislature we worked on plans to remove mercury from power plant emissions. There were a lot of people that said it was a waste for two reasons: 1) we don’t really absolutely know that airborne mercury causes health issues and 2) removing mercury here will only help the states east of us due to prevailing winds. But, we managed to keep out of the ‘big’ picture of just exactly what might be accomplished by removing mercury, and focued on the ‘small’ picture of let’s just work together to remove mercury from the emissions and we know our air will be cleaner and we hope health will improve. No promises for improved health were made.

    In the same manner, if we work at removing carbon dioxide we can do so by knowing our air will be cleaner and not making promises that we will reduce global warming.

    With all that said, if the global warming crowd is only beating the drum to use it as a tool to transfer wealth from developed countries to undeveloped countries through a tax and trade system then it is just another example of people using environmental issues for social issues. I hate to see environmental issus hijacked for political or social issues. I remember when President Nixon created the EPA and passed the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. He did so because he was a conservative and cleaing up things before they make a mess should be a principle of all conservatives, as it greatly reduces clean up costs. Nixon understodd that (but may have had a few other things he didn’t understand!)

    January 6, 2010
  93. Sean Fox said:

    Ray,
    While it might be a politically expedient simplification to change the discussion to “carbon dioxide is a pollutant so we should reduce it” that strategy has the downside that it is false (the pollutant part anyway). Unlike mercury or sulfur dioxide co2 isn’t toxic to humans and trying to eliminate it completely would be a very, very bad thing. CO2 isn’t a pollutant in any real sense. If we stop talking about the climate change part of things then there is no purpose in reducing co2 emissions. (well okay, there’s ocean acidification but that’s gonna be even less compelling to voters than climate change) Eventually some voter who payed attention in their high school science class will notice the “co2 is pollution” argument is false. And then where will we be.

    I certainly agree that we should get beyond the climate arguments in the sense that we should stop arguing about their veracity and focus our attention on solutions. And also that the influences of money on the political process are skewing things in all sorts of unhelpful directions.

    January 6, 2010
  94. Ray Cox said:

    Sean, I appreciate your comments. I was thinking more about the concept that virtually anything we send up a smokestack we could do with less of in the atmosphere. I understand the CO2 isn’t a poison but I still think that focusing on cleaning up smokestacks is the way to go.

    I also agree with Mike that the efforts behind carbon tax credits are very misguided and are piggybacking an environmental issue for a social agenda.

    January 7, 2010
  95. Norm Vig said:

    Folks,

    This has generally been an enlightening and civil discussion, unlike that in the Northfield News anonymous commentary. Not everyone is tuned in to what climate science is really saying, but Sean Fox and others are. So maybe we can move on to possible solutions.

    In my Nfld News letter I supported the cap and trade approach because I think it is the only one that has a chance in hell of passing. The GOP will never support a carbon tax, and neither will many Democrats. The last time it was tried, with Al Gore’s BTU tax in 1993, it ended up with a minor (4.3 cents per gallon) federal gasoline tax increase. Since then it has been a third rail that no politician wants to touch.

    The cap and trade approach has some advantages. George H.W. Bush successfully passed the first such program in the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. This was very successful in reducing SO2 and N0x precursors to acid rain by 50% in ten years, at an overall cost far below what industry had predicted. You don’t hear too much about acid rain any more. The European Union Emission Trading Scheme, a cap and trade program covering about half of CO2 emissions in Europe, got off to a rocky start because too many allowances were given away free, but now it looks like it is working well.

    In theory, either a carbon tax or a cap and trade market can achieve economically efficient (least-cost) results, but the cap and trade system has two advantages: it allows government to set an overall limit on GHG emissions, whereas if the carbon tax is set too low it may not achieve a reasonable reduction; and a tax is just much harder to pass in today’s political climate. That is why the Republicans always frame cap and trade as a “tax,” even though it is not (though of course it could lead to higher fuel bills, but so could any number of other things, such as war in the Middle East).

    So what we have now is the Waxman-Markey bill passed by the House last year, and a Senate bill co-sponsored by John Kerry, Joe Lieberman, and Lindsay Graham in the Senate. Neither is a very good bill because of all the special-interest concessions, as Jim Hansen and other have pointed out. The Senate bill is likely to end up being what Paul Wellstone used to call a “Christmas tree bill,” with something for everyone including nuclear, clean coal, oil and gas, and clean energy. But maybe that is the only thing that has any chance of getting through Congress. Like the health bill, it may be a lot of compromise or nothing. You can check out the provisions of these bills at http://www.pewclimate.org.

    To go back to an earlier point that my friend David and others discussed, Copenhagen was probably a bigger success than people realize. The US, China, India, Brazil and S. Africa account for about half of global GHG emssions, and this is the first time that these five countries made any commitment to limit their emissions. I have to admit that the Bush administration was right in saying that the Kyoto Protocol was flawed in that it did not require any limits on the developing countries (though its response of doing nothing and irritating the hell out of our European allies was not helpful). We cannot make any progress without the US and China making significant commitments (and we have been playing a game of chicken until now). But I am afraid that if we can’t pass a climate bill this year the whole thing will collapse for many years to come. It doesn’t look hopeful at this point.

    The alternative is for EPA to impose regulations on all industries and businesses that will probably be much less economically efficient. Believe me, Obama will use his executive powers as he already has on auto emission standards and other things. I have been studying presidential use of powers on environmental policies since the 1970s, and they always do. (By the way, Ray, Nixon established EPA by Executive Order and vetoed the Clean Water Act, but it was passed over his veto. But he did accomplish a lot because public opinion demanded it.)

    I think the main thing people have to understand is that climate change is a qualitatively different problem than we have dealt with before–including all the pollution issues. If climate scientists are right, we can truly mess up the future as never before. Think about this one statement: “Doubling atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide to 580 to 600 ppm would result in a rise of 2 degrees C to 4 degrees C in average surface temperatures by AD 2100. The last time the Earth was that warm–3 million years ago–sea level was 25 to 35 meters (80 to 130 feet) higher than today.” People like Jim Hansen say that even present levels of CO2 in the atmosphere (387 ppmv, up from 280 ppmv pre-industrial) are a recipe for disaster (see his article in the Dec. 14 Newsweek: Power Failure: Politicians are fiddling while the planet burns. What’s a voter to do?, or any of his other recent pronouncements). We are really gambling with our future here.

    January 9, 2010
  96. Paul Zorn said:

    Ray, Sean:

    Perhaps I misunderstand, Ray, but you seem to assert that the connection between carbon dioxide and global warming is fictitious, or made up for some political purpose. In fact, the connection is strongly supported by the science, as James Hansen (often approvingly quoted here) clearly asserts in the Newsweek piece Norm Vig cites, and elsewhere.

    Whether CO2 is a poison or a pollutant, like SO2, may matter to the chemistry. And of course nobody is proposing to remove CO2 altogether, although doing so would alleviate all our worries, as we’d be dead. But it seems very clear that excess CO2 is indeed a problem, and if James Hansen tells us true it’s a very serious problem indeed.

    As for the relative merits of cap and trade vs. carbon tax legislation, I’d like to think Norm Vig is wrong about the political infeasibility of the latter, but I fear he’s right. In the present political climate the T-word has become, ironically, more toxic than sulphur dioxide, let alone carbon dioxide.

