Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Climate change skepticism has soared under Obama's presidency, with only one third of American likely voters now blaming humans for climate change, according to a Rasmussen poll released today. In contrast, 48% believe that long term planetary trends are responsible, 7% blame other non-man-made factors, and 11% aren't sure.

The plummeting support for Al Gore's thesis - the lowest ever - is a complete reversal from one year ago, when 47% blamed humans and only 34% saw long-term planetary trends as the culprits. The rise in climate change scepticism, and decline in pinning the blame on humans, tracks Obama's assumption of power. In December, one month after his defeat of John McCain in the presidential race, the number of Americans who blamed people dropped to 43%. By February, the figure had dropped to 38% and it now rests at 34%

Why has Al Gore's position lost so much credibility with the American public? While the Rasmussen poll does not explore this question, two Obama factors could be at play. First, public hostility toward George Bush and the Republicans likely expressed itself in part as hostility toward global warming scepticism, with which Bush and the Republicans were identified. As soon as the Republicans lost power, many in the public lost their fervour in opposing climate change scepticism.

Second, the recession, combined with proposals from the new Obama administration to start taxing carbon in one form or another, gave the public new reason to question whether carbon dioxide really is the demon that climate change doomsayers claim. Upon investigation, the public would have found little to support the doomsayer case.



After last week's eco-car initiative, Wednesday's Budget will have a green spin. But the Government's low-carbon strategy could be making matters worse, says environment editor Geoffrey Lean

Britain's economic stimulus measures, promoted by Gordon Brown as part of a "global green new deal", will accelerate global warming instead of curbing it, an investigation by The Independent on Sunday has established.

The investigation also shows that most of the Prime Minister's vaunted green initiatives have not materialised and, in some cases, are likely to set back his professed strategy for "the creation of a low-carbon economy". It has found that, over the past four years, ministers have launched a staggering 91 consultations relating to the issue, while actually doing little.

The revelations come as the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, prepares to unveil what ministers insist will be a groundbreaking green Budget. Yesterday, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Miliband, told the IoS that it would represent "a massive greening of the Government".

Last year's Budget, however, was similarly trailed in advance as "the greenest ever", but actually led to a slight fall in the revenue coming from green taxes. And though Gordon Brown promised in 1997 to put "the environment at the core of the Government's objectives for the tax system", income from such taxes fell by 22 per cent during his 10 years as Chancellor.

As the IoS exclusively reported last month, green measures form only 6 per cent of the Government's stimulus package, compared to 13 per cent in Germany, 21 per cent in France, 38 per cent in China and 81 per cent in South Korea. And now a new study shows that the British package will increase rather than reduce emissions of carbon dioxide.

Carried out for WWF and E3G – a respected environmental group – it found that the harmful effects of new spending on roads, which will increase traffic, far outweighed the contribution of extra expenditure on energy saving and rail infrastructure. And it points out that Britain has "yet to include any investments at all dedicated to renewable energy".

Examination of Mr Brown's hyped green initiatives since becoming Prime minister reveals a similarly sorry picture, as the panel (right) shows. He has repeatedly promised that Britain will increase the proportion of its energy coming from renewable sources to 15 per cent by 2020. But a new study to be published on Tuesday by Cambridge Econometrics is expected to show that, if current policies continue, it will grow from 1 per cent to only 1.5 per cent by then.

The Government has consistently failed to provide incentives that are routine in other countries. Four years ago, it promised to provide £50m to help develop wave and tidal power, an area where Britain has a potential world lead. But the resulting Marine Renewables Deployment Fund has yet to give a penny to support this. Installation of rooftop windmills has been held up through bureaucratic delays over planning issues at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Gordon Brown wrote to one manufacturer last August saying the issue had been resolved, but the hold-up continues.

Homeowners have also been discouraged from installing other renewable energy systems, such as solar electric panels. Just as they were beginning to take off, ministers slashed the level of grants available. They will end such funding for commercial buildings and charities altogether in June.

