Sunday, February 22, 2009

Don't Count on 'Countless' Green Jobs

Obama is an economic illiterate. Moving people from productive jobs to less productive ones is what his proposals add up to and that hikes costs for everyone

In signing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act this week in Denver, President Barack Obama claimed that the law -- which among other things will ramp up funding for renewable energy development -- is "laying the groundwork for new green energy economies that can create countless well-paying jobs." This statement follows promises he made during his campaign for the presidency. Mr. Obama said, for example, that he'd create as many as five million such jobs by investing over $150 billion over 10 years on wind, solar, biofuels and other renewable energy sources.

He's also proposed a federal "renewable portfolio standard" that would require 25% of our electricity to come from clean sources -- a mandate that would boost demand for windmills, solar farms, and other clean but expensive technologies (nuclear power, however, would be excluded). This transformed energy economy, Mr. Obama said at a campaign debate in Nashville, Tenn., last October, would be an "engine of economic growth" to rival the computer.

If the green-jobs claim sounds too good to be true, that's because it is. There's an unavoidable problem with renewable-energy technologies: From an economic standpoint, they're big losers. Renewables simply cannot produce the large volumes of useful, reliable energy that our economy needs at attractive prices, which is exactly why government subsidizes them. The subsidies involved are considerable. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported in early 2008 that the government subsidizes solar energy at $24.34 per megawatt-hour (MWh) and wind power at $23.37 per MWh. Yet even with decades of these massive handouts, as well as numerous state-level mandates for utilities to use green power, wind and solar energy contribute less than 1% of our nation's electricity.

Compare the subsidies to renewables with those extended to natural gas (25 cents per MWh in subsidies), coal (44 cents), hydroelectricity (67 cents), and nuclear power ($1.59). These are the energy sources (along with oil, which undergirds transportation) that do the heavy lifting in our energy economy.

The alternative technologies at the heart of Mr. Obama's plan, relying on mandates and far greater handouts, will inevitably raise energy prices -- and high power prices are job killers. Industries that make physical products, whether cars or chemicals or paper cups, are energy-intensive and gravitate to low-cost-energy locales.

With some of the highest electricity prices in the country, California and New York have hemorrhaged manufacturing jobs. California-based Google houses its massive server farms in states like North Carolina and Oregon, which have lower electricity costs. Policies that drive up energy costs nationwide, as Mr. Obama intends, will inevitably drive more manufacturing jobs overseas.

What about jobs in the traditional industries currently supplying Americans with reliable, affordable energy? The American Petroleum Institute reports that the oil and gas industry employs 1.6 million Americans. Coal mining directly and indirectly supports hundreds of thousands of jobs, according to the National Mining Association and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. A radical plan to transform our energy economy will put an untold number of these men and women out of work.

Digging deeper each month to pay for expensive renewable energy, consumers will have less to save or spend in other areas of the economy. Killing jobs in efficient industries to create jobs in inefficient ones is hardly a recipe for economic success. There may be legitimate arguments for taking dramatic steps to fight climate change. Boosting the economy isn't one of them.


California's 'Green Jobs' Experiment Isn't Going Well

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was all smiles in 2006 when he signed into law the toughest anti-global-warming regulations of any state. Mr. Schwarzenegger and his green supporters boasted that the regulations would steer California into a prosperous era of green jobs, renewable energy, and technological leadership. Instead, since 2007 -- in anticipation of the new mandates -- California has led the nation in job losses.

The regulations created a cap-and-trade system, similar to proposed federal global-warming measures, by limiting the CO2 that utilities, trucking companies and other businesses can emit, and imposed steep new taxes on companies that exceed the caps. Since energy is an input in everything that's produced, this will raise the cost of production inside California's borders.

Now, as the Golden State prepares to implement this regulatory scheme, employers are howling. It's become clear to nearly everyone that the plan's backers have underestimated its negative impact and exaggerated the benefits. "We've been sold a false bill of goods," is how Republican Assemblyman Roger Niello, who has been the GOP's point man on environmental issues in the legislature, put it to me.

The environmental plan was built on the notion that imposing some $23 billion of new taxes and fees on households (through higher electricity bills) and employers will cost the economy nothing, while also reducing greenhouse gases. Almost no one believes that anymore except for the five members of the California Air Resources Board (CARB). This is the state's air-quality regulator, which voted unanimously in December to stick with the cap-and-trade system despite the recession. CARB justified its go-ahead by issuing what almost all experts agree is a rigged study on the economic impact of the cap-and-trade system. The study concludes that the plan "will not only significantly reduce California's greenhouse gas emissions, but will also have a net positive effect on California's economic growth through 2020."

