Obama’s Radical Climate Agenda
It is remarkable that when the scientific consensus on global warming is at its weakest state in years, President Barack Obama has decided to make the issue a new focus of his troubled presidency — and, indeed, that he intends to use the issue as the launching pad for a radical extension of federal power even more significant than his health-care takeover.
President Obama campaigned as a man of science, though he himself has no scientific training. He lambasted his critics as being anti-science Luddites and even enjoyed an endorsement from Bill Nye the Science Guy, who allowed his name to be associated with dishonest and unfair attacks on Republicans. Barack Obama, of course, is not a science guy. For example, he has flattered far-left conspiracy theories about common vaccinations, saying, “The science right now is inconclusive,” which is a position about as scientifically defensible as claiming that the dinosaurs went extinct because Fred Flintstone ordered too many bronto-burgers.
Global warming, contrary to the predictions of the best climate models, is not accelerating. It is slowing, and some estimates show it having been reversed. The warmest year on record was 1998, and there has been significantly less warming in the last 15 years than there was in the 20 years before that. The Economist, which supports measures to control greenhouse-gas emissions and has been a reliable hotbed of warming alarmism, conceded: “There’s no way around the fact that this reprieve for the planet is bad news for proponents of policies, such as carbon taxes and emissions treaties, meant to slow warming by moderating the release of greenhouse gases. . . . They will become harder, if not impossible, to sell to the public, which will feel, not unreasonably, that the scientific and media establishment has cried wolf.”
If only President Obama simply had cried wolf. Instead, the president announced that, on behalf of “all of humankind,” he is in effect directing the EPA to take over the American economy. New power plants will be subject to emissions controls, and existing plants will have to be retrofitted to comply with new standards. New restrictions on heavy trucks will affect the movement of freight and goods across the country. New subsidies will be handed down for politically connected energy firms, and federal lands will be set aside for their use. New federal impositions will affect the construction of factories, commercial buildings, and private homes. The president says that this is all enabled by the “overwhelming judgment of science.”
It certainly has not been enabled by something so mundane as the law. We rather suspect that the overwhelming judgment of Congress would be against the president’s program of regimenting the entire American economy under the management of a newly empowered EPA. But the president has made it clear that he intends to act largely through administrative fiat, subverting the democratic process and the people’s elected representatives. Unhappily, the Supreme Court has abetted this ambition by misconstruing the Clean Air Act as a warrant of action on global warming.
Every economic activity involving energy or transportation — which is to say, every economic activity — will be affected by the president’s global-warming program.
Consider the president’s thinking: While the value of vaccinations is undisputed among scientists, he believes that it requires more research, because people who are prone to lunatic theories about vaccines vote Democratic. But when it comes to the climate, he acts not only as though there were no scientific questions in dispute but as though capital-S Science had corporately blessed his policy agenda. Even if the scientific consensus on global warming had not been weakened by the past 15 years’ worth of data, the policies the president proposes would not necessarily logically follow from that consensus.
Limits on greenhouse gases in the United States are likely to have no effect at all on the atmosphere of a planet that includes China, India, and their factories and people. Even the most radical changes in the United States would likely have a negligible effect on climate change, which is if nothing else a global phenomenon by definition. Even if we had absolute scientific certainty, we would also have another kind of certainty: that China and India, and many other countries, are not going to radically reduce their peoples’ standards of living to accommodate Barack Obama’s policy preferences.
But the science is not there, either. Even our friends at The New Republic admit as much, writing of the warming slowdown: “Scientists themselves aren’t entirely sure what the evidence means. If scientific models can’t project the last 15 years, what does that mean for their projections of the next 100?” Uncertainty about the amount of warming over the next century entails uncertainty about the size, character, and cost of its effects. But the next century is not what Democrats are thinking about: They are thinking about 2014 and 2016.
But there are immediate concerns, too. Most significant, the president telegraphed his intention to torpedo the Keystone XL pipeline project, which has long been ready to go but has been snarled up by politics. President Obama has offered any number of excuses for not approving the project, and his newest one is that the pipeline and the energy it contributes to the economy must not “significantly exacerbate” the emissions of greenhouse gases, which the president likes to call “carbon pollution.” That term is itself an attempt to confuse the debate: It refers not to traditional kinds of pollution such as carbon monoxide, the stuff that comes out of your exhaust pipe, but to carbon dioxide, the stuff that comes out of your nose.