The Government has promised to introduce "feed-in tariffs", which would pay people for excess energy they produce. But these are not due to come in for a year for electricity and for two years for heat – causing a funding gap that threatens to drive some installers out of business. There is a similar failure to honour an undertaking by Mr Brown last September properly to insulate six million houses over the next three years. In practice, this would involve providing cavity wall insulation to a million homes. The official Cavity Insulation Guarantee Agency told the IoS last week that filling cavity walls was running at just 500,000 homes a year.

Mr Brown promised to augment a scheme called the Carbon Emissions Reduction Target, under which the big energy companies have to help households save fuel and electricity. But the Government is now threatening to gut the scheme by allowing the companies to get away with simply offering people advice.

He also undertook to tackle fuel poverty. But ministers accept they will fail to meet a legal obligation to end it among vulnerable groups next year, and have cut funds, even as the number of households affected has risen from 4.3 to 5.4 million last year. Last week's heavily publicised promotion of electric cars follows the same pattern, since the cars for which grants will be available will not be on the market for at least two years.

Meanwhile a study by a consulting firm, JDS Associates, has counted 91 separate consultations concerning sustainable energy launched by the governments in Westminster, Edinburgh and Cardiff between May 2005 and January 2009.

Last night Greg Barker, the Conservatives' energy spokesman, said the investigation showed ministers and civil servants were locked in "mid-20th-century attitudes to producing energy". Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat environment spokesman, said the Prime Minister was content to "paint a green picture" without taking practical action.



GORDON BROWN is to risk a clash with the green movement by throwing the government’s weight behind the construction of a new generation of coal-fired power stations. Ministers intend to give power companies permission to construct at least two new coal-fired stations, with more to follow. The move will anger climate change scientists and campaigners because coal produces more CO2 for each unit of energy generated than any other fuel.

Brown and Ed Miliband, his energy secretary, will argue that Britain urgently needs more coal-fired generating plants to prevent future power shortages as old plants are shut down. They will soften the blow by pledging that any new plants will be designed so they can be fitted at a later date with equipment to capture CO2 — a technology that is still unproven. The plan may also be mentioned in Alistair Darling’s budget this week.

The government is understood to want initially to approve 2.5 gigawatts (Gw) of generating capacity. This is equivalent to two fairly large power stations. The proposed plant at Kingsnorth in Kent, seen as the most likely to be approved first, would generate 1.6Gw. The plant has already been the focus of large-scale protests by green activists.

This week Miliband is expected to prepare the ground for the inevitable controversy by announcing a consultation into the technical requirements to be imposed on any new power station, including the licensing system for pumping captured CO2 into underground rock strata. He is also expected to say he wants to expand plans to test “carbon capture and storage” (CCS) technologies by building up to three such plants rather than the single one planned at the moment. He told a recent parliamentary committee that he wanted to put Britain at the forefront of CCS technologies.

The government hopes such pledges will placate its opponents sufficiently so that the new power stations will be approved. “We see new coal generation as having a potentially important role to play in securing Britain’s electricity supply, but we also recognise the need to deal with CO2 emissions,” said a spokesman for the energy and climate change department, run by Miliband.

He is likely to face fierce opposition from other political parties and from groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. They see the proposals as a way of getting coal-fired power stations built on a promise that will not be fulfilled — that their emissions will one day be abated.

In theory, so-called carbon capture could be capable of capturing up to 90% of the CO2 emissions from power plants. It would then be pumped underground for permanent storage. However, no industrial-scale CCS plant has yet been built anywhere in the world and the technology remains unproven.

Britain burns about 63m tons of coal a year, with 84% used to generate power. Coal-fired plants generate about a quarter of the 560m tons of CO2 that Britain produces each year.


Europe is cheating

The European Union is playing "tricks on the atmosphere" when it claims it will reduce its emissions by 20% by 2020, argues Stefan Singer, director for global energy policy at the WWF. Speaking to EurActiv in an interview, he explained how he had calculated that the EU’s own domestic emissions will in fact only amount to "4 to 5%". "What we did was compare the level of ambition that the European Union is pretending to take, compared to what it means in reality. 20% emissions reduction by the EU by the year 2020 on 1990 levels means no more than 4-5% emissions reductions domestically" as from 2009 onwards, he said.

