Sunday, June 21, 2009

Washington update

By Myron Ebell

Update on House Energy Rationing Bill

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) are making mighty efforts to get the Waxman-Markey energy-rationing bill to the House floor before the Fourth of July recess, which is scheduled to begin on 26th June. The main obstacle to passage appears to be a group of moderate Democrats centered in the Agriculture Committee and led by Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), the Committee’s Chairman. Peterson claimed to have forty-five votes as he started horse trading with Pelosi and Waxman. I expect that the Democratic leadership will come up with enough votes to pass H. R. 2454 narrowly and with only a handful of Republican votes. They are rushing because they realize that the bill could implode at any time. Should you care to tell your Representative whether to vote Yes or No on H. R. 2454, the Capitol switchboard number is (202) 225-3121. Live operators will connect you to your Member even if you don’t know his name if you give your zip code.

Republicans Introduce a Pro-energy Bill

House Republicans on Wednesday unveiled the latest version of their pro-energy bill, the American Energy Act. The bill would increase domestic energy production, particularly oil and gas on federal lands and offshore areas, and includes no rationing provisions. This could be the Republican substitute amendment when Waxman-Markey comes to the floor. It would draw a very clear distinction between Republicans, who think we need to increase access to energy, and Democrats, who think we need to force people to pay much more and use much less energy.

Boxer Wants Energy Rationing Bill by August

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, announced on Thursday that she plans to mark up the Senate version of Waxman-Markey in her committee before the August recess. Right now, there are probably enough votes to move the bill out of committee, but support in the full Senate looks far short of the 60 necessary to invoke cloture and proceed to a final vote. It’s not even clear to me that generic cap-and-trade legislation has majority support in the Senate.

California Scheming

California, the world leader in energy rationing (after North Korea, Cuba, etc.), now looks likely to go bankrupt by the end of July. Californians Pelosi, Waxman, and Boxer are actively promoting at the federal level the policies that are contributing to the decline of the once-Golden State.


Farmer Brown fights back

To all appearances, green special interests are on a roll. They have managed to get committed environmentalists appointed to key congressional committees and regulatory positions. They have a president in the White House who agrees on the broad contours of their agenda. They have already won increased fuel economy regulations, restrictions on drilling for oil and gas in the West, and billions of dollars of subsidies for wind and solar power.

But their hot streak may soon run into some trouble. Why? Because they have provoked the most powerful special interest in congressional history: farmers. These are the same folks who once convinced Congress to pay them to grow nothing. Now they are holding hostage legislation to fight so-called climate change.

At issue is ethanol, a fuel distilled from corn that can be used to run cars, but which shouldn't be used to run cars. Ethanol is more expensive than gasoline, so it increases our pain at the pump. And burning food for fuel increases the demand for food, which makes it more expensive, so ethanol also increases our grocery bills.

That's precisely why farmers love ethanol. It increases the value of their crops. In 2007, the powerful farm lobby convinced Congress to enact a Soviet-style ethanol production quota that forces Americans to use increasing amounts of corn-fuel. As a result, U.S. farmers divert more than 500 billion pounds of corn into the fuel supply every year.

At the time, environmentalists supported ethanol, because they labored under the mistaken notion that it is a "green fuel," which results in fewer greenhouse gas emissions thought to cause climate change. It's true that combusting ethanol emits less carbon than gasoline, but that doesn't mean much. The ethanol industry is burning so much food for fuel that it has depleted the global grain supply.

Farmers in developing countries are clear-cutting rain forests to make room for arable land to grow crops and meet global demand. According to many scientists, these land-use changes result in massive emissions of greenhouse gases.

Environmentalists campaigned to include these "indirect" emissions in the Environmental Protection Agency's calculation of ethanol's "lifecycle emissions." It's an important distinction, because in 2007, Congress also imposed a requirement that most new ethanol production should produce 20 percent less "lifecycle" greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline. If such emissions are taken into account, much of the ethanol produced from corn could fail to meet Congress's requirements.

Farm special interests lobbied fiercely against including indirect emissions, arguing that the science was inexact. The environmentalists prevailed. In early May of this year, the EPA announced it would include the controversial emissions in its calculation of ethanol's lifecycle emissions.