    January 9, 2010
  97. john george said:

    Norm- In Hansen’s excerpt, he states-
    “So far, humans have caused carbon dioxide to increase from 280 ppm in 1750 to 387 ppm in 2009.”
    What is the evidence to lead to this conclusion, that the 107 ppm increase is caused solely by humans? Has everything else in the environment remained constant in the last 260 years, and human activity is the only thing that has changed? I haven’t read his book, only this excerpt, so perhaps he better explains the evidence there. So far, in all the articles I have read, this conclusion is continually stated, but the observations that lead to that conclusion are not evident to me. I must be missing something.

    January 9, 2010
  98. William Siemers said:

    I think a modest and then gradually increasing carbon tax would be easier to pass than cap and trade…partiuclarly if sold as having the additional benefits of reducing imports of foreign oil and reducing pollution. And to bring in the skeptics…I read of this idea: Make the gradual increases in the tax relative to the real increase in global temperature change. Temps go up…Tax goes up. Or vice versa. Where temps are measured; the duration of the moving average; etc being subject to scientific revue.

    Maybe the same thing could be incorporated into cap and trade, but it remains hard to sell because it is so poorly understood.

    January 10, 2010
  99. Norm Vig said:

    Tom Friedman posed my question perfectly in his NYT column today, “Who’s Sleeping Now?”
    “Is President Obama going to finish health care and then put aside the pending energy legislation–and carbon pricing–that Congress has already passed in order to get through the midterms without Republicans screaming ‘new taxes?’ Or is he going to seize this moment before the midterms–possibly his last window to put together a majority in the Senate, including some Republicans, for a price on carbon–and put in place a real U.S.l engine for clean energy innovation and energy security?”
    Read thw whole article at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/10/opinion/10friedman.html. Why are we exporting our best new energy technologies to China to let them clean up on world markets?
    To Paul and William I say, I actually agree that carbon taxes would be a better solution–much easier to implement and enforce, and with greater visibility to encourage consumers to change behavior (as the NE points out). They have been widely used in Europe for a long time.
    I would like to think a gradually rising tax could pass. Maybe it could if it were revenue-neutral (i.e., offset by tax cuts on “goods”) and could be enacted as a tax measure through the reconciliation procedure in the Senate. But I just don’t think so.
    As to John, he raises a fair point. But the fact is that we humans have removed tens of millions of years worth of fossilized carbon (coal, oil, gas) from sequestration below ground and burned it to release massive amounts of CO2 over the past 100 years or so (a nanosecond in geological time). True, correlation doesn’t equal causation, but there is no other plausible explanation for the 38% increase in atmospheric CO2 in this short period (well, deforestation and land clearance may account for up to 20% of the total, but again, that cannot be attributed to natural causes).

    January 10, 2010
  100. Paul Zorn said:

    John G:

    In #68 you ask about the evidence for human contribution to C02 levels. The article Climate myths: Human CO2 emissions are too tiny to matter

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn11638

    is one of many, many sources of information on the subject.

    You ask, too:

    Has everything else in the environment remained constant in the last 260 years, and human activity is the only thing that has changed?

    Assuming the question isn’t just rhetorical … Of course lots of things change over 260 years, but what drives the bottom line is the relative magnitude of things. The referenced article has lots of useful quantitative things to say, including the key observation (made again and again in this discussion thread) that even if human-generated CO2 contributions are small compared to those of natural processes, the resulting imbalance accumulates — as we’re now seeing.

    January 10, 2010
  101. john george said:

    Paul Z.- Thanks for the link above. I have not read this report before. There are a couple assumptions made in the scientific community that I question, the old earth theory being one of them. Brahic bases her conclusions on this assumption. A person has to start somewhere, so this is where she, and most scientists, start. When analyzing ice cores, how do we know that the precipitation rates have been consistent through history, seeing that we have only been recording them for about a century and a half? There was an article in National Geographic about a year ago about some dinosaur fosils that have been found intact, with flesh and skin on them. I remember the statement in the article about this said that the fosilization process overtook the decomposition process. Oh, really? What conditions existed in that specific area to cause this, and did not exist in other areas in the same rock strata? And, if that can happen, will someone dig up our dead cat we buried a number of years ago and find it intact, or will it be rotted, like every other animal’s remains I have ever unearthed?

    The other assumption that comes out of the old earth theory is that conversion of carbon from gaseous to stored solids/liquids takes millions of years. What if it does not? I remember an article in a Science Illustrated magazine back in the ’50’s, where scientists produced crude oil out of a pile of garbage by applying the right pressure and heat conditions. How do we know this old earth assumption is correct?

    I still question whether we are correctly analyzing the observations we are making. I would really like to see us restore some of the rain forests that have been decimated in the last few decades. I have no problem with researching more efficient and cleaner, non-carbon based energy sources. That is just human innovative progress, but I really question whether this will turn the tide in climate change the way “science” says it will. It certainly won’t hurt, but will it do any good? Are we missing something that we have not yet thought about?

    January 10, 2010
  102. Paul Zorn said:

    John:

    If you doubt that earth is billions of years old then, indeed, little else in science makes any sense. But in this case we might as well be speaking different languages, and there’s little point in science-based discussion. And your idea, if I understand it, that scientists just assume an old-earth position because they “have to start somewhere” is especially baffling. Scientists work with the best evidence available, and there is abundant, overwhelming evidence in nature itself for an old earth.

    As for ice cores and precipitation rates: scientists do not assume that precipitation rates are the same throughout time — understanding this phenomenon is one reason for ice core research itself. Nor are ice cores the only pointers to varying precipitation rates.

    Sorry, but I just don’t get your point about dead cats. I have a couple buried in my back yard, too, and hope they’re not getting up to anything.

    January 11, 2010
  103. kiffi summa said:

    There is no point in discussing the abandonment of all SCIENTIFIC evidence, which proves by accepted SCIENTIFIC measures that the Earth is indeed BILLIONS of years old… unless the only ‘science’ you ascribe to is that of what a Carleton geology professor calls the ‘Sunday morning 6000 year old forum” …

    Sorry if anyone finds that comment rude…

    January 11, 2010
  104. john george said:

    Paul- I hope you don’t find any of your dead cats, either. I have a great story about a lady whose rabbit died. I won’t bother filling up space with it here, but if we get a chance for a F2F, remind me to tell you.

    Forgetting about what we might base our interpretations of our observations on, we still have a problem with the fluxuations we are seeing in the climate. I have expressed this concern before, and will express it again, that we are concentrating on the build-up of only one greenhouse gas. We also have the effects of methane and water vapor. The main byproduct of hydrogen based fuel cells is water vapor. I remember from the ’70’s, how there was a legitimate concern for unburned hydrocarbons in the atmosphere. The concern at that time was that the Earth would cool. The cleaning up of auto emissions has made a visible difference in those concentrations, but the more complete combustion has now added to the CO2 concentrations. As I look at the various things we humans have tried to “adjust” in the environment over the decades, my general impression is that in taking care of one thing, we cause another problem with some unforseen effect of our tinkering. My hope is that in addressing our contribution to the CO2 levels, we don’t seal our own coffin.