To back his claim, Singer explained that the EU will already achieve an 8% cut, mainly due to de-industrialisation in ex-Soviet states that has taken place since 1990, the base year of the Kyoto Protocol. "So 12% is left," Singer points out. But he says this will not be achieved by emission cuts within Europe’s borders, as the EU plans to allow a large chunk of it -- 60% -- to be achieved via emission offsets in developing countries, using the UN’s clean development mechanism (CDM). "This in principle is not a problem if there were a strong domestic target as well, and if the clean development mechanism would have been shown to be truly additional. But that is not the case."

In fact, he says EU offset projects in developing countries did not truly deliver "because those emissions reductions would have probably occurred anyway" due to policies implemented in countries such as China. As a consequence, Singer says the EU’s 20% target "represents just a 4-5% domestic target" between now and 2020. "It’s a trick on the atmosphere," he claims. "If we want to stay below 2°C global warming, the European Union is pretending to do the 20% cut. And then on top of that they ask developing countries to reduce their emissions 15% to 30%. That’s cheating. That does not help to achieve the 2°C."

US and China 'among the world leaders'

In comparison, Singer says US President Barack Obama has committed to much more aggressive cuts. “The Obama administration is proposing a stabilisation of emissions in the US at 1990 levels by the year 2020. That is a 19% emissions cut in the US from now on, roughly.”

Singer is also keen to counter the argument, often heard in Europe, that emerging economies such as China are not doing enough on climate change. "China has committed to reducing its energy intensity, energy use per GDP, by 20% in just six years between 2005 and 2010, and another 20-30% until 2020. And this is quite substantive if you look at the GDP growth in China. China has a very ambitious renewable energy target, 15-20% renewables by 2020, similar to that of the EU. China has 14 to 16 new pilot projects on coal gasification in the pipeline. We just have one in Europe." "China is definitely one of the world leaders."

According to Singer, one of the biggest uncertainties at the UN climate talks will be the position of Russia. "Experience tells us that Russia always comes in at the eleventh hour with some kind of ridiculous demand. And not just on climate, on all issues, because Russia has the understanding of the UN as a self-service shop." In order to "deal with Russia," he says the global community should start thinking about making trade offs. The trouble, he said is that "no-one knows what is to be traded off against what with Russia, because Russia is very often a black box."

Developing countries doing their bit

On the other hand, he is quick to defend the record of developing countries, whose efforts are "often forgotten", he said. "Brazil has committed before the turn of the year to reducing its emissions in the Amazon by 70%. Indonesia has committed to reducing its emissions by almost 100% in Borneo, which is the largest spot of deforestation. Of course it is not related to industry, but it’s still a big chunk of emissions. So this has changed!" "Developing countries are doing something. They’re committing. We can all say they’re not doing enough, and we need compliance, but they’re doing something."

And in the face of those efforts, Singer says developing countries are getting little in return from the Europeans. "Europe has fundamentally missed out on giving at least a minimum of cash to developing countries. By arrogantly, really arrogantly, saying 'sorry it’s a negotiation, we want to see what the others are doing'." "This is a recipe for disaster. And Europe is going to be slaughtered by the group of developing countries for that."


Reliance on consensus

By consensus I mean extreme majority but not necessarily universal view within some group - as this seems to be its meaning as it is commonly used today.

Someone competent in a field does not have much use for consensus. A mathematician can examine a proof and discover for himself whether it is valid or invalid, without relying on the opinion of other mathematicians. A scientist who doubts a result can reproduce the experiment for himself, without relying on the opinion of other scientists. This is not to say that scientists do not benefit from communication with other scientists, that they do not benefit from a sanity check provided by other scientists. But consensus can be built up in many different ways, many of them more likely to reinforce error than to discover truth, only some of them an improvement on independent thinking. So consensus - be it general, scientific, field-specific, or what have you, is not by itself very good evidence of truth. As was pointed out in the book by that title, to get the "Wisdom of Crowds" phenomenon it's important that people give their independent opinions, thus avoiding an information cascade - a condition that is not all that often fulfilled.

If you rely on consensus you are making yourself into part of the above-mentioned information cascade. We might hope, therefore, that people who rely on the consensus in a field are themselves all outside that field. That is not certain to be the case, which poses a problem for those who would like to rely on consensus.

If you wish to rely on the consensus of the group of people competent to individually judge claims in a given topic for themselves, you also have the problem of defining that group. If you are not yourself competent to judge, how do you know who is competent to judge? If you rely on someone else's definition of that group, how do you know that they are competent to judge? Ultimately you cannot avoid making a decision for yourself - you cannot avoid choosing who to rely on, and therefore you cannot, in the end, avoid relying on your own competence to make the decision. (I happen to think that many people are not competent, and that consequently they rely on false authority - they are the blind led by the blind. So this ultimate reliance on one's own competence is a real problem and not just of academic interest.)

There are some ways for the competent to identify others to delegate judgment to. For example, if you spot check someone's work, and all that you've checked is flawless, then it is reasonable to rely on the rest of his work without checking on it, treating him as an authority. This, however, presupposes your own competence - your own authority. It does not work for the incompetent.

You don't have to have the same kind of competence as the person whose competence you are testing. I don't know many words of Chinese (Mandarin or other dialect) but I can identify authorities on Chinese. There are ways to "bootstrap" competence. But these employ a certain kind of competence. For instance, you need to have the competence to distinguish the cases where a specific kind of bootstrapping succeeds from the cases where it fails. (So the thoroughly incompetent are thoroughly screwed. The competent may, of course, guide them, but so may anyone else.) I happen to think that many people accept authorities without the benefit of proper "bootstrapping" - possibly as a result of tragically mistaken "bootstrapping" based on false signs of competence.

Once you have identified a group of authorities, then relying on consensus, rather than relying on (say) the judgment of selected individuals from this group, may serve the limited function of checking your own tendency to cherry-pick authorities whose judgments coincide with what you want to be true. And it might, additionally, confer a Wisdom of Crowds benefit. But if there is dissent within your identified group of authorities, that is a significant fact. And of course, relying on consensus (as opposed to relying on one specific authority) is only meaningful (will only even potentially give you a different conclusion than relying on a single authority) if there is dissent. So the very occasions on which reliance on consensus might even possibly confer some benefit, are precisely those occasions where the significant fact of the existence of dissent may give you pause.

Thus, the useful function of reliance on consensus is restricted (it checks your own tendency to cherry-pick), and its value is dubious (since what it amounts to is ignoring the existence of dissent among your chosen authorities). Furthermore it completely fails to distinguish convergence by independent experience and thought from convergence by groupthink, which you should be keenly interested in distinguishing.

There is some evidence that the average ______ is incompetent. The linked evidence (the rate of correct answers was worse than random guessing) is for economics but why should this not be generally true? I suspect it is (based in part on my own experiences here and there). So as a rule of thumb, between eighty and 100 percent of accredited members of a field are incompetent and should not be trusted.

Good luck relying on the consensus within a field (as defined by accreditation) if that's the case!

Underlying the popular habit of relying on consensus may lie the consensus theory of truth. Certain philosophical notions are these days deeply embedded in popular thought, and the consensus theory of truth may be one of them.


Bound to Burn

By Peter W. Huber

Like medieval priests, today's carbon brokers will sell you an indulgence that forgives your carbon sins. It will run you about $500 for 5 tons of forgiveness--about how much the typical American needs every year. Or about $2,000 a year for a typical four-person household. Your broker will spend the money on such things as reducing methane emissions from hog farms in Brazil.

But if you really want to make a difference, you must send a check large enough to forgive the carbon emitted by four poor Brazilian households, too--because they're not going to do it themselves. To cover all five households, then, send $4,000. And you probably forgot to send in a check last year, and you might forget again in the future, so you'd best make it an even $40,000, to take care of a decade right now. If you decline to write your own check while insisting that to save the world we must ditch the carbon, you are just burdening your already sooty soul with another ton of self-righteous hypocrisy. And you can't possibly afford what it will cost to forgive that.

If making carbon this personal seems rude, then think globally instead. During the presidential race, Barack Obama was heard to remark that he would bankrupt the coal industry. No one can doubt Washington's power to bankrupt almost anything--in the United States. But China is adding 100 gigawatts of coal-fired electrical capacity a year. That's another whole United States' worth of coal consumption added every three years, with no stopping point in sight. Much of the rest of the developing world is on a similar path.

Cut to the chase. We rich people can't stop the world's 5 billion poor people from burning the couple of trillion tons of cheap carbon that they have within easy reach. We can't even make any durable dent in global emissions--because emissions from the developing world are growing too fast, because the other 80 percent of humanity desperately needs cheap energy, and because we and they are now part of the same global economy. What we can do, if we're foolish enough, is let carbon worries send our jobs and industries to their shores, making them grow even faster, and their carbon emissions faster still.

We don't control the global supply of carbon.

Ten countries ruled by nasty people control 80 percent of the planet's oil reserves--about 1 trillion barrels, currently worth about $40 trillion. If $40 trillion worth of gold were located where most of the oil is, one could only scoff at any suggestion that we might somehow persuade the nasty people to leave the wealth buried. They can lift most of their oil at a cost well under $10 a barrel. They will drill. They will pump. And they will find buyers. Oil is all they've got.

Poor countries all around the planet are sitting on a second, even bigger source of carbon--almost a trillion tons of cheap, easily accessible coal. They also control most of the planet's third great carbon reservoir--the rain forests and soil. They will keep squeezing the carbon out of cheap coal, and cheap forest, and cheap soil, because that's all they've got. Unless they can find something even cheaper. But they won't--not any time in the foreseeable future.

We no longer control the demand for carbon, either. The 5 billion poor--the other 80 percent--are already the main problem, not us. Collectively, they emit 20 percent more greenhouse gas than we do. We burn a lot more carbon individually, but they have a lot more children. Their fecundity has eclipsed our gluttony, and the gap is now widening fast. China, not the United States, is now the planet's largest emitter. Brazil, India, Indonesia, South Africa, and others are in hot pursuit. And these countries have all made it clear that they aren't interested in spending what money they have on low-carb diets. It is idle to argue, as some have done, that global warming can be solved--decades hence--at a cost of 1 to 2 percent of the global economy. Eighty percent of the global population hasn't signed on to pay more than 0 percent.

Accepting this last, self-evident fact, the Kyoto Protocol divides the world into two groups. The roughly 1.2 billion citizens of industrialized countries are expected to reduce their emissions. The other 5 billion--including both China and India, each of which is about as populous as the entire Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development--aren't. These numbers alone guarantee that humanity isn't going to reduce global emissions at any point in the foreseeable future--unless it does it the old-fashioned way, by getting poorer. But the current recession won't last forever, and the long-term trend is clear. Their populations and per-capita emissions are rising far faster than ours could fall under any remotely plausible carbon-reduction scheme.

Might we simply buy their cooperation? Various plans have circulated for having the rich pay the poor to stop burning down rain forests and to lower greenhouse-gas emissions from primitive agricultural practices. But taking control of what belongs to someone else ultimately means buying it. Over the long term, we would in effect have to buy up a large fraction of all the world's forests, soil, coal, and oil--and then post guards to make sure that poor people didn't sneak in and grab all the carbon anyway. Buying off people just doesn't fly when they outnumber you four to one.

Might we instead manage to give the world something cheaper than carbon? The moon-shot law of economics says yes, of course we can. If we just put our minds to it, it will happen. Atom bomb, moon landing, ultracheap energy--all it takes is a triumph of political will.

Really? For the very poorest, this would mean beating the price of the free rain forest that they burn down to clear land to plant a subsistence crop. For the slightly less poor, it would mean beating the price of coal used to generate electricity at under 3 cents per kilowatt-hour.

And with one important exception, which we will return to shortly, no carbon-free fuel or technology comes remotely close to being able to do that. Fossil fuels are extremely cheap because geological forces happen to have created large deposits of these dense forms of energy in accessible places. Find a mountain of coal, and you can just shovel gargantuan amounts of energy into the boxcars.

Shoveling wind and sun is much, much harder. Windmills are now 50-story skyscrapers. Yet one windmill generates a piddling 2 to 3 megawatts. A jumbo jet needs 100 megawatts to get off the ground; Google is building 100-megawatt server farms. Meeting New York City's total energy demand would require 13,000 of those skyscrapers spinning at top speed, which would require scattering about 50,000 of them across the state, to make sure that you always hit enough windy spots. To answer the howls of green protest that inevitably greet realistic engineering estimates like these, note that real-world systems must be able to meet peak, not average, demand; that reserve margins are essential; and that converting electric power into liquid or gaseous fuels to power the existing transportation and heating systems would entail substantial losses. What was Mayor Bloomberg thinking when he suggested that he might just tuck windmills into Manhattan? Such thoughts betray a deep ignorance ab! out how difficult it is to get a lot of energy out of sources as thin and dilute as wind and sun.

It's often suggested that technology improvements and mass production will sharply lower the cost of wind and solar. But engineers have pursued these technologies for decades, and while costs of some components have fallen, there is no serious prospect of costs plummeting and performance soaring as they have in our laptops and cell phones. When you replace conventional with renewable energy, everything gets bigger, not smaller--and bigger costs more, not less. Even if solar cells themselves were free, solar power would remain very expensive because of the huge structures and support systems required to extract large amounts of electricity from a source so weak that it takes hours to deliver a tan.

This is why the (few) greens ready to accept engineering and economic reality have suddenly emerged as avid proponents of nuclear power. In the aftermath of the Three Mile Island accident--which didn't harm anyone, and wouldn't even have damaged the reactor core if the operators had simply kept their hands off the switches and let the automatic safety systems do their job--ostensibly green antinuclear activists unwittingly boosted U.S. coal consumption by about 400 million tons per year. The United States would be in compliance with the Kyoto Protocol today if we could simply undo their handiwork and conjure back into existence the nuclear plants that were in the pipeline in nuclear power's heyday. Nuclear power is fantastically compact, and--as America's nuclear navy, several commercial U.S. operators, France, Japan, and a handful of other countries have convincingly established--it's both safe and cheap wherever engineers are allowed to get on with it.

But getting on with it briskly is essential, because costs hinge on the huge, up-front capital investment in the power plant. Years of delay between the capital investment and when it starts earning a return are ruinous. Most of the developed world has made nuclear power unaffordable by surrounding it with a regulatory process so sluggish and unpredictable that no one will pour a couple of billion dollars into a new plant, for the good reason that no one knows when (or even if) the investment will be allowed to start making money.

And countries that don't trust nuclear power on their own soil must hesitate to share the technology with countries where you never know who will be in charge next year, or what he might decide to do with his nuclear toys. So much for the possibility that cheap nuclear power might replace carbon-spewing sources of energy in the developing world. Moreover, even India and China, which have mastered nuclear technologies, are deploying far more new coal capacity.

Remember, finally, that most of the cost of carbon-based energy resides not in the fuels but in the gigantic infrastructure of furnaces, turbines, and engines. Those costs are sunk, which means that carbon-free alternatives--with their own huge, attendant, front-end capital costs--must be cheap enough to beat carbon fuels that already have their infrastructure in place. That won't happen in our lifetimes.

Another argument commonly advanced is that getting over carbon will, nevertheless, be comparatively cheap, because it will get us over oil, too--which will impoverish our enemies and save us a bundle at the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security. But uranium aside, the most economical substitute for oil is, in fact, electricity generated with coal. Cheap coal-fired electricity has been, is, and will continue to be a substitute for oil, or a substitute for natural gas, which can in turn substitute for oil. By sharply boosting the cost of coal electricity, the war on carbon will make us more dependent on oil, not less.

The first place where coal displaces oil is in the electric power plant itself. When oil prices spiked in the early 1980s, U.S. utilities quickly switched to other fuels, with coal leading the pack; the coal-fired plants now being built in China, India, and other developing countries are displacing diesel generators. More power plants burning coal to produce cheap electricity can also mean less natural gas used to generate electricity. And less used for industrial, commercial, and residential heating, welding, and chemical processing, as these users switch to electrically powered alternatives. The gas that's freed up this way can then substitute for diesel fuel in heavy trucks, delivery vehicles, and buses. And coal-fired electricity will eventually begin displacing gasoline, too, as soon as plug-in hybrid cars start recharging their batteries directly from the grid.

To top it all, using electricity generated in large part by coal to power our passenger cars would lower carbon emissions--even in Indiana, which generates 75 percent of its electricity with coal. Big power plants are so much more efficient than the gasoline engines in our cars that a plug-in hybrid car running on electricity supplied by Indiana's current grid still ends up more carbon-frugal than comparable cars burning gasoline in a conventional engine under the hood. Old-guard energy types have been saying this for decades. In a major report released last March, the World Wildlife Fund finally concluded that they were right all along.

But true carbon zealots won't settle for modest reductions in carbon emissions when fat targets beckon. They see coal-fired electricity as the dragon to slay first. Huge, stationary sources can't run or hide, and the cost of doing without them doesn't get rung up in plain view at the gas pump. California, Pennsylvania, and other greener-than-thou states have made flatlining electricity consumption the linchpin of their war on carbon. That is the one certain way to halt the displacement of foreign oil by cheap, domestic electricity.

The oil-coal economics come down to this. Per unit of energy delivered, coal costs about one-fifth as much as oil--but contains one-third more carbon. High carbon taxes (or tradable permits, or any other economic equivalent) sharply narrow the price gap between oil and the one fuel that can displace it worldwide, here and now. The oil nasties will celebrate the green war on carbon as enthusiastically as the coal industry celebrated the green war on uranium 30 years ago.

The other 5 billion are too poor to deny these economic realities. For them, the price to beat is 3-cent coal-fired electricity. China and India won't trade 3-cent coal for 15-cent wind or 30-cent solar. As for us, if we embrace those economically frivolous alternatives on our own, we will certainly end up doing more harm than good.

By pouring money into anything-but-carbon fuels, we will lower demand for carbon, making it even cheaper for the rest of the world to buy and burn. The rest will use cheaper energy to accelerate their own economic growth. Jobs will go where energy is cheap, just as they go where labor is cheap. Manufacturing and heavy industry require a great deal of energy, and in a global economy, no competitor can survive while paying substantially more for an essential input. The carbon police acknowledge the problem and talk vaguely of using tariffs and such to address it. But carbon is far too deeply embedded in the global economy, and materials, goods, and services move and intermingle far too freely, for the customs agents to track.

Consider your next Google search. As noted in a recent article in Harper's, "Google . . . and its rivals now head abroad for cheaper, often dirtier power." Google itself (the "don't be evil" company) is looking to set up one of its electrically voracious server farms at a site in Lithuania, "disingenuously described as being near a hydroelectric dam." But Lithuania's grid is 0.5 percent hydroelectric and 78 percent nuclear. Perhaps the company's next huge farm will be "near" the Three Gorges Dam in China, built to generate over three times as much power as our own Grand Coulee Dam in Washington State. China will be happy to play along, while it quietly plugs another coal plant into its grid a few pylons down the line. All the while, of course, Google will maintain its low-energy headquarters in California, a state that often boasts of the wise regulatory policies--centered, one is told, on efficiency and conservation--that have made it such a frugal energy user. Bu! t in fact, sky-high prices have played the key role, curbing internal demand and propelling the flight from California of power plants, heavy industries, chip fabs, server farms, and much else (see "



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