In the public climate change debate, one often hears the argument that scientists are making hysterical claims about climate change in order to get funding. I already blogged about how the argument fails the "common sense" test, but I think this issue deserves another post. Kerry Emanual and Chris Landsea, two of the major players in the debate over the connection between climate change and hurricanes, have visited A&M in the last three weeks and both gave seminars in my department. It is clear from their two talks that there is a vigorous scientific debate going on about the connection. After seeing both of them present their case, it is clear that this is an incredibly difficult problem and that no firm conclusions can be drawn at the present time. I certainly expect future research will shed more light on this question. So let's evaluate the hypothesis that the scientific community is fabricating hysterical and frightening results to bump up funding. If that were so, why is there an active debate about the climate change-hurricane connection? Shouldn't the hurricane community fabricate the result that hurricanes and climate change are related? According to the skeptics, this would result in increased funding. Here is what I conclude about this:
The pressure to soft-pedal is very, very high. I know because I feel it. I'm tempted. I do not wish to be dismissed as an apocalyptic. So when I read, in this fine and even astonishing report, that "politics as usual" must be cast aside, and quickly, there's something in me that balks. After all, the mainline debate at Bali was about a "25-40% cut by 2020" for the developed countries. Isn't this enough? Doesn't it tell us that we're already moving as quickly as we can? Must we call for emergency mobilization? Must we seek to put all "available and necessary resources" at the service of a global crash program to stabilize the climate?
This post is by ClimateProgress guest blogger Bill Becker, executive director of the Presidential Climate Action Project. ----- It has not been a good year so far for King Coal, Big Oil, and whatever nickname we give to the nuclear energy industry. Two weeks ago, TIME reported that nuclear plants in the southeastern U.S. may be forced to cut power production or temporarily shut down later this year because the year-long drought has left too little water to cool the reactors. There already has been one drought-related shutdown in Alabama. And while officials aren't yet predicting brownouts, utilities will be forced to buy expensive replacement power from other places, leading to "shockingly high electric bills for millions of southerners." Unfortunately, the Southeast is precisely where the nuclear energy industry has been looking as the best location for new power plants, in part because they believe there is less public resistance there. We'll see how the public feels when those "shockingly high electric bills" arrive in the mail. The South's problems are not unique. The Associated Press reports that 24 of the nation's 104 nukes are in areas experiencing the most severe drought. Then came an email from the chief executive of Royal Dutch Shell to his staff, predicting that the production of conventional oil supplies won't be able to keep pace with world demand after 2015 -- a mere seven years from now. That's very bad news for oil-dependent economies, including ours. Five of the last seven recessions in the U.S. economy have been preceded by big increases in the price of oil (PDF), and today's oil prices are one of the factors being blamed for the economic slowdown and possible recession we're experiencing now. The email from Shell's Jeroen van der Veer suggests that unless we figure out how to replace conventional oil or how to stop economic development and population growth around the world, high oil prices are here to stay. It's the old law of supply and demand.
Bush's phony rhetoric from the State of the Union: The United States is committed to strengthening our energy security and confronting global climate change, and the best way to meet these goals is for America to continue leading the way toward the development of cleaner and more energy-efficient technology. His actual energy-efficiency budget, summarized by the Environmental and Energy Study Institute executive director, Carol Werner (my previous post on the budget is here):
So, maybe you've heard: the economy looks like it might be headed for the tank. You may have also noticed that there's an election this year. That means it must be time for a stimulus package on Capitol Hill. No one up there wants to head into reelection with rising unemployment, a rash of foreclosures, and falling incomes on their hands, without at least looking like they're doing something about it. So there's a rush on the Hill to get a "stimulus package" out the door to help boost the economy ASAP. Cynicism aside, I think this is a good thing. People are suffering, and if the government can do something about it, why shouldn't they? It sometimes seems like heresy these days, but I tend to think it's what we pay them to do. The problem is that some of the stimulus proposals floating around, including ones by our green friends (see Josh Dorner's post for example), are not very good stimulus policies. It's not that any of these ideas are bad. Most of them are downright good. Excellent, even. The problem is that almost none of them can be remotely classified as stimulus. Here's the problem, or at least one of them: Since World War II, the average recession has lasted just 11 months. Add the fact that it takes a fair bit of time (anywhere from 3 to 6 months) before we even recognize that we're in a recession. Add still more time to decide what to do about it, and more time on top of that for whatever we decide to do to actually have an effect, and you see the problem. Even for the quickest policy approach, we could be solidly 7 months into an 11 month recession before we can have any impact. There is a very short window for policy to stimulate the economy. If we don't act fast enough, the policy won't take effect soon enough to help anyone. If we're late enough, the policy ends up hitting the economy when it's on the upswing, and instead of smoothing out the business cycle, we end up contributing to it.
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