    January 11, 2010
  105. john george said:

    Good grief!! I can’t believe I spelled “fluctuations” like that! Sorry

    January 11, 2010
  106. Norm Vig said:

    John, it is not just CO2 that has increased at rates never before experienced in geological history. Methane (CH4) has gone from about 270 ppb in 1750 to almost 2000 ppb in 2000. Nitrous oxide (NO2) has increased from about 270 ppb to over 1200 (related to agriculture). We have also created a bunch of synthetic chemical gases, mostly fluorides including CFCs, that are far more potent heat trappers than CO2. As to water vapor, as global temperatures increase, more water evaporates, increasing the concentration of water vapor in the atmosphere, which in turn causes more warming. Same for methane: as temperatures increase, permafrost melts and organic matter decays to release more methane. These are positive feedback loops that tend to accelerate warming. There are possibly some negative feedback loops to offset these effects; e.g., higher temperatures will stimulate plant growth in some latitudes, leading to more CO2 uptake, and cloud formation might deflect more solar energy as water vapor builds up. But I don’t think we have any evidence that these effects will negate the warming effects. The IPCC examined studies covering more than 29,000 temperature data series of 20 years or more from all parts of the world, and found that 89% were consistent with a warming trend. How much evidence do you need?

    January 11, 2010
  107. john george said:

    Norm- Thanks for providing some great data on these other compounds. I am not looking for evidence of warming, just evidence that is is ALL man generated. There are definitely relationships between mans’ activities and natural phenomina, such as the CH4 and NO2 build-up. Also, the CFC’s are a problem in that they not only absorb radiant energy, but they also deplete the ozone layer. One thing that has helped in this regard is the replacement of freon as a refrigerant, especially in autos. They are notorious for having leaky systems. My question is how CO2 reduction alone will cause the effects we need to see in the atmosphere? Are these other gases interelated to CO2 and its production that directly? Just wondering if there are more measures we need to be taking that have not been discussed.

    The other interesting observation in the data you provided is that CO2, CH4 & NO2 were all about the same concentrations 260 years ago, about 270 to 280 ppm. I don’t have any specific interpretation of that, but it just seems interesting to me. Thank you for providing some understandable data for such an unscientific person as I am.

    January 11, 2010
  108. Norm Vig said:

    John, I don’t think anyone is saying that human activity is the ONLY cause of climate change, only that natural forces cannot account for the rapid buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The focus is on CO2 because there is a lot more of it (we are talking ppm of CO2 and ppb of the other two gases mentioned); because it remains in the atmosphere for so long (at least a century, and possibly many centuries); because we know how to control it better than, say, methane; and because it appears to be the least costly to address. Methane molecules are more powerful heat-trappers than CO2, but they only account for maybe 15% of the greenhouse effect; they come from sources hard to control (e.g., cattle, rice paddies); and they decay in the atmosphere after 20-30 years. I think the most obvious factor in the growth of all the GHGs is human population growth and associated agriculture since the 18th century.
    When you talk about feedback loops, you are talking about natural phenomena that kick in once the heating process starts. They will be important in determining how fast the process goes, but they don’t seem to have started it.
    Those conservatives who are skeptical about cap and trade should read Robert Frank’s column in today’s Star Tribune, “Cap and Trade ought to fit for Conservatives.” I have never been a fan of Coase, but practical politics seem to dictate this kind of private-action approach.

    January 12, 2010
  109. Patrick Enders said:

    Does this mean that the Pope is also a part of the global scientific conspiracy/fraud seeking to force us into giving up human freedom to a(n) elite cabal based on that theory?

    January 12, 2010
  110. john george said:

    Norm- Thanks for clarifying the ppm/ppb quantities. I missed that detail in reading over the ammounts and how they had changed. That makes quite a difference in how they compare.

    As far as the “human cause” of global warming, I can only respond to what I have read. It seems all the articles, many of them linked here, about CO2 build-up that I have read present the conclusion that the increase is man-generated. I certainly have not read all the thousands of articles and studies out there, but I have yet to find one out of what I call the scientific community that has presented a different conclusion. It is good to hear someone tempering this a little bit.

    Global population growth is one factor, alright, but I think the destruction of so much rain forest has not helped. We can still fit the whole population of the Earth inside the state of Texas. I agree there must be better ways to utilize the resources we have. The US alone grows almost enough grain to feed everyone else in the world. When I see some of the things we just throw away because of outdating, it really bothers me. I have traveled to other countries that simply do not have the abundance we have here. I still go back to Francis Schaefer’s assesment from the ’70’s. The greatest problem facing mankind is the compassionate distribution of accumulated wealth. Greed knows no sociopolitical boundaries.

    January 12, 2010
  111. Norm Vig said:

    John, I certainly agree with your latter sentiments. Ultimately, I think, this boils down to a moral question. Are we willing to sacrifice something for the common good, both in this generation and those that follow, or are we going to think only about ourselves?
    Overall, this was a good day, as Ivan Denisovich would say. We got both Pope Benedict and Ronald Coase on our side. That is a red-letter day, indeed!

    January 12, 2010
  112. john george said:

    Norm- I agree with your statement-
    ” Are we willing to sacrifice something for the common good, both in this generation and those that follow, or are we going to think only about ourselves?”
    And, I think you are correct in suggesting that there is a moral element to the solution. Hopefully, this next generation coming on can get ahold of that ethic. I’m not sure my generation, and the one in between, has done a very good job of establishing this mindset as a foundation. I believe there is hope, though, as long as we are honest about what we have done.

    January 12, 2010
  113. Mike Zenner said:

    John,

    Unfortunately, when the fossil fuels leave the economy so will the high powered food production.

    http://www.uvm.edu/~gflomenh/VTLAW-EcoEcon/papers/…/Hinman-term.doc

    Clip from doc link above:
    “Unfortunately, much of the world today follows the fossil-fuel addicted, industrial paradigm which “provides no means of restoring the inevitably lost energy. Neither does the neo-classical paradigm of economics, the reductionist paradigm of science, or the mechanistic worldview.” (Ikerd, 4) What is taken from the earth to facilitate the economy must be balanced sustainably. Economics will surely not solve any social problem alone without sharing a holistic view of the local and global ecosystem. “Once the energy required to grow and transport food and resources becomes greater than can be generated by wind, water, and biomass in the region, the region has passed the limits of sustainability. It can continue to grow only at the expense of another region’s resources.” (Ikerd) The extraction and use of resources is called the throughput of the region, and if this throughput is limited as described above, we can say that it is modeled to a sustainable scale.
    According to Ikerd’s notion of bioregional throughput and scale, extracting and using fossil fuels—with their inordinate destruction of energy compared to that coming in form the sun—will lead to entropy of the ecosystem. On the other hand, as one author suggests, “Without cheap oil the economy would succumb to entropy.” (Monbiot, Break out the bicycles, The Guardian. 6.8.04) So it appears that something has to give under our current model. Either we sacrifice our economy to expensive oil or we sacrifice our ecosystems to cheap oil. Because oil (and all fossil fuels) is a non-renewable resource, we know that eventually it will run out. If we do in fact reach the peak of global oil extraction within the next decade, the prices will skyrocket, so either way it seems inevitable that the economy will either entropy or be forcefully changed to reflect shrinking oil reserves. Monbiot sees the situation rather cynically:
    “If the complexity of our economies is impossible to sustain, our best hope is to start to dismantle them before they collapse. This isn’t likely to happen. Faced with a choice between a bang and a whimper, our governments are likely to choose the bang, waging ever more extravagant wars to keep the show on the road…””

    Also another link about entropy and our current state of world affairs:

    http://canada.theoildrum.com/node/2381

    “There are obvious parallels between the Roman situation and our own, both from the point of view of political centres and from the perspective of the hinterland. The solar energy subsidy available to the Romans allowed them to create a concentration of ordered socioeconomic complexity in a sea of relative disorder and and simplicity, driving entropy in reverse locally. Western industrial economies, and more recently other competing centres of political power in the era of globalization, have been able to do the same, but to a much greater extent due to the very much larger energy subsidy provided by fossil fuels. The centres have seen spectacular gains in complexity, while the hinterland has stagnated, to a greater and greater extent over time.