This finding elicited a chorus of hallelujahs from environmental groups. The state finally discovered a do-good policy that pays for itself. Californians can still scurry around in their cars, heat up their Jacuzzis, and help save the planet. But there was a problem. The CARB had commissioned five economists from around the country to critique this study. They panned it.

Harvard's Robert Stavins, chairman of the federal Environmental Protection Agency's economic advisory committee under Bill Clinton, told me that "None of us knew who the other reviewers were, but we all came up with almost the same conclusion. The report was severely flawed and systematically underestimated costs." Another reviewer, UCLA Prof. Matthew E. Kahn, a supporter of the new regulations, criticized the "free lunch" aspect of the report. "The net dollar costs of each of these regulations is likely to be much larger than is reported," he concluded. Mr. Stavins points out that if these regulations are a net boon for businesses and the economy, "why would you need to impose regulations like cap and trade?"

The Sacramento Bee, which has editorialized in support of the new regulations, was aghast at CARB's twisted science. We have to "be candid about the real costs of the transition," a cautionary editorial advised. "Energy prices will rise, and major capital investment will be needed in public transit and new transmission lines. Industries that are energy intensive will move elsewhere."

The green lobby has lectured us for years that global warming is all about the sanctity of science. Those who question the "scientific consensus" on catastrophic atmospheric changes are belittled as "deniers." Now, in assessing the costs, the greens readily cook the books and throw good science out the window. "To most of the most strident supporters of this legislation," says Mr. Niello, "the economic costs don't really matter anyway, because we are supposedly facing an environmental apocalypse."

Mr. Schwarzenegger fits into that camp. He recently declared: "I recommend very strongly that we move forward . . . . You will always have people saying this will lose jobs."

Meanwhile, the state is losing jobs, a lot of them. California's unemployment rate hit 9.3% in December, up from 4.9% in December 2006. There are now 1.5 million Californians out of work. The state has the fourth-highest housing foreclosure rate in the nation, has lost more businesses than any state in recent years, and is facing a $40 billion deficit. With cap and trade firmly in place, the economic situation is only likely to get worse.

Other states are plundering the Golden State's industries by convincing businesses to pick up stakes and move out before the cap-and-trade earthquake hits. Governors and Washington politicians who want to reduce their "carbon footprint," but are worried about the more immediate crises of cascading unemployment, unbalanced budgets, and the housing-market collapse, would be wise not to follow California's lead. Green policies have a tendency to push states into the red.


Something else that is not in the "models"

Earth's Cracks May Contribute to Global Warming

Whether devastating faults, dank caves or mud cracks on a drying desert plain, Earth's surface is riddled with fractures. Now a new study had found that the cracks exhale large quantities of gas, perhaps enough to affect global warming. Noam Weisbrod of Ben Gurion University of the Negev and a team of researchers monitored a crack about 2 meters long (6.5 feet) and 1 meter (3.3 feet) deep for two years in the Negev Desert is Israel. Each night, they watched as warm air in the crack drew water vapor out of the surrounding rock, and lifted it into the cold evening air.

If air in the crack is just 7 degrees warmer than the ambient temperature, it is buoyant enough to rise out of any crack in the ground bigger than 1 centimeter (0.4 inch) across, bringing with it any gases that leak out of the surrounding soil or rock. But the team was surprised to find that the crack they studied gave off water vapor up to 200 times faster than areas without fractures.

"Sometimes we go for walks at night, and you put your face over the mouth of a cave and you can feel a warm wind coming out," Weisbrod said. "Usually it's a nice hot wind in the cold air."

Like carbon dioxide, water vapor is a greenhouse gas that plays a crucial role in the way Earth's atmosphere traps heat from the sun. Though the team only measured water vapor, Weisbrod said it's likely that cracks also regularly emit elevated amounts of CO2 and nitrogen oxides.

This doesn't only happen in extremely dry areas, he added. The Negev is arid, but roughly equivalent in dryness to the area around Los Angeles, Calif., the American southwest, and many regions around the world. Fractures are common in soils and rocks in wet regions as well, Dan Yakir of the Weizman Institute of Science said.

Taken as a whole, emissions from fractures in the uppermost meter of the planet's crust may make a significant contribution to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. But Weisbrod stressed it's too early to make such a conclusion; the team only studied one crack in detail out of millions. "This has the potential to be important globally," Yakir said. "The biosphere soaks up 30 percent of the carbon, and soil respiration is a very large part of that. If cracks remove CO2 from soils much faster than usual, it's important. But this study is only a first step."


Former IPCC lead editor: Co2 disaster is allegedly coming, but we might not actually see the evidence until 2040

This follows the No. 1 rule of good prophecy: Make sure that you put the prophesied event far enough in the future so that you will be dead before they find out that you were wrong. Background on John T. Houghton (born 1931): Sir John Theodore Houghton FRS CBE was the co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) scientific assessment working group. He was the lead editor of first three IPCC reports. He was professor in atmospheric physics at the University of Oxford, former Chief Executive at the Met Office and founder of the Hadley Centre.

The expert who dubbed global warming a "weapon of mass destruction" will present the scientific evidence for global warming and outline the actions required to halt climate change at a public event in St Andrews this week.

Meteorologist Sir John Houghton predicts that disaster awaits if action is not taken to combat man-made global warming. He will explore the moral and theological obligations that he believes we should all address....

Talking in advance of the lecture, Sir John explained, "One cabinet minister asked me, "When's all this going to happen?" I replied that in 20 or 30 years we can expect to see some large effects. "Oh" he said, "that's OK, it'll see me out". But it won't see his children or grandchildren out."


Opposing view on global warming will be aired

'Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant,' noted skeptic will tell audience at UT.

For Barney Groten, a retired business and technology consultant who lives in Southwest Austin, taking potshots at global warming remains a largely underground pursuit. In the face of scientific consensus about global warming and its causes, he has written a treatise aimed at puncturing holes in climate change science, which he says is overblown and alarmist. He and a like-minded club of contrarians search Web sites for signs of environmental hypocrisy, say the mainstream media never gives them a fair shake and shoot sarcasms about Al Gore via e-mail.

But he stops short of broadcasting his views to the general public. "I try not to bring it up," Groten, 75, says. "One doesn't want to be a bore about something-you-understand-and-the-other-guy-doesn't sort of thing."

This afternoon at the Jackson School of Geosciences at the University of Texas, a skeptic standard-bearer, S. Fred Singer, will deliver a talk titled "Nature - Not Human Activity - Rules the Climate." "Evidence shows human influence is not detectable. And natural effect is quite large," Singer said he will tell his audience. Singer, the founder of the Science & Environmental Policy Project, has traveled the country as a climate-change naysayer.

He is "regarded with reverence," said Dan Miller, a publisher at the Heartland Institute, which puts out a newsletter asserting no scientific consensus on global warming and gets money from energy corporations. "He has been in this battle, in the trenches for a long time. He's a warrior of epic proportions on this issue." Asked about his military metaphors, Miller said: "We're under attack by a lot of alarmists."

At issue is the relationship between carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas emitted by automobiles and power plants, and global warming. "Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant, and any attempt to control emissions is an inappropriate use of money," Singer said in a telephone interview from Virginia, where he's based.

Climate scientists, however, hold that carbon dioxide emissions have a significant effect on a changing climate. A 2007 climate change study by an international group of scientists found that "warming of the climate system is unequivocal" and said with "very high confidence" that the net impact of "human activities since 1750 has been one of warming."

Atmospheric and climate scientists at UT and Texas A&M University have said that temperatures will rise in Texas, coastal communities are at risk from rising sea levels in the Gulf, and weather conditions are likely to include more severe droughts and flooding. Many of them have asked lawmakers to address the issue, but Texas, the largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the nation, has no official climate-change policy. Gov. Rick Perry has said there is scientific doubt about whether people are responsible for climate change.

Some Austinites are also dubious about carbon dioxide regulation. "The government is concerned about CO2, a colorless, odorless gas that makes my plants grow," said Matt Szekely, a 38-year-old software engineer who lives in North Austin and describes himself as a pragmatist. "I'm not riding around crushing salamanders in a Hummer." As far as these skeptics are concerned, they are the last realists in Austin. To them, the holes in theories about man-made contributions to global warming are as plain as clouds in the sky.

"I don't think anybody who understands it and is intellectually equipped well enough to stand back from it will disagree," said Skip Cameron, 69, who became interested in weather through his amateur radio hobby and lives in Northwest Austin. He decries the "prostitution of science" on climate change and the "dearth of media coverage of alternative opinions."

But most scientists who specialize in atmospheric and climate science say there are not two sides to the argument. Rong Fu, a UT climate science professor who reviewed Singer's 2008 paper on climate change that has the same title as his talk, said Singer cherry-picks and misuses data and cites works that were not peer-reviewed. "He's not doing firsthand research, and he does not have regular communication with the rest of the climate research community," she said. "I'm not sure he's even on the fringe."

But she said she thought his talk would be "healthy for the academic environment" and said she was encouraging students to go listen. Chip Groat, the acting dean of the Jackson School, said that discussions of climate change can be "strongly emotional and not technical." "With discussions of climate change and human impacts, it's sometimes a matter of, 'Do you accept what the science is telling you?' or 'What do you believe, almost as a matter of faith or religious belief?'" Groat said.


Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd isolated on emissions trading scheme

The Rudd Government is increasingly isolated on the emissions trading scheme, with business supporters demanding further concessions to mitigate its immediate impact and green groups and the Coalition intensifying their attacks. A day after the Government was forced to confirm publicly it was sticking by its plans to introduce an ETS in July next year, after cancelling an inquiry into the scheme, the Opposition accused the Government of being divided on the issue and the Business Council of Australia said more action was needed to reduce its impact on business during the economic crisis. Opposition climate change spokesman Greg Hunt said indecision and internal division were behind Thursday's decision to dump a House of Representatives inquiry into the ETS.

The BCA, which gave guarded approval to Labor's plans last year, now says the Government has to find a way to minimise the initial cost of the scheme if it comes into effect in July next year. Policy director Maria Tarrant said the economic crisis meant "the Government has to think of a way to minimise the scheme's impact in the early years after its introduction on July 1 2010". "There are likely to be big questions as to whether companies will have the cash flow to buy the permits they need, or invest in the emission-reducing technologies they need at that time and still remain viable," Ms Tarrant said. "It could put many companies' ongoing operations at extreme risk."

With green criticism intensifying, Climate Change Minister Penny Wong yesterday warned environmentalists the ETS was their best chance to see an early reduction in Australian greenhouse gas emissions. Green groups have argued the scheme's lack of ambition and already generous industry compensation means it is fatally flawed. Senator Wong said: "We have a chance now to reduce Australia's emissions next year or, if we fail, to simply allow our emissions to grow. The most responsible thing to do, even in this economic environment, is to start the hard task of reducing our emissions right now."

Australia Institute executive director Richard Denniss and others have advanced the argument that an ETS means an individual's or state's efforts to voluntarily reduce emissions have no impact on the country's total level of greenhouse gas, and that a carbon tax would be a better answer. But Senator Wong rejected those arguments as well. "If you are serious about climate change a carbon tax is not the answer," Senator Wong told The Weekend Australian.

But the federal Coalition appears to be hardening in its opposition to the scheme. And the Australian Industry Group agrees the Government needs to "look at every option" to ameliorate the early costs, warning the effects of the economic crisis risk "fracturing any consensus around this issue".

Among options being canvassed by industry groups are a plan advocated by Professor Ross Garnaut for a low fixed price on carbon in the first two years of the scheme, offering trade-exposed industries all their permits for free in first few years, starting the scheme as a "dry run" without actually charging for permits and offering industries exemptions or holidays from the cost of the renewable energy target.

Coalition emissions trading spokesman Andrew Robb told Sky news yesterday the scheme was a "total failure". And Australian Industry Group chief executive Heather Ridout said the global financial crisis had "amplified the negative effects of the emissions trading scheme many times over".

Executives from Virgin Blue also told the Senate fuel and energy committee yesterday they were "deeply concerned about the planned timing of the introduction" of the emissions trading scheme. "Even in the most benign circumstances, the (emissions trading scheme) is effectively a tax on investment and growth," said Virgin Blue general manager Simon Thorpe.

The Government is drafting its legislation. It says it intends to try to pass it through both houses of parliament by June, but most observers believe debate will continue later in the year. The Greens have said they are willing to negotiate with the Government over the legislation, but also believe the scheme as it stands is deeply flawed.



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