Gimme a ‘B’ … B!  Gimme a ‘minus’ … Minus!  What’s that spell?

My friend A. Siegel wrote on his blog last week (and republished on DailyKos and Grist):

Joe Romm, who has been cheer-leading Waxman-Markey recently (despite much on-the-record work that provides a basis for highlighting its inadequacies), says that it might (MIGHT) give us a 10-20% chance of stabilization at 450 ppm and avoiding catastrophic climate change. Hmmm … what wonderful odds.

I don’t see how giving a B- grade to the bill and asserting it has a small chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change qualifies as “uncritical enthusiastic support for somebody or something,” to use Encarta’s definition of “cheerleading.”

Needless to say I was rather unhappy with this misrepresentation.  After all, he left out a central point of my post, which is that “Waxman-Markey is the only game in town” and if it fails, then there is no chance of averting catastrophe.  So I complained to him and he added this:

[UPDATE: 1. To try to clarify, Romm believes (with reason) that this is an improvement over the odds without Waxman-Markey. He is stating his perspective that Waxman-Markey improves the chances of avoiding catastrophic climate change. 2. That Romm is strongly supportive gives pause to what might otherwise be harsher criticism & conclusions. 3. For those who aren’t aware, Romm’s Hell & High Water is perhaps the top book on the intersection of climate change and US politics. Of it, I wrote that “This work might be called the work to read after seeing An Inconvenient Truth.”]

Modified rapture!

How long did it take before we got a chance to take up serious health care legislation after it died?  How long since we reconsidered an energy tax after the BTU tax died?  How long since we have passed major legislation to strengthen the Clean Air Act or Clean Water Act to deal with obvious dangers to public health?  Still waiting!

I happen to be a political realist as well as a climate science realist, and while the two can be hard to reconcile, they ain’t impossible.

I disagree with much of Siegel’s critique, such as his view of the allowance allocations.  I agree with him on the 2020 target.  It is, as I’ve said many times, too easy.  From my perspective, the only other serious issue on the cap that Siegel raises is his claim that “The bill’s 2020 target is such that it could well be met with zero actual reduction in US emissions from the EIA’s latest BAU analysis. (This is from a comment from the EIA’s acting director in a public session yesterday.)”  Siegel omits mention of the fact that EIA’s acting director is a George W. Bush holdover and no friend of climate action, strong or weak (as I have blogged here).  He is hardly a credible source.  Siegel might just as well quote The Breakthrough Institute (TBI) if he wants sources without credibility.

And, in fact, Siegel’s concern — that domestic and international offsets could be used in place of U.S. emissions reductions — is the same one TBI has been pushing hard on the media (see “Memo to media: Don’t be suckered by bad analyses from the Breakthrough Institute the way Time, WSJ, NPR, and The New Republic have been“).

Now The Breakthrough Institute are trying to spin Andy Revkin (among others) hard on this. I’d warn Revkin not to be suckered by TBI, but that is a lost cause.  He loves TBI Fellow Roger Pielke, Jr. like a brother, even at the cost of his own credibility (see Unstaining Al Gore’s good name 2: He is not “guilty of inaccuracies and overstatements” and is owed a correction and apology by the New York Times).  But I digress (a tad).

Yes, it is true that the bill’s 2020 target could be met with zero actual reductions, but only if clean energy strategies are expensive and limited while offsets are cheap and plentiful.  In fact, the reverse is true, as I’ve discussed (see “Do the 2 billion offsets allowed in Waxman-Markey gut the emissions targets? Part 1” and yes, more parts are coming).  Let me go further than mere analysis.

I’ll bet anyone $1000 right now that if something like Waxman-Markey passes, then under 200 million metric tons of offsets will be used by emitters in 2020.  All you folks out there who are certain the offsets gut the target should view this as a no-brainer.  Yet I have offered a similar bet privately to many critics, but so far no takers.

I would add that the same exact critique — the target can be met without any real emissions reductions — could have been made against the entire European target under Kyoto, but the EU-15 are “poised to meet their Kyoto target” with minimal use of offsets and most U.S. progressives seem to admire European leadership on climate.

No, I’m not a cheerleader for this weak, cheerless bill.  But it is precisely because it is weak that no one’s going to waste much money on expensive offsets when the 2020 target is so straightforward to meet with the cheap, clean energy strategies that some of us have been arguing for decades are available in abundance.