    Although there is currently no center which claims direct political control over a large periphery as Rome did (a de jure empire), there is nevertheless at least one de facto empire in the form of the industrialized West, and more specifically the United States. The economic power of the US (with its reserve currency advantage) to determine the terms of international finance and trade, backed by its military strength and extensive network of permanent military bases, has resulted in the ability to entice, cajole or coerce a large periphery into accepting life on the terms of the ‘imperial’ center. This has involved the monetization of peripheral economies, often in tandem with leading those nations into a deep indebtedness thereafter managed through structural adjustment programs by quasi-imperial institutions such as the IMF. The net effect has been the debt enslavement of whole nations, despite their putative sovereignty, as the established wealth conveyor carries resources and surpluses to the center while leaving most of the externalities behind.”

    January 12, 2010
  114. Norm Vig said:

    Mike and John,
    Those are very interesting quotations, Mike, but I think way too sweeping. Is it really a choice between cheap oil and economic “entropy”? We in the U.S. have the highest per capita oil consumption in the world, almost twice that of Europe and Japan. Their economies haven’t collapsed; in fact, their standard of living is superior to ours in many respects. There must be a lot of room to improve energy efficiency without sacrificing growth. If I remember, China recently announced a goal of reducing its energy “intensity” (energy per unit of GDP) by 45% by 2020. Compare that to George W. Bush’s 2002 goal of reducing our intensity by 18% in 10 years. Granted, China is more inefficient at present, but the point is that decarbonization of production is already taking place and will continue into the future.
    If we got a clear carbon price signal through a cap-and-trade system, I think markets would adjust pretty quickly. Agriculture might be a laggard since it is largely exempted in the bills pending in Congress and there are no easy substitutes for industrial food production at current scale.

    January 13, 2010
  115. Mike Zenner said:

    Norm,

    I am looking at a global GDP contraction since fossil fuels are a globally traded commodity. Europe and Japan are more efficient than the US but they still consume fossil fuels and import goods made with someone Else’s fossil fuel. Economic growth requires more energy period. It’s very difficult to see alternative energy alone can even fill the void left from fossil fuel depletion, let alone expand future GDP. All alternative energies today have a fossil fuel component in their construction and deployment.

    Of particular worry food inputs (fertilizers, pesticides, packaging etc) will never be created from alternative energies.

    Point is economic and population growth cannot go on indefinitely on a planet with finite resources. I believe the high EROEI of fossil fuels have allowed mankind to expand population waaay beyond the earth’s natural carrying capacity of resources and solar energy absorption. Once the fossil fuels energy flow rates max out this will become glaringly evident in the not to distant future (2020?.

    January 13, 2010
  116. Norm Vig said:

    Mike, I see what you are saying, and you may well be right. According to the ExxonMobil ad on the editorial page of today’s NYT, GDP in developed (OECD) countries will increase over 50% between 2005 and 2030 without ANY increase in energy consumption. However, energy demand will continue to rise in non-OECD countries so that GLOBAL energy use will be 35% higher in 2030. In other words, even with all the new energy efficiencies, energy use will increase by one-third in 20 years. They don’t say how that translates into CO2 emissions, but probably it implies a lot more greenhouse gases and global warming.

    So you are probably right, and energy/climate change policies are only part of the larger problem of carrying capacity. More fundamental changes in lifestyle are necessary. But it seems to me we still have to make a start on climate policy.

    January 14, 2010
  117. If China continues to buy up oil fields at the present rate, we might be really glad if we have alternatives to float our country’s boat.
    Some say that it doesn’t matter who owns the oil, but I don’t know enough about that to say anything definitive.

    January 14, 2010
  118. Mike Zenner said:

    Norm,

    I am all for a Carbon Tax, with two restrictions, first that a serious continental alternative energy plan be adopted including strict progressive tariffs on imported fossil fuels. The Plan needs to include sweeping regulatory changes that will allow for swift approval and construction of said energy system.

    Secondly,that all the revenue from this tax and tariffs are used ONLY for new alternative energy investment including electrical grid building subsidies, property/right of way of said investments.

    Without either of these restrictions I fear the our government will find other uses for these revenues, like for example, to fund our current energy policy (Middle East Resource Wars).

    You can put me down for 50 cents a gallon if these restrictions can be adhered to!

    On the other hand, I feel Cap and Trade is a designed racket to fund Wall Street and a phony front to make everyone feel like they are doing something for the common good when in reality we are not doing anything as it relates to reducing carbon use.

    January 15, 2010
  119. Norm Vig said:

    Mike, I would support a carbon tax like that, but to go back to my original comment (#66), I just don’t think there is any chance of it passing in the forseeable future–unless you can tell me how to re-make (a) the U.S. Senate and (b) the Republican Party. That is even more obvious now that the Tea Party is well along in taking over the base of the GOP (see today’s NYT article).
    A cap-and-trade system, on the other hand, has had tripartisan support (including the Joe Lieberman Party). Both Obama and McCain supported it during the presidential campaign. The House has passed a cap-and-trade bill, and the Senate could still do it with support from some Republicans, although of course the TPers and other conservatives are demagoguing it as a tax.
    I know Jim Hansen and others have trashed cap-and-trade as a sell-out to Wall Street. I just don’t buy this. There are a lot of weaknesses in the pending legislation, but if it would pass there would at least be a mechanism for lowering the cap over time–which taxes do not guarantee. California is putting a cap-and-trade in place, and so have the Northeastern states, so there is precedent at the state level to build on. Again, it may be this or nothing on the federal level.

    January 15, 2010
  120. Mike Zenner said:

    Norm,

    I assume you have read the Cap and Trade bill? If you comprehended it and understand it inside and out I commend you. Just reading a summary of it I started to glaze over within a few pages. Before reading this summary I was mainly focused on the potential for fraud and abuse in the carbon trading mechanisms, example of which below:

    http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/2403024/posts

    On the surface everything reads green and happy, but as a cynic,as I think about how things will be impemented after reading the summary I have come to the conclusion that in addition to financial manipulation there appears to be a complete takeover of the economy by the EPA (Command and Control Economy?). The EPA Administrator controls all energy flow and by extension all economic activity, which promotes crony capitalism(friends /contributors to the Administrator). Further, it appears the EPA Administrator is free to enact agreements with foreign governments in the transfer of carbon offsets(monies?). Isn’t this unconstitutional?

    After reading the summary, I have no doubt the Cap and Trade bill will pass with flying colors! A “Christmas ornament” for all politically connected interests.

    Mussolini might have been proud of this coming new America, except for the fact that the trains won’t run on time due to cost overruns and lack of Energy!