Now the farm lobby is hitting back. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Colin Peterson exploded in a hearing in late May, declaring the EPA is going to "kill" the ethanol industry. Peterson last week told the Hill newspaper that he has lined up 45 members of the House Democratic Caucus to oppose the Waxman-Markey Clean Energy and Security Act, a major climate change mitigation bill that Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants to bring to the floor for a vote by July 4. If Peterson is not bluffing -- and he'd have to have the world's best poker face to pull that one off -- then he has the votes to kill the bill. The smart money is on Peterson, who now has all the leverage. That could be bad news because environmentalists will do anything to get a climate law, even if it means they have to embrace ethanol.

Expect Pelosi to cave and permit the farm lobby to write an amendment to the bill that forces the EPA to exclude indirect emissions from its calculations. That would saddle American consumers with a climate bill to raise their utility bills and more ethanol to inflate the price of food and fuel. That's a lose-lose-lose for everyone except for the special interests and their influential backers in Congress.


New book suggests Earth not such a benevolent mother after all

And we are going to need all the CO2 we can get.

In the past 50 years it has become commonplace to think of Earth as a nurturing place, straining mightily to maintain equilibrium so that life might continue and flourish. The Gaia hypothesis, named for the ancient Greek goddess of Earth, even put forth the idea that our planet behaves as a kind of giant organism, with its complex systems finely tuned to compensate when one system gets out of kilter.

But actually it is the Gaia view that is out of kilter, says Peter Ward, a University of Washington paleontologist who has looked closely at conditions that existed during numerous mass extinction events in Earth's history. In a new book, he suggests the planet ultimately is inhospitable to life, and that life itself might be the primary reason. Rather than Gaia, he invokes the darker Medea from Greek mythology.

"The Medea hypothesis says life is already shutting down Earth as a habitable planet. Not just the diversity of life, but the actual biomass," Ward said. "Life keeps evolving, and there are unintended, often negative, consequences." "The Medea Hypothesis: Is Life on Earth Ultimately Self-Destructive?" was published in April by Princeton University Press. In the 208-page book, Ward argues that humans have to use engineering to manage their environment or face potential extinction if the Earth is left to manage itself.

"The engineering I'm talking about is not girders and sky shields. It's engineering microbes to take over food production and energy production," he said. Microbes have undergone evolution, a sort of natural engineering, throughout Earth's history, he said, and humans have the ability to guide such changes to clean the environment, for example, or regulate carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Like Gaia, Medea is a mythological character, though she is decidedly much darker in nature. Medea was married to Jason at the time he pursued the Golden Fleece but, according to legend, he left her and in revenge she killed their two children.

Ward, a UW professor of biology and of Earth and space sciences, says numerous mass extinctions show that our planet behaves in somewhat the same way. For example:

* The evolution of oxygen-producing organisms twice plunged Earth into ice ages as carbon dioxide, crucial for photosynthesis, was stripped from the atmosphere.

* The evolution of the first true animals caused extinction of most stromatolites, layers of microbes living in sediment in the oceans' intertidal zones. The result was somewhat more complex life forms, but a vastly smaller volume of living matter.

* The evolution of the first forests 400 million years ago is considered one of the great events in Earth history. But tree roots pushed into subsurface rocks, exposing them to increased weathering. The weathered elements again stripped carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and plunged the Earth into a 90 million-year ice age.

"The irony is that we have way too much carbon dioxide right now, but we should stash it in a bank because we're going to need it," Ward said. "The end of life as we know it is when we reach just 10 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere." Currently, carbon dioxide is at 380 parts per million and rising, creating a greenhouse effect that most climate scientists say will greatly increase temperatures around the world, with some severe consequences. For example, with the melting of mountain and polar ice sheets, the world's most-productive agricultural land will be submerged and humans will struggle to find food, Ward said.

He noted that throughout Earth's history, carbon has been stripped from the atmosphere and stored in trees, rocks, even the oceans. He said those processes will continue until atmospheric carbon dioxide drops to 10 parts per million, a point at which no plants can live. Once plants are gone, within 20 million years the oxygen will plummet to 1 percent of the total atmosphere and life as we know it will end. "Then you've gotten to a point where it will be forever impossible to get diversity of life back. It will be forever impossible to regain an oxygen-rich atmosphere. That's not Gaia. It's the opposite of Gaia," he said.

He notes that of 15 mass extinction events in Earth's history, only the one 65 million years ago that brought an end to the age of dinosaurs was likely caused by a comet or asteroid crashing into the planet's surface. The others all resulted from Earth's own processes.

