Climate & Energy

Should economics rule?

The only way to a soft landing is down

The only way to a soft landing is down. In a brief article on DeSmog by Emily Murgatroyd, a Cato Institute type, Jerry Taylor, is quoted as saying Scientists are in no position to intelligently guide public policy on climate change. Scientists can lay out scenarios, but it is up to economists to weigh the costs and benefits and many of them say the costs of cutting emissions are higher than the benefits. Can we consider this claim, or is it somehow protected by a taboo? Is one a Marxist or even a Stalinist for pointing out that economists are not, themselves, necessarily right about everything? Economists, meanwhile, claim to have the key to rationality. Their claim is based in their own definition of their field, which is about "how people collectively make decisions", but they proceed very quickly from there to the marketplace via a number of dubious assumptions. The marketplace is real enough, and the fact that it affects the decisions we make is inescapable, but that doesn't prove a claim that economics is uniquely placed to resolve our differences. A claim in more desperate need of challenging I cannot imagine -- yet on it goes, essentially unchallenged in circles of power.

'For this purpose, we will rise, and we will act'

Al Gore’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech

SPEECH BY AL GORE ON THE ACCEPTANCE OF THE NOBEL PEACE PRIZE DECEMBER 10, 2007 OSLO, NORWAY Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Honorable members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen. I have a purpose here today. It is a purpose I have tried to serve for many years. I have prayed that God would show me a way to accomplish it. Sometimes, without warning, the future knocks on our door with a precious and painful vision of what might be. One hundred and nineteen years ago, a wealthy inventor read his own obituary, mistakenly published years before his death. Wrongly believing the inventor had just died, a newspaper printed a harsh judgment of his life's work, unfairly labeling him "The Merchant of Death" because of his invention -- dynamite. Shaken by this condemnation, the inventor made a fateful choice to serve the cause of peace. Seven years later, Alfred Nobel created this prize and the others that bear his name. Seven years ago tomorrow, I read my own political obituary in a judgment that seemed to me harsh and mistaken -- if not premature. But that unwelcome verdict also brought a precious if painful gift: an opportunity to search for fresh new ways to serve my purpose. Unexpectedly, that quest has brought me here. Even though I fear my words cannot match this moment, I pray what I am feeling in my heart will be communicated clearly enough that those who hear me will say, "We must act." The distinguished scientists with whom it is the greatest honor of my life to share this award have laid before us a choice between two different futures -- a choice that to my ears echoes the words of an ancient prophet: "Life or death, blessings or curses. Therefore, choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live." We, the human species, are confronting a planetary emergency -- a threat to the survival of our civilization that is gathering ominous and destructive potential even as we gather here. But there is hopeful news as well: we have the ability to solve this crisis and avoid the worst -- though not all -- of its consequences, if we act boldly, decisively and quickly. However, despite a growing number of honorable exceptions, too many of the world's leaders are still best described in the words Winston Churchill applied to those who ignored Adolf Hitler's threat: "They go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all powerful to be impotent."

What gets measured gets fixed

The first thing you have to do if you decide to reduce emissions to 1990 levels by a certain date is … figure out 1990 levels. That is not an easy or uncontroversial undertaking, and as usual, California is showing the rest of us how to do it.

Al Gore and IPCC awarded Nobel Peace Prize

Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change received their Nobel Peace Prizes this morning in Oslo, Norway. In his acceptance speech, Gore emphasized humanity’s role in the climate crisis, saying, “We are what is wrong, and we must make it right … We never intended to cause all this destruction, just as Alfred Nobel never intended that dynamite be used for waging war. He had hoped his invention would promote human progress. We shared that same worthy goal when we began burning massive quantities of coal, then oil and methane.” Gore called for a moratorium on coal-burning power …

Thousands of protesters in over 50 cities call for climate action, now

This weekend, thousands of people around the world protested for climate action in at least 50 cities, urging the governments meeting at the United Nations climate conference in Bali, Indonesia, to get serious about curbing climate change. An estimated 10,000 people protested in London, marching through the streets to rally outside the U.S. embassy, emphasizing their particular disdain for obstructionist U.S. climate policy. Others marched and rallied in Auckland, New Zealand; Athens, Greece; Berlin, Germany; Fairbanks, Alaska; Helsinki, Finland; Manila, Philippines; and more. Cyclists, skiers, and swimmers made appearances at various rallies, as did activists in the requisite polar-bear costume. …

Dear Prime Minister, Dear Chancellor

A letter from James Hansen pleads for action on coal-fired power plants

The following is a draft letter to UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, on the subject of proposed new coal-fired power plants. (A similar letter is in the works to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.) The author would appreciate feedback. ----- Dear Prime Minister Brown, Your leadership is needed on a matter concerning coal-fired power plants in your country, a matter with global ramifications, as I will clarify. For the sake of identification, I am a United States citizen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Adjunct Professor at the Columbia University Earth Institute. I write, however, as a private citizen, a resident of Kintnersville, Pennsylvania, on behalf of the planet and life on Earth, including all species. I recognize that you strongly support policies aimed at reducing the danger of global warming. Also Great Britain has been a leader in pressing for appropriate international actions. Yet there are plans for construction of new coal-fired power plants in Great Britain. Consummation of those plans would contribute to foreseeable adverse consequences of global warming. Conversely, a choice not to build could be a tipping point that seeds a transition that is needed to solve the global warming problem. Basic Fossil Fuel Facts The role of coal in global warming is clarified by a small number of well-documented facts. Figure 1 shows the fraction of fossil fuel carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions that remains in the air over time. One-third of the CO2 is still in the air after 100 years, and one-fifth is still in the air after 1000 years.

Giuliani opposes Congressional fuel economy deal

In a revealing interview on Meet the Press today, GOP Presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani said he does not support the mandated increase to 35-mpg that both the House and Senate -- and I believe even the president -- support. To quote Rudy: "That isn't the way I think it should be done." What is his alternative strategy? Politically, as readers know, only one other alternative strategy exists: "technology, technology, technology, blah, blah, blah." Yes, Rudy wants to subsidize hybrids and biofuels -- a voluntary strategy that has failed to stop the steady decline in average fuel economy, and the steady increase in gasoline consumption, in this country since the mid-1980s.

The Bali is in our court

US reps to present unfinished energy bill to UNFCCC

When a few members of U.S. Congress come to Bali next week to meet with delegations from all round the world, they'll have something in hand: a first step in the direction of climate change legislation from the U.S. 35mpg fuel economy standards and 15% renewable energy requirements from utilities may not seem like all that much, but for the rest of the world's leaders, who have been holding their collective breath, it's a twitch of life from a government long considered dead on the issue of global warming. The halls of the Bali Convention Center are abuzz with talk of a number of bills going through the U.S. Congress -- delegates and NGO folk alike know the importance of including the United States in the post-Kyoto process.

Some convenient truths

Scaling back our energy-hungry lifestyles means more of what matters, not less

The work of recent Nobel Peace Prize winners Al Gore and the IPCC, along with a veritable mountain of other evidence, clearly lays out the reality and potential costs of human-induced climate change. Most analyses have concluded that we can and must keep our economies growing while addressing the climate challenge; we need only reduce the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases we produce. We can do this, they say, by using more efficient light bulbs, driving more fuel-efficient cars, better insulating our homes, buying windmills and solar panels, etc. While we agree that these things need to happen (and the sooner the better), it is clear that they will not be enough to solve the big problems the world faces. The inconvenient truth is that to ensure quality of life for future generations, the world's wealthiest societies cannot continue our current lifestyles and patterns of economic growth. Further, the large proportion of humanity living in poverty must be able to satisfy basic human needs without aspiring to an overly materialistic lifestyle. Does this inconvenient truth mean doom and despair? Absolutely not. Indeed, we think this seemingly inconvenient truth is actually a blessing in disguise, for our high-consuming lifestyles and western patterns of economic growth are not actually improving our well-being: they are not only unsustainable, they are undesirable. Scientists are discovering a convenient truth: our happiness does not depend on the consumption of conventional economic goods and services, but instead is enhanced when we have more time and space for socializing, for nature, for learning, and for really living instead of just consuming.