    January 16, 2010
  121. Norm Vig said:

    Well, Freerepublic.com is one of the most right-wing web sites I’ve seen. It is interesting that these groups are working so hard to stir up populist anger against Wall Street! I also read the article by Todd Guerrero, “Carbon tax preferable to cap and trade,” in today’s Star Tribune, which again goes after Wall St. Mr. Guerrero is an attorney for Fredrikson and Byron in Minneapolis. He begins his bio with the words, “Todd concentrates his practice on the representation of energy companies….” He was lead attorney and a registered lobbyist for the Big Stone II coal-fired power plant. Do you really think these guys want a carbon tax? Or are they just trying to stir up populist sentiment against any climate legislation?
    Mike, I don’t get your reference to Mussolini and EPA’s “command and control economy.” Command and control refers to direct regulation, which is mostly what EPA does in regulating pollution. That is how they will regulate carbon if no legislation passes. But that doesn’t mean they would take control over the entire economy. And I don’t see any new constitutional issues with cap and trade.
    In fact, cap and trade is the least intrusive approach as it allows affected entities to decide for themselves when and how they will reduce emissions. The market, not the government, would set the price of carbon permits. There may be room for gaming the system, especially with offset credits, but the ridiculous examples given don’t impress me. It seems to me these are just more scare tactics to defeat any legislation. I’ll sign off for awhile now and let others weigh in.

    January 16, 2010
  122. Norm Vig said:

    Those of you who might be interested in which companies are supporting cap-and-trade legislation might want to consult:

    http//:www.pewclimate.org/american-leadership-ad

    For an argument that it is still alive and needed, see

    http//:www.pewclimate.org/blog/roym/how-avoid-temporary-relief-leads-bigger-headaches

    The pewclimate.org Web site has a lot of other useful information as well. We should not let the Tea Bag know-nothings intimidate us on this and other issues.

    January 25, 2010
  123. john george said:

    Norm- Thanks for fixing the links. The second article presents some wisdom, IMO, to being sure what we do legislate doesn’t create greater problems a few years down the line. This has been a concern of mine. The writer’s last bullet point still states that global warming is “largely man produced.” I still question that this theory has been sufficuently proven scientifically to warrant being the driving influence for legislative direction. There is a good column in the Strib this last Sunday regarding our responses to “invasive species” in our environment. From some of the information presented, it would appear that many of our knee-jerk responses are often times a waste of money. I’m not convinced we fully understand the ability of the atmosphere and living organisms to adapt to changes in our climate. This doesn’t mean we should sit back passively and do nothing, by any means, but my concern is that there has not been enough research into this phenominum. We need to take this adaptive ability into consideration in our responses.

    January 25, 2010
  124. Paul Zorn said:

    Today’s Strib has an editorial

    http://www.startribune.com/opinion/commentary/82983407.html?elr=KArksUUUoDEy3LGDiO7aiU

    about a variant of cap and trade, which its proponents call cap and dividend. The idea seems to be one of those discussed on this trade: do the cap and trade thing, but rebate the proceeds on a per capita basis.

    The details are somewhat muddled in the editorial, IMO. For instance, the author complains that the usual cap and trade system is excessively complicated, and therefore invites gaming. But it’s unclear, at least in the editorial, how the proposed system would address this problem.

    Still, the spoonful of sugar might actually help the medicine go down.

    January 29, 2010
  125. Norm Vig said:

    Yes, cap and dividend is an interesting variant that I certainly could support. The most important part is the cap, but as Paul says, maybe rebating the auction money to everybody would blunt the populist attack. Obama called for auctioning all permits during his campaign, but the House bill gives most of them away free. There would be fierce opposition to an auction-only system from business and industry–and from the Just Say No Party, I’m afraid, but it is an interesting idea.

    It seems to me that Obama shifted tactical ground on climate change in his State of the Union. While endorsing “the bipartisan effort in the Senate” (without saying which one), he also signalled his openness to nuclear power and offshore oil drilling as part of the package (as in the Kerry-Graham bill). However, I think his most important statement was the following: “But here’s the thing–even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy-efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future–because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy. And America must be that nation.” That’s pure Tom Friedman with a moral plea as well. It finesses the controversy over climate science and frames the issue in economic-national interest terms. But I don’t think they can pass any bill with a cap in this Senate.

    Two other articles of interest in today’s NY Times:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/30/science/earth/30energy.html?ref=us, and
    htpp://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/29/science/earth/29vapor.html?ref=us.

    John will be pleased at the latter one as it shows that there are still natural(?) forces at work that we don’t understand in climate science. But, it seems that the basic theory is still intact. As to Massachusetts, looks like the Tea Baggers don’t quite control the state yet.

    January 29, 2010
  126. john george said:

    Norm- Perhaps you know this, but if you right click the address line all the way to the top of your screen (when you are reading an article), you will get a choice to copy it. Then, when you get to the post block here on LGN, just click file and paste, and it will be accurate. I can’t seem to get those blasted things correct, either.

    As far as the natural vs. human contributions to the armosphere, our side is probably the only one we have control over. As we get more studies on the natural influences, it just seems that this data would help us address the human contribution, also. We can sometimes have natural phenomena working against our efforts and not recognize it because of a lack of understanding. I tend to be a big picture thinker rather than a microcosm thinker.

    January 29, 2010
  127. Paul Zorn said:

    Norm,

    As you and the review say,

    Jim Hansen may be a great scientist, but he is a lousy politician.

    Yup, this is a problem, as is the number of good politicians who are lousy scientists. The second problem is arguably worse, since politicians probably have more power.

    February 14, 2010
  128. Phil Poyner said:

    The funny thing is that some of us on the operational (as opposed to research) side of the Atmospheric Sciences see Hansen as more of a politician than a scientist! After all, it’s the rare climate scientist that gets arrested for civil disobedience (trespassing onto the private property of Massey Energy Company in Coal River Valley).

    February 14, 2010
  129. Norm Vig said:

    Paul:
    I certainly agree with your conclusion. When I worked for Paul Wellstone in the Senate I was amazed at the lack of scientific understanding among members — and that was before Gingrich & Co. abolished the best source of objective scientific advice they had, the Office of Technology Assessment, in 1995. The Republicans were not interested in any scientific evidence that conflicted with their deregulatory agenda or their pet projects such as Star Wars. You can read all about it in Chris Mooney’s book, THE REPUBLICAN WAR ON SCIENCE (Basic Books, 2005). They have continued to deny any science (such as climate science) that doesn’t fit their ideology–as was evident by their inane comments after the DC snowstorm last week.

    February 15, 2010
  130. Paul Zorn said:

    Phil,

    Fair enough … among scientists, Jim Hansen is surely more political than most.

    But how do y’all “on the operational side” regard Hansen’s science?

    February 15, 2010
  131. Phil Poyner said:

    Paul, having been out of the academic and research environments for over a decade, I don’t feel qualified to judge either Hansen’s science or his conclusions regarding climate change. I certainly find his latest statements regarding the IPCC and their reports to be outside of the mainstream of conventional thought, and that concerns me. The various statements he makes involving policy rather than science are what lead many atmospheric scientists view him as a politician (there is no value judgement involved in using the word “politician” in this case).