[UPDATE:  Siegel never mentions offsets or the TBI analysis in his post.  I do not mean to suggest that he is directly endorsing their analysis or associating himself with them at all.  My apologies for that confusion.  I was making an analytical leap that I did not explain fully to readers — namely that the only basis I can see for the EIA quote he cited is the use of very large amounts of offsets in place of emissions reductions, something that could happen in theory, but, as I’ve argued, almost certainly won’t in practice.]

And now let me turn my attention to The Talented Mr. Pielke of The Breakthrough Institute.

Pielke, like Siegel, is unable to reconcile earlier statements of mine with current statements of mine.  [Note:  When Pielke agrees with your analysis, be afraid, be very afraid.]

in a recent post, The Talented Mr. Pielke uses as evidence of my supposed inconsistency an earlier criticism of the USCAP proposal on which Waxman-Markey is based:

I can sort of understand why, say, Duke Energy, signed on to this, but NRDC and EDF and WRI have a lot of explaining to do. As we will see, this proposal would be wholly inadequate as a final piece of legislation. As a starting point it is unilateral disarmament to the conservative politicians and big fossil fuel companies who will be working hard to gut any bill.

Well, duh!

That statement doesn’t contradict my view of Waxman-Markey.  It states my view.  Waxman-Markey is wholly inadequate as a final piece of legislation — hence the only 10% to 20% chance it gives us of avoiding catastrophic climate change.  And politically, I thought — and still think — that it was a mistake for NRDC and EDF and WRI to embrace it as a starting point.

What does that have to do with the situation we are in now?  Two of Congress’s leading progressive environmental champions have embraced USCAP and managed to get a modified version of it through the House Energy and Commerce Committee.  Previous political judgments about whether enviros should have pushed it — or could have gotten a better deal pushing something else — are now utterly irrelevant.

The Talented Mr. Pielke than launches into a singularly uninformed critique comparing my previous discussions of offsets with my current discussions.

It is always worth noting that Pielke and TBI never change their positions no matter what the facts.  Climate science — and climate scientists — become more dire almost every month.  But TBI and Pielke have never advanced a serious solution to avoiding catastrophic global warming.  Not even close.  And they have never done anything but attack those who do.  Since they are on a monomaniacal quest to spread disinformation to the media, I will have to do yet another post on them, although I’d prefer to ignore them and all people, like Pielke, whose “proposed climate policies will take us to 5-7°C warming or more.”

I have spent 15 years actively participating in the debate about offsets, talking to leading experts, doing my own analysis, writing, and speaking.  I am constantly trying to improve my understanding of them, since they are so important in the climate debate.  My biggest concerns have always been about unregulated domestic offsets.  But those concerns — and my previous writings criticizing unregulated domestic offsets — simply are not terribly germane to domestic offsets in Waxman-Markey, which introduces a cap and strong regulatory oversight of the market, as I explained in “How I learned to stop worrying and love Waxman-Markey, Part 2: In praise of domestic offsets.“  And yes, though it was lost on Pieke, that headline was intentionally sardonic (see Wikipedia entry on the movie Dr. Strangelove).  And yes, as cinephiles know, The Talented Mr. Pielke is a too-apt moniker for Roger, Jr.

International offsets are certainly more worrisome.  Many of those offsets have been almost completely fraudulent.  Indeed, the West got suckered into giving China some $6 billion to destroy greenhouse gas refrigerants (HFCs) that probably cost Chinese companies $100 million to capture and destroy (as I discussed in “You can call a rip-offset a CDM project, but it’s still a rip-offset“).  But there will be no new HFC projects.  And the international offsets market is under more scrutiny now and quality is likely to improve.  Under Waxman-Markey, it is certain to improve, since the bill has a variety of provisions to ensure that happens.  And once we join the international offsets market, prices are certain to rise, as I have discussed, making them far more expensive than the myriad clean energy strategies available.  Indeed, if the world ever gets on a path to avoid catastrophic global warming, the price of international offsets will soar.  More on that in a future post.

I base my posts — and my support of Waxman-Markey, such as it is — on my analysis and my desire to give current and future generations the best chance of averting catastrophe.  If that makes me a cheerleader, well, then all I can say is, in the words of that once-above-average TV show, Heroes: