Saturday, July 12, 2008

GWB as global warming visionary

His ideas have won the day

One of the mysteries of the universe is why President Bush bothers to charge the fixed bayonets of the global warming theocracy. On the other hand, his Administration's supposed "cowboy diplomacy" is succeeding in changing the way the world addresses climate change. Which is to say, he has forced the world to pay at least some attention to reality.

That was the larger meaning of the Group of Eight summit in Japan this week, even if it didn't make the papers. The headline was that the nations pledged to cut global greenhouse emissions by half by 2050. Yet for the first time, the G-8 also agreed that any meaningful climate program would have to involve industrializing nations like China and India. For the first time, too, the G-8 agreed that real progress will depend on technological advancements. And it agreed that the putative benefits had to justify any brakes on economic growth.

In other words, the G-8 signed on to what has been the White House approach since 2002. The U.S. has relied on the arc of domestic energy programs now in place, like fuel-economy standards and efficiency regulations, along with billions in subsidies for low-carbon technology. Europe threw in with the central planning of the Kyoto Protocol -- and the contrast is instructive. Between 2000 and 2006, U.S. net greenhouse gas emissions fell 3%. Of the 17 largest world-wide emitters, only France reduced by more.

So despite environmentalist sanctimony about the urgent need for President Bush and the U.S. to "take the lead" on global warming, his program has done better than most everybody else's. That won't make the evening news. But the fact is that the new G-8 document is best understood as a second look at the "leadership" of . . . you know who.

The G-8 also tends to make grand promises that evaporate as soon as everyone goes home. This year, picking up the "accountability" theme pressed by the U.S., envoys grudgingly accepted a plan that will track -- and publicize -- how well countries are living up to their word. So when the G-8 endorsed greenhouse reduction "aspirations" that are "ambitious, realistic and achievable," the emphasis fell on the last two attributes.

Put another way, global warming is an economic, not a theological, question. It is not at all clear that huge expenditures today on slowing emissions will yield long-run benefits or even slow emissions. Research and development into sources of low-carbon energy is almost certainly more useful, and the G-8 pledged more funding for "clean tech" programs. This is vastly preferable to whatever reorganization of the American economy that Barack Obama and John McCain currently favor in the name of solving this speculative problem.

The G-8 also conceded that global-warming masochism is futile and painfully expensive. If every rich country drastically cut CO2, those cuts would be wiped out by emissions from China and India. "Carbon leakage" is a major problem too, where cutbacks in some countries lead to increases in others with less strict policies, as manufacturing and the like are outsourced. This whack-a-mole won't stop without including all 17 major economies, which together produce roughly 80% of global emissions.

Much to the ire of Kyotophiles, Mr. Bush started this rethinking last year when he created a parallel track for talks on a post-2012 U.N. program, luring China and India to the table with more practical options. But developing countries, led by that duo, still refused to sign on to the G-8's 2050 goal. They aren't eager to endanger their growth -- and lifting people out of poverty -- by acquiring the West's climate neuroses.

The irony is that Kyoto has handed them every reason not to participate. Europe knew all along that it couldn't meet its quotas, so it created an out in "offsets." A British factory, say, buys a credit to pay for basic efficiency improvements in a Chinese coal plant, like installing smokestack scrubbers. This is a tax on the Brits to make Chinese industries more competitive. Sweet deal if you can get it.

It gets worse. The offsets are routed through a U.N. bureaucracy that makes them far more valuable in Europe than the cost of the actual efficiency improvements. So far, Kyoto-world has paid more than _4.7 billion to eliminate an obscure greenhouse gas called HFC-23; the necessary incinerators cost less than _100 million. Most of the difference in such schemes goes to the foreign government, such as China's communist regime.

Given these perverse incentives, the magical realism of Kyoto has backfired in a big way. The global warming elite will never admit this, because that would mean giving up their political whip against George Bush. But Kyoto II is already collapsing under its own contradictions. By sticking to a more realistic alternative, this reviled President has handed his green opponents a way to save face.



The government's own carbon reduction agency has attacked the climate plan agreed at the G8 summit as not doing "a single thing" to reduce emissions, and accused leaders - including the UK prime minister, Gordon Brown - of "an abrogation of responsibility". The headline promise to cut carbon emissions by half by 2050 has already been criticised for not setting interim targets or specifying whether the baseline is 1990 or a more recent date. The latter is a critical issue because of big emissions rises in the last two decades.

Professor Michael Grubb, the chief economist of the Carbon Trust, said the richest country leaders also failed to make any firm promises even on issues they could agree outside the UN negotiations, like tackling emissions from aviation and shipping, details of how promises of "clean technology transfer" would happen, and increasing funds for poorer countries to adapt to climate change. "There's a very big gap between the rhetoric of consensus about the size of the problem and the need for reductions, and the lack of anything specific that will make any difference," Grubb told the "One can see five pages of text - I'm not sure I can see a single thing that's actually going to reduce emissions."

The lack of detail was particularly disappointing after a promise at the G8 summit hosted by Britain in Gleneagles three years ago that it would develop concrete proposals by this year's summit in Japan, said Grubb. "I'm sure the UK government was pushing for stronger action - how hard I don't know," he added. Grubb said the baseline and interim targets could be decided by the UN process, which continues with meetings in Poland in December and Copenhagen in late 2009.

Instead, the leading economies could have made significant moves, including a firm promise that UN commitments would be legally binding, and a specific plan for reducing aviation and shipping emissions, which are currently not included in international reduction targets.

Grubb said he also wanted a big uplift in funds for developing nations to adapt to the impacts of climate change, partly funded by non-government sources such as the aviation and shipping tax regime. "If something is too difficult for the eight biggest economies of the world to sort out, you aren't going to solve it by lobbing it into the UN," he added. "That's an abrogation of responsibilities by G8. The G8 should be there to fulfil a role of leadership by the richest countries."


Theoretical physicist and mathematician Freeman Dyson on global warming in the New York Review of Books:

Environmentalism has replaced socialism as the leading secular religion. And the ethics of environmentalism are fundamentally sound. Scientists and economists can agree with Buddhist monks and Christian activists that ruthless destruction of natural habitats is evil and careful preservation of birds and butterflies is good. The worldwide community of environmentalists -- most of whom are not scientists -- holds the moral high ground, and is guiding human societies toward a hopeful future. . . .

Unfortunately, some members of the environmental movement have also adopted as an article of faith the belief that global warming is the greatest threat to the ecology of our planet. That is one reason why the arguments about global warming have become bitter and passionate. Much of the public has come to believe that anyone who is skeptical about the dangers of global warming is an enemy of the environment. The skeptics now have the difficult task of convincing the public that the opposite is true. Many of the skeptics are passionate environmentalists. They are horrified to see the obsession with global warming distracting public attention from what they see as more serious and more immediate dangers to the planet, including problems of nuclear weaponry, environmental degradation, and social injustice. Whether they turn out to be right or wrong, their arguments on these issues deserve to be heard.


What is the point of emissions targets?

With China and India not coming to the party, we are doomed anyway on Greenie assumptions so let us eat, drink and be merry!

Let us assume that Saint Al of Gore and the IPCC are correct in their direst predictions and that Lord Stern and his ilk are correct in their assessment of the cost of global warming. What possible benefit can result from slashing emissions in the west when India and China are committed to industrialisation and its consequential CO2 production?

And let us be clear about one thing, neither China nor India will allow Saint Al to stifle their efforts to improve the material standards of their people (and in China's case the status on the international stage of their autocratic leaders). The head of China's State Council said last year: "our efforts to fight climate change must not come at the expense of economic growth." The Indian Council on Climate Change made the same point: "It is obvious that India needs to substantially increase its per capita energy consumption to provide a minimally acceptable level of wellbeing to its people."

One can, of course, see that cutting emissions in the west will stabalise matters while the east is increasing emissions: one tonne saved in the west + one tonne produced in the east = no change. But India and China have vast populations and a long way to go before their people enjoy anything like the standard of living we have taken for granted for the last two or three generations. It is impossible to predict with any accuracy the level of emissions India and China will produce and, therefore, impossible to say how much we have to cut in order to maintain equilibrium.

One can also see, because we are presuming Saint Al to be correct, that maintaining equilibrium will not avert the imminent disaster. So what exactly do we have to do here in the west? On the face of it we have to cut our emissions by a vast amount very quickly. Consumption of oil, gas and coal must become a thing of the past almost in the blink of an eye. And even if that is achieved we must then keep our fingers crossed that India and China will reach their target of economic well-being and then ... well, and then do what? Switch instantly away from oil, gas and coal just as they have built prosperity on the energy produced by those very fuels and, significantly, when China in particular has vast reserves? There is as much chance of that as there is of me holing every tee-shot I play in my next round of golf. It's pure La-La-Land.

Then along come Brasil, Colombia, Mexico, Pakistan, South Africa, Egypt, Algeria and the rest, one by one as they create political stability they will aim for economic progress.

All the while our standards of living in the west will fall as our governments vie for the title of greatest grandstander in the alternative energy handicap. They will pump countless billions of whatever currency they wish into the speculative hunt for the miracle cure. Every penny of it will be raised by additional taxes which will hit the poor hardest.

I simply cannot help concluding that the approach of the British Labour Party government (and the Conservative opposition) is fundamentally wrong. They are looking at the matter from the wrong perspective and can learn a valuable lesson from the words quoted above explaining the Chinese and Indian positions. Instead of insisting that their first priority is to cut emissions they should recognise that their first priority is to protect the standard of living of their people.

Some would say the first priority of government is security, as it was in 1939. They are right, but security for what purpose? What is it that security defends? It defends our way of life against the risk of a less palatable way of life being imposed against our will. That is why we fought Hitler's Germany, it is why we armed ourselves against the USSR and it is one of the reasons why we maintain a military force today. There is no immediate military threat to Britain but there is a massive economic threat - the threat of material impoverishment at the shrine to Saint Al of Gore.

I started this musing by saying we should assume Lord Stern's armageddon scenario to be accurate. He said our continued pumping out of CO2 will have dire financial consequences for us all so how, you might ask, can we preserve our material standards if we do not cut our emissions enormously? On the hypothesis that Lord Stern is correct the answer is simple, we can't - on that hypothesis our CO2 will bankrupt us. If that hypothesis is correct for our CO2, it is equally correct for India and China's CO2 because CO2 does not hover in little packets above the country that creates it, like a catchy tune it spreads itself rapidly all over the globe. On his hypothesis we are going to go bankrupt come what may. The government wants to accelerate the process by introducing an additional crippling cost which cannot possibly provide a return if China and India's CO2 will destroy us anyway.

Why not let us enjoy the last brief moments of life as we know it?



After writing favorably about Sen. McCain's recent economics speeches, where he clearly shifted toward the supply-side both on tax cuts and producing more energy, I went back last evening and carefully read his 15-page policy pamphlet called "Jobs for America." Here's what I found: There is no mention of cap-and-trade. None. Nada. There is a section about "Cheap, Clean, Secure Energy for America: The Lexington Project." But that talks about expanded domestic production of oil and gas, as well as the need for more nuclear power and coal along with alternative sources. Then it has the $300 million battery and flex-fuel cars. But nope, no cap-and-trade.

So I picked up the phone and dialed a senior McCain official to make sure these old eyes hadn't missed it. Sure enough, on deep background, this senior McCain advisor told me I was correct: no cap-and-trade. In other words, this central-planning, regulatory, tax-and-spend disaster, which did not appear in Mac's two recent speeches, has been eradicated entirely - even from the detailed policy document that hardly anybody will ever read.

So then I asked this senior official if the campaign has taken cap-and-trade out behind the barn and shot it dead once and for all - buried it in history's dustbin of bad ideas. The answer came back that they are interested in jobs right now - jobs for new energy production and jobs from lower taxes. At that point I became satisfied. Even though a McCain presidency might resurrect cap-and-trade, it will be a much different format. More important, the campaign is cognizant of the conservative rebellion against it. That's enough for me.

More here

Australia: Kevin Rudd's carbon war may be good politics for him

Both the following speakers are Australian politicians. One is announcing an increase in the war effort in World War II. The other is talking about climate change. Spot who's who.

"No longer can this nation rest upon the basis of the ordinary way of life, of conducting business in the way we did, of working the way to which we have been accustomed. The [current crisis] has put an end to that period in our history."

"The penalty clause for us not acting is almost unthinkable . This country is on the verge of cataclysmic times, such as the human collective experience has never known."

You can probably tell the difference because of the hysteria in the second quotation. Prime minister John Curtin and his generation did not do hysteria, at least not in public. Senator Bob Brown (in the second quotation, from his address to the National Press Club this week) and many of his colleagues don't only use hysteria, they get elected on its back.

The rhetoric surrounding global warming is drawing increasingly on notions of religion and war. As has been often noted, environmentalism in its more extreme forms is deeply appealing to those of us with a need to believe in something, but who have decided that science has killed off Christianity. Brown, with his apocalyptic talk of cataclysm, exemplifies this. Ross Garnaut's use of the term "diabolical" when presenting his report pressed the same button. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse certainly get a good gallop in the report, with predictions of war (geopolitical instability), famine (collapse of agricultural productivity), pestilence (dengue fever) and death (all the above, plus heat-related fatalities).

ABC TV's political editor, Chris Uhlmann, picked up on the religious element in the carbon crusade on Insiders last Sunday. Speaking, he said, as a former seminarian, "one of the things that strikes me most strongly about this debate is its theological nature - and that's essentially that we have sinned against the environment, that we are now being punished and the only way we can escape that punishment is to wear a hair shirt for the rest of our lives".

Uhlmann said that while he was willing to "sign up" to climate change, "I do not believe every proposition that's been put. When the weather department can tell me what the weather is going to be like next Friday with any certainty and Treasury can get within a million dollars of what the surplus is going to be next year, I'll believe an economic model that marries those two things and casts them out over 100 years. I'll make one prediction - that whatever number Garnaut puts on where we'll be in 2100, it will be at least a trillion dollars either way wrong."

Turning from religion to war, it's not hard to see why politicians might be attracted to the military connotations of a carbon crusade. Wars, after all, are usually good for democratic governments, who see their support go up in the early stages of the conflict because in the public mind the ruling party's interests have become the same (at least temporarily) as the nation's. This phenomenon has been widely noted, and forms the basis for the rather splendid novel American Hero by Larry Beinhart, and the 1997 film version, Wag the Dog.

Wars have proved so useful in attracting or maintaining voter support that the war model has been extended into non-military zones by politicians around the world, with inventions such as the "war on drugs" and the "war on obesity". But the war approach, whether military or not, presents dangers. John Howard in his "war on terror" took Australia into Iraq in search of weapons of mass destruction that proved to be non-existent. Time will tell whether Kevin Rudd, in his "war on carbon", ends up harming another nation (in this case our own, by damaging the economy) in pursuit of another illusory danger.

Still, there will be lots of press releases and photo stops along the way, and Rudd will get the opportunity to talk at plenty of televised gatherings of international leaders, something he seems to enjoy very much. Already you can see the heads of powerful nations giving Rudd that nervous look Howard attracted at these gatherings. He, too, would approach them with one hand ready to pat them on the back, the other grasping theirs in a remorseless handshake for as long as the cameras were pointing the right way.

While it might be argued that Iraq got Howard in the end, it provided him with a lot of benefits along the way, and not just photo sessions with the American president. It made Australian politics and the thousands who earn their living from it (yes, including journalists and commentators) feel important. Another useful result was that many on the right felt it was inappropriate to criticise the government for other things (such as its betrayal of much of the liberal policy agenda) in a time of crisis. And the left became so excited they became obsessed by minor issues such as David Hicks, instead of domestic matters of substance.

The benefits of the Iraq war couldn't last for ever, of course. But they helped John Howard have one of the longest runs of any Australia prime minister. If carefully managed, the war on carbon could do the same for Kevin Rudd.



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