    This discussion has become so politicized that I’ve actually seen scientists with contrary opinions publicly ridiculed; Dr. Pielke Sr. comes to mind. This doesn’t bode well for the atmospheric sciences, as there is much research that still needs to be done. Having researchers “pick sides” in what is increasingly becoming a political debate does not make for very objective research. I have no interest in becoming just another scientist that has taken a position on this topic, especially as I don’t consider myself to be well positioned to express a particularly valuable opinion. If I ever take up reading journal articles as a full-time hobby I’ll have more to offer! Maybe after I retire…

    February 15, 2010
  132. Paul Zorn said:

    More on the climate front:

    1. Today’s Strib has an editorial of sorts, by a “media fellow” called Murdock, at the Hoover Institution, kicking up some old dust around climate science.

    http://www.startribune.com/opinion/commentary/84816722.html

    2. Overleaf from the Murdock piece Paul Douglas (“a Christian and recovering Republican”) reviews how science actually works.

    3. Yesterday on Meet the Press, Governor Pawlenty played the well-worn climate-change-is-real-but-man’s contribution-is-unknown tune. The transformation from one-time Will Steeger buddy to willful skeptic is striking, and depressing.

    February 22, 2010
  133. Patrick Enders said:

    Any link to the ‘overleaf’? I can’t seem to find it on the web version of the Strib.

    February 22, 2010
  134. Paul Zorn said:

    Oops, I meant overleaf in the physical sense in today’s paper: turn the page from Murdock and find Paul Douglas’s commentary, right next to the weather icons. I don’t see it online, either.

    February 22, 2010
  135. Patrick Enders said:

    Shame, that. I had to give up on the print version of the Star Tribune, because they seemed incapable of stopping delivery when we were out of town.

    February 22, 2010
  136. Norm Vig said:

    Phil, that’s a great temperature anomaly picture. So much for people looking out their window and making judgments about global warming.

    February 22, 2010
  137. Patrick Enders said:

    Paul, regarding Pawlenty’s, um, evolving stance on climate change, here’s a trip 27 months into the soon-to-be-ex-Governor’s past:

    November 15, 2007

    Governors from six Midwestern states have agreed to set up a carbon trading market aimed at reducing the region’s contribution to global warming. The agreements were announced at a so-called energy summit…

    In Thursday’s agreement, six governors — including Minnesota’s Tim Pawlenty and Wisconsin’s Jim Doyle — and the premier of Manitoba, agreed to create this kind of market. Three other states will help design it, but did not commit themselves to take part once it’s set up.

    Gov. Pawlenty said the cap-and-trade market is a good way to reduce pollution.

    “If you unleash the requirements and incentives and attractive features of a market, people will respond to it,” he said. “Some will respond by reducing pollution directly. Others will respond by buying credits or offsets in the marketplace, with the ultimate same net effect.”

    Pawlenty said the regional action should push Congress and the president to create a national system.

    Environmentalists seem to agree. Several regional environmental groups called the pact a historic step.

    http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2007/11/15/govsgreenhouse/

    February 22, 2010
  138. Patrick Enders said:

    That’s an interesting article. The general principle makes a lot of sense, especially now that we are all able to pick and choose our sources of information (and insulate ourselves from those we don’t want to take in).

    On the other hand, I’m not sure that the cited study is quite the right one to best model acceptance/rejection of evidence supporting the reality of climate change.

    In one experiment, Braman queried these subjects about something unfamiliar to them: nanotechnology — new research into tiny, molecule-sized objects that could lead to novel products.

    “These two groups start to polarize as soon as you start to describe some of the potential benefits and harms,” Braman says.

    The individualists tended to like nanotechnology. The communitarians generally viewed it as dangerous. Both groups made their decisions based on the same information.

    Results from that study might be more directly applicable to the question, “Are you in favor of, or opposed to, climate change?”

    Hopefully, in addition to studying good/bad beliefs, the researchers also addressed the formation of real/not-real beliefs. They’re probably quite similar, but do not seem necessarily so.

    February 25, 2010
  139. Patrick Enders said:

    I actually think that there is a fundamental difference between those two questions.

    “Is the climate changing?” is a question for which there is an objective, true answer out there that we are trying to find.

    On the other hand, “Is climate change bad (or good)?” is a values judgment, for which any number of answers might be right.

    February 25, 2010
  140. Norm Vig said:

    Paul,
    I think the lesson for our discussion is, yes, people’s attitutes towards and beliefs about global warming are to a great extent influenced by their “world views,” meaning their general attitudes toward government and society. There is a deep divide between individualists and communitarians. However, it’s hard to sort out the psychological aspects from the political influences (both can be part of culture). The fact is that political leaders have politicized the issue, especially on the Right, and those who adhere to the “conservative” mindset and constantly hear echoes of it do not seem to be able to think seriously about this issue. Cognitive dissonance, I guess, but also a concerted disinformation campaign to discredit the science. I think that’s why we see such a drop in the surveys of belief in climate change.
    Partly for that reason, we are beginning to see a shift in language and framing of the issue by environmentalists. You notice that Thomas Friedman had a column on “Global Weirding” (a term originating with Hunter Lovins, I think) in order to convey a more forceful message. More and more of the discussion is also shifting toward national security threats posed by climate change, which people might respond to more. But it might take some more major climate/weather events to convince a majority of the population that this is something we have to face up to now. In the meantime, the Obama administration is making some progress on the executive side, and this is likely to continue below the radar of most skeptics.

    February 25, 2010
  141. Felicity Enders said:

    [Fair warning: I haven’t read all of the prior posts, so I won’t be offended if you skip this one.]

    There have been a number of geoengineering solutions proposed to help mitigate global warming (hopefully without causing bigger problems). See http://www.thedailygreen.com/environmental-news/latest/geoengineering-460110 and http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/02/7-geoengineering-solutions-which-promise-save-humanity-climate-change.php. I especially like the picture of the cow. While geoengineering was very much a fringe idea when first proposed, I was startled at the number of recent links when I googled it just now.

    I mention geoengineering as a reminder that if we really care about climate change, there are some things the city could do if pressed. (I’ve been adamant about not increasing spending in Northfield, but I believe all levels of government need to get involved if we’re to win the climate change battle.) One is to plant trees. http://www.slate.com/id/2181499/ gives advice on which trees are better choices. Also, in the geoengineering links is a reference to biochar, charred biological material that sequesters carbon and may add nutrients to soil.

    What if the city were to invest in planting trees in median strips and parks and possibly use biochar as a fertilizer? How else might Northfield City combat climate change?

    February 25, 2010
  142. Paul Zorn said:

    Good links, Norm … especially to the Gore piece.

    Here’s a quote from Senator Lindsey Graham:

    “I have been to enough college campuses to know if you are 30 or younger this climate issue is not a debate. It’s a value. These young people grew up with recycling and a sensitivity to the environment — and the world will be better off for it. They are not brainwashed. … From a Republican point of view, we should buy into it and embrace it and not belittle them. You can have a genuine debate about the science of climate change, but when you say that those who believe it are buying a hoax and are wacky people you are putting at risk your party’s future with younger people…”

    So Graham’s approach to bringing around his conservative state has been simple: avoid talking about “climate change,” which many on the right don’t believe. Instead, frame our energy challenge as a need to “clean up carbon pollution,” to “become energy independent” and to “create more good jobs and new industries for South Carolinians.” He proposes “putting a price on carbon,” starting with a very focused carbon tax, as opposed to an economywide cap-and-trade system, so as to spur both consumers and industries to invest in and buy new clean energy products.

    Graham is, of course, a Republican senator from the decidedly red state of South Carolina. Any lesson here for our own blue-state governor?

    February 28, 2010
  143. Phil Poyner said:

    A lot of good lessons. I could come up with three good reasons for moving away from carbon-based energy just off the top of my head without even mentioning climate change. And at least one or two of those reasons would appeal to both sides of the political spectrum.