In any case, the State Department long ago concluded that the pipeline would not be a significant new contributor to greenhouse-gas emissions, which should suggest a speedy approval. (We are not inclined to take Obama’s State Department at its word, but that is no reason the president shouldn’t.) Instead, what this likely presages is another round of dilatory studies designed to hold the project hostage while Democrats studiously avoid annoying their small but generous environmental-extremist constituency.
The United States is poised for an energy renaissance, which is already under way in places such as Texas and Pennsylvania. The new energy economy stands ready not only to put millions of Americans to work and bring billions of dollars of new wealth into the economy but also to significantly change the balance of power in the world: Oil is the top contributor to our trade deficit, and energy supplies from the Middle East, Venezuela, and other unstable areas are a key security and economic vulnerability. Rather than develop what we already have, the Obama administration is threatening to hamstring our most likely source of economic growth and new jobs for the coming generation in the hopes that fads such as solar power will pay off. That is not justified by science, by economics, or by sensible policy analysis.
What it is, in fact, is an attempt by a foundering administration to change the subject from scandal to sunshine.
The Carbonated President
Obama unveils a war on fossil fuels he never disclosed as a candidate
President Obama's climate speech on Tuesday was grandiose even for him, but its surreal nature was its particular hallmark. Some 12 million Americans still can't find work, real wages have fallen for five years, three-fourths of Americans now live paycheck to check, and the economy continues to plod along four years into a quasi-recovery. But there was the President in tony Georgetown, threatening more energy taxes and mandates that will ensure fewer jobs, still lower incomes and slower growth.
Mr. Obama's "climate action plan" adds up to one of the most extensive reorganizations of the U.S. economy since the 1930s, imposed through administrative fiat and raw executive power. He wants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17% by 2020, but over his 6,500-word address he articulated no such goal for the unemployment rate or GDP.
The plan covers everything from new efficiency standards for home appliances to new fuel mileage rules for heavy-duty trucks to new subsidies for wind farms, but the most consequential changes would slam the U.S. electric industry. These plants, coal-fired power in particular, account for about a third of domestic greenhouse gases.
Last year the Environmental Protection Agency released "new source performance standard" regulations that are effectively a moratorium on new coal plants. The EPA denied that similar rules would ever apply to the existing fleet, or even that they were working up such rules. Now Mr. Obama will unleash his carbon central planners on current plants.
Coal accounted for more than half of U.S. electric generation as recently as 2008 but plunged to a mere 37% in 2012. In part this tumble has been due to cheap natural gas, but now the EPA will finish the job and take coal to 0%.
Daniel Shrag of Harvard, an Obama science adviser, told the New York Times Monday that "Politically, the White House is hesitant to say they're having a war on coal. On the other hand, a war on coal is exactly what's needed." At least he's honest, though in truth Mr. Obama's target is all forms of carbon energy. Natural gas is next.
The higher costs will ripple through the energy chain, which is precisely Mr. Obama's goal. Only by artificially raising the cost of carbon energy can he make even heavily subsidized "renewables" competitive.
In general every $1 billion spent complying with an EPA rule threatens 16,000 jobs and cuts GDP by $1.2 billion—and the agency is now writing scores of multibillion-dollar rules. Keep in mind that last month the Administration quietly raised the "social cost" of carbon by 60% in a regulatory filing related to microwave ovens. That means the EPA can jack up costs by 59.99% and still justify them by claiming the higher benefits.
This regressive burden won't merely be borne by average American consumers and utility rate-payers—especially in the Midwest and Southern regions that use the most coal. This also threatens one of the few booming parts of the economy, the energy revolution driven by shale gas and unconventional oil. The return of manufacturing to the U.S. depends on this cheap abundant energy, and it could as easily re-relocate overseas as the U.S. becomes less competitive.
For good measure, Mr. Obama also declared that he will approve the Keystone XL pipeline "only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution." Yet the oil in Alberta won't stay in the ground if Mr. Obama blocks the route to the Gulf of Mexico. It will be shipped by rail and boat to China and elsewhere. The only question is whether America will benefit from this shovel-ready project that will create tens of thousands of jobs.
Speaking of futility, Mr. Obama's ambitions will have no effect on global atmospheric carbon concentrations. Emissions are already falling in the U.S., thanks primarily to the shale gas boom, but emissions are rising in the developing world. Mr. Obama pandered to the climate-change absolutists by saying "We don't have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society." But he never explained how his plan will reduce warming, or why climate models have failed to predict the warming slowdown of the last dozen or so years even as more CO2 is pumped into the atmosphere.
Most striking about this Obama legacy project is its contempt for democratic consent. Congress has consistently rejected an Obama-style "comprehensive" anticarbon energy plan. That was true even when Democrats ran the Senate with a filibuster-proof majority in 2009-2010 and killed his cap-and-trade energy bill. The only legislative justification for Mr. Obama's new plan is an abusive interpretation of the Clean Air Act, which was last revised in 1990 and never mentions carbon as a pollutant.
So instead Mr. Obama will impose these inherently political policy choices via unaccountable bureaucracies, with little or no debate. Mr. Obama might have at least announced his war on carbon before the election and let voters have a say. Instead he posed as the John the Baptist of fossil fuels in locales such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia—taking credit for the shale fracking boom he had nothing to do with and running ads attacking Mitt Romney as anticoal.
Now safely re-elected, Mr. Obama figures he can do what he pleases. The Americans who will be harmed will have to console themselves with 99 weeks of jobless benefits, food stamps and ObamaCare.
Climate vs. Climate Change
There seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding in the difference between climate and climate change.
This is on very public display in the president’s recently unveiled Climate Action Plan, which details a series of executive actions designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in an attempt to control the future course of the climate.
In justifying the need for these actions, and why he doesn’t have time to wait for Congress to act, the president points to numerous recent examples of extreme weather disasters while linking weather extremes to climate change brought about by anthropogenic greenhouse gases emissions.
In doing so, he goes awry of the best science. Here’s why.
The natural climate of the U.S. includes all manner of extreme weather events—hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, floods, heatwaves, cold outbreaks, derechos, and virtually every other type of bad weather you can dream up.
This is true now, just as it was 100 years ago, before greenhouse gases were being emitted to the atmosphere in large quantities from human activities—primarily the burning of fossil fuels to produce energy.
Human-caused climate change is an incremental pressure to slightly alter the character of weather events, for example, their frequency and/or magnitude. This includes weather events both extreme and otherwise. The nature of this alteration, if it occurs at all, is scientifically uncertain for most types of weather.
In other words, every time there is some sort of weather “disaster” you don’t need to invoke climate change to explain it. A simple climate explanation will usually suffice. In fact, bringing climate change into the explanation usually runs afoul of our current scientific understanding. It is as easy to argue that climate change mitigates (or even averts) weather disasters as it is to argue that it augments them.
But folks pushing for greenhouse gas regulations don’t often let the facts get in the way. This includes the president, as well as many of his federal advisors.
For example, Roger Pielke Jr., a leader in the field of weather disaster trends, tweeted this about the president’s speech on Tuesday:
@RogerPielkeJr “Will be interesting to see if anyone on the side of climate action will care that Obama’s plan begins w/ false claims about disaster trends”
And in our recent review of the draft version of the government’s latest National Assessment report, we point out the pervasive confusion between climate and climate change within the report. For example, regarding impacts on the transportation sector, we note:
"It is not climate change, but the vagaries of the climate itself that have the greatest impact on U.S. transportation. Climate change, to the degree that it is detectable and identifiable, contributes a mix of impacts, some positive and some negative, and the net impact has never been reliably quantified or monetized.
The impacts of climate and climate change are confused and thus used interchangeably, however, such usage is incorrect and misleading."
Perhaps the biggest reason why it is easy to confuse climate and climate change, is that it appears that the weather is getting worse—that is, there are more, and more costly, extreme weather events. The climate must be changing to make this happen, right?
Wrong. What is changing, besides increased media (both mainstream and social) coverage, is that there are more people, with more (valuable) stuff, in harm’s way.
So, even in a constant climate, the frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events—such as those included in the government’s annual list of “Billion Dollar Weather/Climate Disasters”—will increase. Yet the president points to this increase and links it to human-caused climate change.
This is wrong, and this is what Roger Pielke Jr. was referring to in his tweet.
And Roger should know. He has jus published a paper examining trends in tornado losses in the U.S. from 1950 through 2011. It shows that while raw damage has been on the rise, when adjusted for socioeconomic changes (like population, income, housing units, GDP), there has actually been a sharp decline. Further, the decline in damages may in fact be related with a decline in strong tornado events, although the data are not robust enough to know for sure. Quoting from the conclusions of is paper:
"The analysis presented in this paper indicates that normalized tornado damage in the US from1950 to 2011 declined in all three normalization methods applied (two are statistically significant one is not). The degree to which this decrease is the result of an actual decrease in the incidence of strong tornadoes is difficult to assess due to inconsistencies in reporting practices over time. However, an examination of trends within sub-periods of the dataset is suggestive that some part of the long-term decrease in losses may have a component related to actual changes in tornado behaviour. Further research is clearly needed to assess this suggestion."