"There's no Gaia. There's just this dumb, blind life. It tries out all kinds of new things that are good for new kinds of life but are detrimental to everything else that exists. The innovations lead to disaster," Ward said. He added that, contrary to recently popular beliefs, the planet likely would not somehow "heal itself" if all humans were suddenly removed. Instead, he said, humans are the key to saving the planet and, in the end, are perhaps the only true Gaian force.

"We're not renting. We're the owners, but there can be a cost to the rest of nature of our ownership," Ward said. "There is an easy fix - the only fix is intelligence. Knowing that there is a problem is what will get us out of it. We're the only ones who can put our hands on the controls."


Warmist scorn for "purists" who demand that facts be “correct”

"Hockeystick" Mann admits he's no "purist"

Over at Seed Magazine in a collection of views on “framing,” Penn State climatologist Michael Mann explains why it was necessary to misrepresent what the IPCC does on the cover of his co-authored book titled “Dire Predictions: Understanding Global Warming”:
Often, in our communication efforts, scientists are confronted with critical issues of language and framing. A case in point is a book I recently co-authored with Penn State colleague Lee Kump, called Dire Predictions: Understanding Global Warming. The purists among my colleagues would rightly point out that the potential future climate changes we describe, are, technically speaking, projections rather than predictions because the climate models are driven by hypothetical pathways of future fossil fuel burning (i.e. conceivable but not predicted futures). But Dire Projections doesn’t quite roll off the tongue. And it doesn’t convey -- in the common vernacular -- what the models indicate: Climate change could pose a very real threat to society and the environment. In this case, use of the more technically “correct” term is actually less likely to convey the key implications to a lay audience.

As one of those “purists” who would like to receive information that is technically “correct” I probably can judge that book by its cover. In contrast, in another commentary on framing at Seed, ASU science policy expert Clark Miller suggests an alternative, richer view of framing:
Two competing models of framing exist. The first views framing as a tactical choice in communication. Spinning information to comport with culturally embedded narratives purportedly raises its credibility with target audiences. This model presumes an ignorant and uninformed public, with all the dangers that implies for democracy. I reject this model.

The second model views framing, instead, as how humans make sense of and give meaning to events in the world --- the lens through which they interpret disparate observations, models, data, and evidence in light of their values. This model posits framing as an ineradicable element of reasoning, even in science, and a facility for rich, nuanced storytelling as a foundation for human community.

Both models recognize that humans structure their understanding of policy through narrative and story. Rather than exploiting this structure for political gain, however, the second model acknowledges that any specific policy frame is, at best, partial and incomplete. Any frame reflects only one way of looking at a policy problem, leaving out potentially critical pieces of knowledge and significance.


The Big Chill

Congress shouldn't fight global warming by freezing the economy


Two months ago this column offered an analysis of the Waxman-Markey global warming bill, its enormous cost and its practical impossibilities. Sometime in the next few weeks Congress will begin consideration of the bill, one of the priorities of the Obama administration and the Al Gore enthusiasts who think that Earth will die unless the governments of the world regulate our electricity, energy, autos, economies and backyards.

They do not seem to believe that energy is of any significance to our economy or our people. But the truth is it matters to all of us--to those who drive, heat our houses and run businesses, cities, towns, hospitals and schools.

So they have put together the "cap and trade" bill, the goal of which is to control the annual amount of CO2 emissions that will be permitted. First comes setting the "cap," the amount a business is permitted to emit, and then "trade," allowing them to buy permits to emit more CO2 or sell permits if their emissions are lower. It will be the largest and widest intervention by government into the lives of Americans since the 1940s.

The Manhattan Institute's Jim Manzi concludes that the benefits of Waxman-Markey would not be much. Historical data show that the average rate of warming in the 30 years from 1977 to 2007 was just 0.32 degree Fahrenheit per decade. The expected warming in the next hundred years is estimated to be about 0.50 degree Fahrenheit per decade, and the new bill is estimated to lower global temperatures by about 0.18 degree Fahrenheit by 2100. Manzi estimates the additional economic costs of the bill would be 0.8% of gross domestic product, while the economic benefits would be just 0.08%--so the costs would be 10 times the benefits.

The cost of reducing emissions turns out to be greater than the cost they impose on societies. According to a 1999 Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas estimate, the emissions cuts the Kyoto Protocol would have required in 2010 were likely to reduce America's GDP by $275 billion to $468 billion, or $921 to $1,565 per person, and of course Kyoto does not apply to fast-growing developing countries such as China and India.

An April study by Charles River Associates tells us that if the Obama proposal to reduce CO2 emissions becomes law, it will have a serious impact on the availability and cost of energy. By 2025, just 16 years from now, the cost of natural gas would rise 56%, electricity 44% and motor fuel 19%. Annual household purchasing power would annually decline by an average of $1,827. And America will lose 3.2 million jobs.

There are alternatives. Earlier this month the National Center for Policy Analysis (for which I serve as policy chairman) issued a global warming analysis titled "10 Cool Global Warming Policies." Among them: eliminating energy subsidies and barriers to nuclear power, establishing biotech crops, reducing automobile pollution and developing new technology.

The starting point is the scope of our government's existing energy subsidies. They total nearly $17 billion annually--including $4.9 billion for renewable energy (wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric), $3.3 billion for coal, $2.1 billion for natural gas and petroleum liquids, $1.3 billion for nuclear power, and $1.2 billion for electricity. Many of these subsidies actually encourage carbon emissions by reducing the cost of energy from coal and petroleum. Eliminating them would be a good first step in letting the market, as opposed to the government, control energy emission costs.

Nuclear power is the only emission-free energy technology that can significantly reduce carbon emissions. America's nuclear plants avoid nearly 700 million metric tons of CO2 emissions each year. But the government has made the construction of nuclear plants almost impossible. Of those currently operating in the U.S., the newest one was built starting in 1977. Of the 45 nuclear power plants now under construction world-wide, only one is in America.

Energy use is of course a source of greenhouse gas emissions. As the study says, "Petroleum used in transportation and industrial production accounts for 44 percent of energy related CO2 emissions; coal accounts for 36 percent, and natural gas for 20 percent." Unfortunately the popular modern energy priorities--corn based ethanol (which government subsidizes at 51 cents a gallon for the 36 billion gallon production the Congress has required by 2022) instead of reducing carbon emissions increases them over time, and wind and solar power--good ideas that we should keep working on--only supply electricity 30% to 40% of the time.

Energy development and creation have been essential to America's success over the past several centuries, and they are important for America's future. But the Obama-Waxman-Markey legislation has it backwards: By reducing energy availability, their proposals would kill jobs, reduce purchasing power, shrink the economy, and raise the cost of every fuel we use.

All of which would have almost zero impact on global warming. America cannot go forward successfully with this kind of thinking. We need nuclear power, more oil and gas to support our increasing energy needs, and a clear understanding that depriving us of energy, as this bill would do, would be a very substantial mistake.


An Open Letter to All Members of the Australian Federal Parliament

Soon our elected representatives will be asked to vote on Senator Wong’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.

This scheme is not about carbon or pollution. Its main effect is to provide for a cap on the human production of carbon dioxide, a colourless harmless natural gas. Carbon dioxide is no more a pollutant than oxygen or water, the other two atmospheric gases on which all life on earth relies.

The bill will also levy a tax on whatever carbon dioxide is produced, and levy an excess production tax on anyone whose production exceeds the legal cap. It is a carbon dioxide Cap-n-Tax Bill.

There is no human activity whatsoever that does not generate carbon dioxide. Therefore any attempt to measure, cap and tax human production of carbon dioxide must eventually extend to every human activity (the UK government already floated the idea that every person be issued with a personal carbon ration card).

This is a very serious proposal, with wide-ranging implications for all aspects of economic life and personal freedoms. It could only be justified if there was a clear and urgent danger that additional human production of carbon dioxide is highly likely to cause dangerous global warming. There is no evidence that this is the case – just computer models and scare forecasts.

Neither the scientific questions, nor the cost benefit analysis has been subject to any critical independent analysis.

The diagram below illustrates the sequence of decisions that should be made before this bill gets assent. If the answer to ANY ONE of the boxed questions is “NO”, there is no justification for Australia rushing ahead with its Cap-n-Tax Bill.

This diagram, although light-hearted, has a factual basis and conveys some very serious messages.

It is highly unlikely that anyone could honestly answer “Yes” to every question, which is what is required to justify passage of the bill. This suggests that there is a high likelihood that the bill will have NO CLIMATE EFFECT WHATSOEVER and thus be a costly exercise in self delusion.

Start from the bottom left

Start from the bottom left



For more postings from me, see DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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