    February 28, 2010
  144. While watching the Olympics programs, I learned that there are insects eating trees in NW Canada and causing about 1 billion tons of CO2 each year and that the roof of one of the new big Olympic pavilions in Vancouver (which is long enough to house 4 747s end to end) is made from that very partially eaten fungus ridden wood.

    Not only do the trees emit CO2, but they also are prevented from filtering the gas.

    The lesson is to work with our environment as soon as possible and not wait for the outcome of years and years of study and argument. People all over the world often do it well…http://www.designboom.com/weblog/cat/9/view/9253/earth-architecture-handmade-school-bangladesh.html

    March 1, 2010
  145. Griff Wigley said:

    It’s been two years. Time to dust off this climate change blog post and discussion.

    But rather than discuss whether climate change is man-made or not, let’s assume it is (I’m a believer) and focus on what should be done. Here’s an article to start it off:

    In last Saturday’s NT Times: Environmentalists Get Down to Earth

    Faced with setbacks on top of declining and graying memberships, the biggest conservation groups are reshaping their missions in a time of generational transition. The last 15 months have included executive changes at the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife and the Audubon Society, among others. The head of the Wilderness Society will step down next year.

    On the strategy front, some of these groups are becoming more circumspect in campaigning against global warming, mindful of mixed public sentiment. A three-prong approach is emerging: fight global warming by focusing on immediate, local concerns; reinvigorate the grass roots through social media and street protests; and renew an emphasis on influencing elections.

    December 19, 2011
  146. I do not agree that global warming has much to do with human activities, but I do know that human health has a lot to do with human activities. There are tons of stats out that show diseases like asthma are at an all time high for children. And although this disease may be well controlled, it still stifles youthful activity and such. I noticed, too, that when gas priced went way up over time, driving went down, also considering the bad economy. This cleared up some air pollution in the cities. We also see that we are getting a lot of pollution from China far into the States. We need to be able to control our own air, imho.
    Moreover, we should be trying to reduce the amount of health care each individual will need in their lifetime, rather than building more and more hospitals. This is best accomplished with good food, clean air, and good health habits. We are very far from that now. Just because I might have an organic salad once a week, doesn’t make me Jack LeLanne, does it? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_LaLanne

    December 20, 2011
  147. Norm Vig said:

    Griff, Bright et al.: we can resume discussion of this if people are willing to accept the overwhelming scientific evidence that human greenhouse gas emissions are driving climate change. Virtually every peer-reviewed scientific article and report on the subject finds the evidence conclusive. If you don’t accept what 98 percent of climate scientists are saying, then there is no point in reviving this site.

    What has happened since March 2010?
    1) the cap-and-trade bill died in the Senate. Obama was not willing to risk another bruising and uncertain fight after health care. I don’t think he could have gotten enough Democratic votes to pass it, even though at one point he seemed to have 5 GOP votes. Anyway, it is dead.
    2) in the 2010 mid-term elections the Tea Party and Republican right made opposition to any climate bill (especially “cap-and-tax”) a litmus test for election. That is even more true in this presidential election cycle. Ironically, past support of it is one of the things dragging Newt down now. Anyway, among the GOP candidates, only Jon Huntsman has clearly accepted the scientific evidence.
    3) Both 2010 and 2011 have seen huge number of extreme weather events. Although individual events cannot be attributed to global warming with any causal certainty, the international scientific community is beginning to link weather patterns with climate change. See
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/19/science/earth/un-panel-finds-climate-change-behind-some-extreme-weather-events.html and http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/05/science/earth/record-jump-in-emissions-in-2010-study-finds.html.
    There is lots more on this subject.
    4) The climate change conference in Durban, SA in Dec. kept the hope for a treaty with limits after 2020 alive, but just barely. Almost all of the additional CO2 is now coming from China, India, and other rapidly developing countries, and they won’t agree to any caps unless we do. So we are stuck in a deadly game of chicken.
    5) Congress is at its most dysfunctional now. The GOP is trying to tie approval of the Keystone pipeline to extension of tax cuts–forcing Obama to either veto it (in which case they will hammer him as a job-killer) or let it go through (in which case the environmentalists will go ballistic).
    Do we really want to discuss this???

    December 21, 2011
  148. Norm, I think we can resume this discussion even if people don’t believe global warming is human made because the fixes to that and to cleaning up the environment have many things in common.

    December 22, 2011
  149. Norm Vig said:

    That is true, Bright. The most important thing the Obama admin. has done for both pollution control and reducing GHG emissions is raising auto/light truck fuel economy standards to 54.5 mpg by 2025. Other controls on old, dirty coal-fired power plants such as the mercury regs announced yesterday will also force closing of some of the worst GHG emitters. And since public concern about global warming has fallen so much since 2008, attacking it via other environmental values (“clean air”) is probably the best approach right now. Unfortunately the House is trying to block all of these regs as well.

    December 22, 2011
  150. Phil Poyner said:

    There’s also a National Security tie-in with all of this.

    December 22, 2011
  151. Norm Vig said:

    Phil, yes there is. In fact several aspects. One is that if climate change reached a tipping point that really put it out of control, the costs could be astronomical. Short of that, the UN predicts as many as 50 million climate refugees moving to the North by 2020 as a result of climate disasters such as droughts. Beyond that, we are way too dependent on oil from the Middle East still–who knows what is going to happen in Iraq and Iran, for example? And finally, if we bail out and let the Chinese capture the world markets in wind and solar energy, electric cars, etc., we will lose out economically. So there is a lot at stake here.

    December 22, 2011
  152. john george said:

    Norm- According to this chart, there is a trend in the US oil imports away from OPEC nations. The last year, 2009, we imported 1594 million bbls. of oil from OPEC. We imported 1713 million bbls from non-OPEC nations. It is in this chart on this link here-
    http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2011/tables/11s0932.pdf
    That is only about a 7% difference, but if you look at the trend from 2004, both sources have decreased. I don’t think this is a reduction in usage so much as an increase in domestic production, as indicated in this chart-
    http://www.eia.gov/dnav/pet/pet_crd_crpdn_adc_mbblpd_a.htm
    The problem I have with the MPG standards being proposed by the government is that they are an average of fuel efficiency over the whole fleet, not necessarily an increase on a per vehicle model basis. As long as we consumers continue to buy large vehicles powered by large engines, then the vehicles on the road are still going to emit a lot of polutants. For the last 60 years, we have become a more mobile populace, and that is a trend that is going to be hard to break.

    On the electrical production side, we can see the conflict going on in Dakota county between animal preservationists and the renewable energy industry just to erect some windmills. I don’t see how all the money spent on research and litigation can ever be recouped in the lifespan of a wind farm. As Pogo once said, “We have seen the enemy, and he is us.” As long as we continue with the mindset of the many conforming to the desires of the few, and that is on both sides, then I don’t think we will come up with a solution before our demise.