Roger has also studied losses from hurricanes and floods and in both cases found that once demographics changes are taken into account the upward trend in losses disappears.
So the science shows that increasing losses from extreme weather events is caused by more people and more wealth, but the president tells us that it is a result of human-caused climate change and invokes executive action to try to stop it.
His efforts are doomed to fail from the outset (assuming his Climate Action Plan doesn’t drive down the population or the economy).
Parents Driven to Distraction and Death by Climate Scares
It is well known that climate agitators have been using children as a means by which to influence their parents. Some are quite happy to deploy Schneiderian Scenarios (scary, simplified, dramatic) to help that along. But it is not just children who are being scared by tall tales of a climate crisis caused by people. Some parents are succumbing to them as well, and it seems all too likely that this means more stress for their own children. In one case reported on below, suicide and child murder was the result, and in another, both of these are being contemplated.
Some parents are seized with pessimistic thoughts.
Example 1. Here is an extract from a letter to an agony aunt by a mother clearly being driven to distraction by here fears about population and climate in the year 2013:
“I love my family dearly, and my children bring me great joy. So what’s the problem then? I worry that I’ve brought them into a world whose future holds overpopulation (for which I myself feel a bit responsible) and global warming. My children have such bright futures ahead, which may be completely devastated by these global crises.”
Example 2. Here is a father also driven to distraction by his imaginings in 2013:
“When Ian Kim imagines the world his 7-year-old daughter will be living in 20 years from now, he says, it keeps him up at night. Images of ever more frequent super storms like Sandy, along with rising seas, or drought and heat waves wreaking havoc with crops haunt his waking hours.”
Example 3. Another letter to an agony aunt in 2013, one that comes across as more temperate until she gets to the bit about going up in flames:
“My issue is that now that we have a baby, all the other moms drive their kids all over the place, shopping and taking cute little day trips. I would prefer to drive only in emergencies, but our entertainment options near home are severely limited. Is it better to leave a smaller carbon footprint and make a moral statement my son might be proud of one day, or to have additional experiences with him/relationships with kids and moms across town that I will treasure until we all go up in flames?”
Example 4. Unicef has, like so many other organisations, enthusiastically jumped on the climate alarm bandwagon and has no doubt boosted its funding as a result. Here are the words of an actor doing a promotion for them in 2013:
“As a dad to a 14 year old daughter, I worry about what climate change means for her future and her children’s future. Extreme flooding, colder, longer winters and harsher summers; it’s causing chaos in the developed world and it’s threatening children’s very survival in poorer countries.”
For Some Parents It is Even More Serious
Example 5. It is only anecdotal, and it comes via another woman who is herself seriously disturbed by climate scares, but it is sadly by no means far-fetched as the next example shows:
“Should we stockpile cyanide? You think I'm exaggerating, but a close friend of mine, who has four children, said she plans to kill herself and them when it comes to it.” [The ‘it’ refers to some kind of climate catastrophe she has in mind]
Example 6. April, 2010: “BUENOS AIRES – A 7-month-old baby survived alone for three days with a bullet wound in its chest beside the bodies of its parents and brother, who died in an apparent suicide pact brought on by the couple’s terror of global warming, the Argentine press said Saturday.” As reported in Latin American Herald Tribune and the Daily Telegraph
Meanwhile 1, the UK Met Office, a leading light for climate alarmists everywhere, has held an unscheduled get-together to see how they can best cope with the fact that the climate system is behaving just as it might if the extra CO2 was having a negligible impact on it. Given how misleading their computer models have been for them, they need to brainstorm to help them cope with ‘weather as normal’.
Meanwhile 2, the eco-organisations and others who have all helped disseminate the fears which have so disturbed parents and children, continue to harm the environment and force needless suffering and even starvation on to the world.
These two 'meanwhiles' illustrate two realities. The first reality is that the climate system is behaving much as it might if human impacts on it have been of minor consequence. The second reality is that those who screech and preach and politicise as if the opposite was the case, are themselves the major cause of concern and of suffering linked to climate change.
