Climate & Energy

Details matter: Winner-picking and social engineering

Lieberman Warner criticism, Part 3

This is the third in a five-part series exploring the details of the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act. See also part 1 and part 2. Let's do a thought experiment. Imagine that tomorrow morning, you wake up, reach in your pocket, and find that you suddenly have billions of dollars of cash. Before you have a moment to celebrate, you also realize that you are lying in the middle of an interstate, and there is a big truck coming. What do you do? (a) Issue an RFP for research, development, and deployment of technologies that will help you get off the highway; (b) Issue an RFP for research, development, and deployment of crash-retardant pajamas; (c) Invest in wildlife conservation measures to protect the flora and fauna on the side of the highway that are about to be covered in blood, guts, and twisted metal; (d) Set aside money for truck driver grief counseling, or; (e) All of the above. If you chose (e), read no farther. You have identified yourself as a person who thinks that the Lieberman-Warner approach to greenhouse-gas reduction is perfection incarnate. If, on the other hand, you think that there was a fairly important idea not even listed amongst the options above (hint: it has to do with getting your butt off the highway and/or stopping the truck), then you understand the flaws innate to the Lieberman-Warner approach. (And if you chose a, b, c, or d ... you're one odd duck. But at least you've signaled your self-interest in high-tech solutions to simple problems!)

Polar-bear listing decision must be made by May 15, says judge

The last time we checked in with the laggardly Interior Department, it was saying it needed until June 30 to decide whether to place polar bears on the endangered-species list. But the department had better find its Decider Pants soon, as a federal judge has sided with green groups to impose a new deadline of May 15. “Other than the general complexity of finalizing the rule, defendants offer no specific facts that would justify the delay [from the original deadline of Jan. 9], much less further delay,” wrote U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken. The department proposed in Dec. 2006 that …

Me on a podcast

I am on this week’s podcast from I’ll confess when the PA guy called me I didn’t know it was a record of “Marxist thought online,” but hey, let a thousand flowers bloom. As it happens I was talking about a market-based carbon policy, kind of an odd subject for a Marxist podcast, but it was fun. If you listen closely, you can hear me stirring my lunch on the stove as I talk. Multitasking might explain why I was talking so damn slowly. It sounds like I’m high. (I wasn’t, promise.) I start in around the halfway mark:

Carbon policy dilemma, 2

Two simple, effective, and diametrically opposed climate policy proposals

This is the second in a series; see part one. I said in my previous post that of the three goals of climate policy — simplicity, political buy-in, and efficiency — it is possible to get only two at once. You can get simplicity and buy-in. You can get simplicity and efficiency. But when you start trying to get buy-in and efficiency together, you lose simplicity (see: Lieberman-Warner). I’ll describe two proposals, one of which focuses on buy-in and one on efficiency. Both achieve simplicity, primarily by routing money around, rather than through, the clusterf*ck that is the federal appropriations …

The experiment

If biofuels are sustainable, we should be able to show it

A friend recently sent me a one-page press release from an ethanol lobby group that purported to debunk "myths" of biofuels. Our ensuing discussion helped me clarify why even people who once were excited and optimistic about biofuels (like me) are now so opposed to production subsidies (as opposed to R&D). My friend asked (paraphrasing), "If not biofuels, then what?" and noted that what we're doing now -- "squeezing oil out of rocks" -- is not exactly good for the planet. For me, the bottom line is simply this: Ethanol is no more a renewable fuel than hydrogen is. Rather, ethanol is a way for us to consume natural gas, diesel oil, and coal (not to mention a huge volume of water and vast acreage of cropland) to make motor fuels. All this is on top of serious problems raised by studies about land diversion for carbon emissions and food availability. It's important to remember that fossil fuels are biofuels (fuels made from once-living matter), so using that term alone isn't helpful.

Notable quotable

“So I hope that this film will help others to connect the dots the way it helped Tipper and me to connect the dots on the relationship between mountaintop removal — which is a crime and ought to be treated as a crime — and the results of burning it without regard to the future, which also ought to be treated as just an unacceptable practice.” – Al Gore, presenting the “Reel Current Award” to director Michael O’ Connell for his latest film, Mountain Top Removal

U.S. should back off from biofuels to bring down food prices, says Texas guv

Has the U.S. push for biofuels contributed to rising global food prices? Well, yes, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday: “There has been apparently some effect, unintended consequence from the alternative fuels effort.” But, she hastened to add, “biofuels continue to be an extremely important piece of the alternative energy picture” and “we think that it is not a large part of the problem.” Unconvinced, Texas Gov. Rick Perry has suggested that 50 percent of the federal renewable-fuels mandate be waived for a year to take some pressure off of food prices and the Texas economy. But his critics …

Carbon tax shifts?

The only obstacle to more state carbon taxes is politics

One of Washington State's conservative think tanks has just proposed a carbon tax shift. Interesting. (Read it here.) The Washington Policy Center has garbed its tax shift proposal in anti-government clothing. Some of the rhetoric makes my skin crawl. But the proposal itself is sensible if modest. It includes a starter carbon tax that pays for a small sales tax reduction. As a bonus, it throws in a business and occupations tax reduction on all capital investment. It's not goofy. It's the kind of thing I was hoping we might get about a decade ago, when energy and climate issues weren't front-page news. Today, I hope we can do better: a comprehensive, auctioned, regional cap-and-trade system with built-in buffers for working families. I'm guessing that the political chances of WPC's proposal are somewhat slimmer than the odds for my preferred climate pricing policy. So rather than engage in a fight over the rhetoric, I'll use it as a springboard to answering four questions that I've had from readers and from people at my speeches on climate policy.

The cost of the status quo

We keep being told how much it will cost us to leave fossil fuels behind. Here’s a little story about how much it will cost us to remain hooked: “According to normal economic theory, and the history of oil, rising prices have two major effects,” said Fatih Birol, the chief economist at the International Energy Agency, which advises industrialized countries. “They reduce demand and they induce oil supplies. Not this time.” … “What is disturbing here is that things seem to get worse, not better,” an analyst at Goldman Sachs, David Greely, said. “These high prices are not attracting meaningful …

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