    December 23, 2011
  153. Norm Vig said:

    John,
    Good to hear from you again. I looked at the charts and see that domestic oil production fell in 2008, so that wouldn’t account for lower imports. Fuel consumption fell sharply in 2009 due to the recession (US CO2 emissions fell 7%), which probably accounts for the import decline in that year. In any case, there is a gradual trend toward “decarbonization” in this country (going back through the Bush years even) when all energy sources are included.
    I agree that lower fleet-average mileage standards aren’t foolproof, but auto makers will have to sell a lot more small, fuel-efficient and electric cars to offset continuing sales of pickups, etc.(and even pickups are becoming a lot more fuel-efficient). So that is a big step in the right direction.
    Yes, there are a lot of siting conflicts over wind generators (NIMBY), and some animal/bird lovers are making a fuss–but I suspect these arguments are being blown up by those that just don’t want windmills. Most enviros would vote for wind any day.
    The big fights, as I see it, are going to be over the Keystone XL pipeline and over gas fracking. The huge increase in natural gas production and conversion from coal and oil to gas are a good thing, but we don’t really know yet how much groundwater pollution fracking will cause. I wonder if those opponents of wind generators would be against gas drilling on their property if they were offered a lot more money?
    You have a point in arguing that the few can’t force the majority to accept change–though that is the way it always happens. I do think a carbon tax would be accepted pretty quickly, just as higher gasoline prices have become the “new normal.” Ignoring scientific evidence is not the way to go.

    December 23, 2011
  154. john george said:

    Norm- Yes, the internal combustion engine is becoming much more effecient. Constant computer control of fuel/air mixture, ignition and valve timing has done wonders for them. They produce more power with less fuel and “cleaner” exhaust. If I correctly understand the fleet fuel consumption standards, the auto manufascturers only have to have a certain effeciency over their whole model line, not necessarily the delivered vehicles. That is why I question how much good that approach will actually have as far as reducing fuel consumption. Although it has a bad taste in my mouth, an increase in the tax on fuel will probably be the most effective way to curb consumption. It would most likely put the greatest hardship on low income people, though. They can’t afford a nice new fuel efficient car to begin with, so they will most likely be driving older, higher poluting vehicles. Then, to have an added tax burden placed upon them might possibly put them under. Those people who can afford new cars usually buy them for esthetic reasons, not ecological reasons, and they can afford the higher taxed fuel. It will do something to curb consumption, but I’m not sure it would be enough. In all these attempts to change our behavior, I think we need to recognize that is hard to legislate personal behavior. If speed laws were really effective at controling speed, then we wouldn’t have to drive 80 mph in the slow lane on I35. The intent of the law is good. Peoples’ conformity to the law is the weak link.

    The question I still have about a carbon tax is the ability for high income people to “buy” carbon credits to reduce their “footprint” rather than cut back consumption. A good example of this is Al Gore and his mega-estate. It has the appearance of whitewashing the actual problem.

    December 23, 2011
  155. Paul Zorn said:

    John,

    On the matter of fleet-average mileage standards: Yes, focusing on the average of anything doesn’t (and can’t, mathematically) prevent bad behavior at the margin. But I see no alternative (e.g., G-men seizing low-mileage vehicles) that would be either practical or politically palatable, even to me — let alone to the government-dissers. So I’d keep gas guzzlers legal, but tax the b*j*s*s out of them, whether directly or through higher fuel prices.

    IMO the feds should focus on big-picture goals, like average fuel economy and total carbon emissions, and leave it mainly to other entities to innovate and cope creatively with broad policies. A carbon tax would be an excellent start.

    December 23, 2011
  156. Paul Zorn said:

    John,

    Higher energy taxes need not impose a special bottom-line burden on the poor, let alone “put them under”. Energy or carbon taxes could be rebated in some form (perhaps directly, perhaps through reducing other taxes) on a progressive basis. Money is fungible.

    As you say, a carbon tax won’t reduce everyone’s carbon footprint equally, if at all, and will certainly effect no moral transformation of the rich, whom we will always have with us, to twist a phrase. At best it could better dun disproportionate users (Al Gore may be among them) for their disproportionate use. (As a frequent air traveler I’m in no position to preen, BTW, or to escape carbon taxes myself.)

    In any event, the same properties apply to all taxes: they discourage, rather than prevent, any behavior or activity under taxation. To prevent something you have to outlaw it — an alternative neither liberals nor conservatives generally care for.

    December 23, 2011
  157. David Ludescher said:

    Presently, I see no reasonable prospect for an international accord to limit the presumed causes of global warming.

    December 23, 2011
  158. Norm Vig said:

    Phil,
    I watched Scott Denning’s talk and I liked it, to wit:
    1) today is Friday
    2) CO2 produces heat
    3) heating up the atmosphere produces climate change
    4) physics doesn’t care what people think
    5) the projected increase in carbon emissions (400% this century) will lead to enormous change compared to the past
    6) the political Right has been AWOL in coming up with solutions.
    I was less impressed with his conclusion that only the “free market” can/will find solutions. While I will admit that many government policies are less than effective (yes, Solyndra was a flop), the reason we are where we are is because free markets do not deal with externalities like the carbon buildup. There are no property rights to be bought and sold in the global atmospheric commons. Could someone please tell me how the free market is going to solve this problem (absent carbon taxes or some other externally imposed incentives)?
    I do recomment that folks watch this video, and we can take it from there.

    December 23, 2011
  159. john george said:

    Paul Z.- If outlawing behaviors would prevent them, then we wouldn’t have speeders, pedophiles, murderers, etc. (I think you get the picture). I think the best we can expect is to suppress the wasting of energy. Making three trips across town to Menards is probably more a problem of poor planning. I think there could be some consideration of this with our society of convenience and instant gratification. We are at a place in this country where we need energy. Economizing the use of that energy is the road we need to take.

    December 23, 2011
  160. Phil Poyner said:

    I enjoyed the talk, but I may be biased. Denning was my instructor when I took Climatology back in 2000.

    December 23, 2011
  161. john george said:

    Paul Z.- I like the mental image of G-men seizing old rust buckets. The Cash for Clunkers program was a step in that direction. The problem it created was the removal of a supply, and thus raising the price of, good used vehicles for those of limited funds to purchase one. Even stepping up from an ’80’s car to a mid ’90’s car got a person into a more fuel effecient car. The result of this program was to force many people to have to keep their aging gas guzzling ’80’s cars and continue poluting the air. There are so many laws that have such good intentions but produce limited results. My wife deals with them every day in her career.

    December 23, 2011
  162. john george said:

    Phil- I just couldn’t resist this. Would a Professor of Climatology be considered an airhead?

    December 23, 2011
  163. Bruce Morlan said:

    G-men grabbing old vehicles? In one of my classes during the 70’s we discussed cost-benefit analysis. The professor claimed that there was an analysis that showed that the cheapest way for California to achieve Federal standards for air pollution would be to send tractor-trailers full of new vehicles out, pull over old junkers and offer a trade. New vehicles for old, no other money need change hands. He did point out that this was an example of a cost-effective plan that had no possibility of being viable (politically).

    December 30, 2011
  164. Paul Zorn said:

    Interesting … if true. Any idea whether the plan was indeed cost effective?

    The larger point, that otherwise effective policies can fail for political reasons, while ineffective ones get supported, seems all too true.

    December 31, 2011
  165. Norm Vig said:

    We tried a variant of this with the “cash for clunkers” program in 2009. I doubt that it was cost-effective since the criteria were too loose, but it was very good for car dealers at a time they needed a boost.

    December 31, 2011
  166. john george said:

    Norm- The unfortunate thing about this “boost” is that it was not sustainable. It was the artificial influx of tax money that made it lucrative, but it din’t support a change of the auto industry.

    December 31, 2011