As Willis Eschenbach noted yesterday at WUWT:
"I say that history will not look kindly on those people and organizations who are currently impoverishing the poor and damaging the environment in a futile fight against CO2, even if the perpetrators are wealthy and melanin-deficient and just running over with oodles of good intentions …"
And in the big meantime before that happier day, we are faced with trying to stop that 'futile fight' and all the harm it is bringing to people and to the environment across the world.
British wind farms get generous subsidies for another six years
Wind farms will get generous subsidies for at least another six years, after ministers signed a deal to give them double the market rate for the electricity they produce.
The Government said onshore wind farms should get at least £100 per megawatt-hour, when the market rate for electricity is currently less than £50 per mega-watt hour.
Offshore wind farms will get triple the market rate at £155 per megawatt-hour in a deal described by City analysts as "astonishingly expensive".
The difference will be met by a subsidy from the taxpayer, which is potentially more generous than the current regime that hands developers more than £1 billion a year.
Ed Davey, the Energy Secretary, said new costs were "broadly comparable" wih 2013 prices but his department said it had not worked out whether consumers wil be paying more or less for wind power under the new system.
The subsidies will continue despite David Cameron's promise this month to "think very carefully" about green subsidies for energy sources such as wind farms and solar panels, as they "end up on consumer bills".
It is likely to anger backbench Tories, after 100 MPs campaigned to stop the spread of onshore turbines blighting the British countryside.
George Osborne ordered a 10 per cent cut in subsidies for onshore wind farms last year and senior Conservatives had hinted that there would be more to follow.
Developers have promised that they can reduce the cost of generating energy from wind substantially over the next few years to make it more affordable.
However, under the plan, subsidies will only be cut slightly in 2017 by five per cent for onshore wind and 13 per cent for offshore wind.
Peter Atherton, analyst at Liberum Capital, said the cost of offshore wind turbines in particular looks "astonishingly high".
"The costs are actually rising, rather than coming down as we'd been led to believe," he said.
The renewables industry said the level of subsidies would still mean it is "challenging" for them to make a profit.
"The most important ingredient remains investor confidence and that will take time to land," said Maria McCafferty, chief executive of RenewableUK.
"The secret is consistent long term support and investors seeing that Government is behind renewables and low carbon generation for the long term."
British birdwatchers see rare swift killed by wind turbine
Dozens of birdwatchers who travelled to a Scottish island to see an extremely rare swift have been left distraught after it was killed by a wind turbine.
Around 40 people were watching the White-throated Needletail, the world's fastest flying bird, on the Isles of Harris when the tragedy happened.
Sightings of the bird have only been recorded eight times in the UK in nearly 170 years, most recently in 1991, prompting around 80 ornithologists to visit the island in the hope of catching a glimpse.
David Campbell, from Surrey, told BBC Scotland the incident took place late on Wednesday afternoon. Speaking as he made his way home, he said: “We just watched the whole thing with dismay."
Josh Jones, of Bird Guides, a specialist website for ornithologists, said he had spoken to witnesses, who had seen the bird fly straight into one the turbine’s blades.
He said: “It is ironic that after waiting so long for this bird to turn up in the UK it was killed by a wind turbine and not a natural predator.
“More than 80 people had already arrived on the island and others were coming from all over the country. But it just flew into the turbine. It was killed instantly. The corpse will be sent to a museum but obviously this is just terrible.”
Experts said they thought the bird had got lost migrating from Siberia and it should have been as far away as Australia or Japan instead of Tarbert on the Isle of Harris.
It was spotted by chance on Monday by two birdwatchers from Northumberland holidaying on the island. Steve Duffield, a Western Isles wildlife expert, said: “The bird in Harris was hanging around for its third day – it was attracting a lot of attention from the birding community with people travelling from southern England to see it.”
During the 1991 sighting, a single bird was spotted four times in Kent, Staffordshire, Derbyshire and finally Shetland.
The White-throated Needletail, also known as the Needle-tailed Swift or Spine-tailed Swift, is known to fly up at speeds of up to 69mph, although there are unconfirmed reports of them reaching 105mph.
The birds have very short legs, which they use only for clinging to vertical surfaces, and they build their nests in rock crevices in cliffs or hollow trees. They spend most of their lives in the air, living on the insects they catch in their beaks.
They breed in rocky hills in central Asia and southern Siberia but migrate south to the Indian Subcontinent, southeast Asia and Australia.
The SNP administration at Holyrood is pressing ahead with a rapid expansion in the number of wind farms after setting a target to generate the equivalent of all Scotland’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020.
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