Monday, July 01, 2013

From reason to freedom

From reason to freedom

Last I heard there were over a million blogs in existence -- and they all differ in various ways.  This blog is mainly what might be called a "collation" blog:  I gather together each day what seems to me to be the latest news and thinking about a particular topic and present it all together in one place.  For time-poor readers that can be convenient.

In doing so, however, I take an expansive view of the "fair usage" provisions of copyright law and that view could be challenged.  But it rarely is  -- and for an excellent reason:  Most of the people whose writings I recycle WANT their thoughts to be as widely seen as possible.  They even see it as a compliment to have their writings reproduced.

But there are exceptions to every rule and it is remarkable that the only two exceptions I can recollect came from libertarian blogs.  Why is that remarkable?  Because libertarians are normally most scornful of the idea of intellectual property.  As I do, they welcome anybody to reuse their work free of charge, let or hindrance as a matter of principle.

The blog listed in the heading to this post is however one of the aberrant blogs.  Click on the link and you will most likely get a great steaming heap of abuse aimed at me because I have recycled a few of his posts in the past.

A curious thing is that the blogger, M.J. Taylor, does not ordinarily identify himself on his blog nor does he provide an email address where he can be contacted.  And even curioser is that I have never received from him any email objection to my use of his material.  Had I been aware of his objections, I would have deleted him from my reading immediately -- which I have now done.  I will recycle nothing more of his.

UPDATE: I have had a number of emails commenting on the illiteracy and illogic of Mr. Taylor's fulmination. He can't be very bright.

Thwarting America’s crude awakening

The American “shale boom” is poised to revolutionize global energy markets. It could transform the nation from a longtime net oil importer into an export powerhouse. Consider that the 2012 increase in U.S. crude oil production, announced last week, was the largest not just in U.S. history but the world.

To help this transformation, a bipartisan swath of federal and state officials is pressing for new infrastructure, like the Keystone XL pipeline, to move a glut of domestic oil from the center of North America to Gulf ports. This is a crucial step, but unless Congress reforms archaic restrictions on crude oil exports, all that black gold’s going nowhere.

These restrictions not only contradict global trade rules and national trade and energy policies, they also threaten to derail the American energy revolution. Yet, unlike similar restrictions on natural gas, almost no one in Washington is talking about them.

In a free market, the answer to the key question of where to sell all this new American oil would be simple: wherever demand takes it. Unfortunately, the U.S.crude oil market is anything but free.

Instead, the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975 authorized an export licensing system that, though intended to address temporary conditions, remains in place. It prohibits almost all crude oil exports — even in this time of abundant supply.

Exports today require a license from the Commerce Department that, except for shipments to Canada and a few other narrow circumstances, is only approved if the proposed transaction is “consistent with the national interest.”

Non-Canadian exports of U.S. crude oil are effectively banned. No license applications were approved under the “national interest” exception between 2000 and mid-2012, and subsequent data confirms that this unfortunate streak remains intact.

This de facto ban creates a host of problems. First, by curtailing exports and subjecting license approvals to the whims of bureaucrats, the current system slows domestic production, breeds economic distortions, discourages investment and destabilizes energy markets.

U.S. oil producers, for example, lose an estimated $10 billion a year due to their inability to sell crude in foreign markets. They’ve also spent hundreds of millions of dollars building “mini-refineries” in the Midwest and Gulf region to circumvent the current restrictions and export a slightly processed, cheaper product — leaving another $1.7 billion in potential profit on the table.

As Rube-Goldbergian as this sounds, producers have few alternatives, given that U.S. oil consumption has collapsed in recent years and building new refinery capacity is virtually impossible in many “environmentally friendly” states. These problems prompted the head of the International Energy Agency to warn recently that U.S. export restrictions put the “American oil boom” at risk.

Second, the export licensing system raises serious concerns under global trade rules. The World Trade Organization generally prohibits members from imposing export restrictions — including “discretionary” licensing systems or those that result in long delays. The U.S. system appears to do both. The executive branch alone decides on what is in the “national interest.” At least six pending license applications — first reported last fall — still haven’t been granted. It also could be legally and politically difficult in this case for the U.S. government to assert WTO-sanctioned defenses for national security, conservation or temporary supply shortages.

Third, the oil export restrictions are at odds with some other Obama administration policies. Restricting oil exports, most obviously, undermines the president’s National Export Initiative, the goal of which is to double U.S. exports between 2010 and 2014. . It also contradicts Obama’s advocacy of other energy exports — particularly renewables and nuclear power.

Using export restrictions to suppress input prices and help downstream industries contradicts the longstanding U.S. policy of classifying other countries’ use of similar measures as “unfair” subsidies subject to countervailing duties. The export ban also exposes U.S. exports of oil-based products to “copycat” duties in other markets.

Finally, Washington has long opposed restrictive and opaque export licensing systems at the WTO — speaking out, most recently, against Chinese restrictions on exports of raw materials and “rare earth” elements. The U.S. licensing system contradicts these positions and undermines multilateral efforts to combat such measures.

Given these problems, it’s clear that the current crude oil export licensing system needs to go. Congressional supporters of the U.S. energy boom must lead the charge.

If advocates really want to develop our vast energy resources and expand the economy, they should craft a licensing policy that reflects the new energy landscape and the immense U.S. export potential.

They’d also be restoring some overall coherence to U.S. trade and energy policy — and avoiding potentially embarrassing trade conflicts. If they ignore these restrictions, and their many flaws, the nascent U.S. oil boom could be snuffed out


Obama promises an end to cheap energy

By Marita Noon

A few months ago, in his State of the Union address, President Obama proudly pledged to tackle climate change  —  despite opposition from Republicans. To date, precious little action to combat climate change has been seen from the White House  —  which pleases most Republicans and angers the Left.

Environmental activists are some of Obama’s most ardent supporters, but they are frustrated and losing patience with the president. He hasn’t been definitive on killing the Keystone pipeline; as the Washington Post reports, he’s “fallen back from the broad clean energy agenda he envisioned when he first took office”  —  even to the point of supporting natural gas exploration and recently approving Liquefied Natural Gas export terminals that will increase demand by shipping U.S. natural gas to foreign markets; and he seems to have acquiesced to a fossil fuel future by proposing adaptations to make “coastal communities more resistant to increasingly severe storms and floods.”

The environmental community wants to see bold steps toward a fossil-fuel free future.

Michael Brune, executive director for the Sierra Club, groused: “On climate, we’re worse off than we were when the President’s second term started.”

Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), is calling on the President to “outline exactly how he plans to combat global warming by 2016.”

In a new campaign being launched by the NRDC, filmmaker Robert Redford states: “Four months ago, President Obama spoke of our obligations to combat climate change, saying failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.” Ads from the NRDC feature Redford challenging Obama to live up to the “courage of his convictions.”

Even those within his own party are pressuring the president.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) has called climate change “the issue of our time.” He believes that Obama should announce the implementation of strong regulatory steps that will “revive this great issue.” Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) recently pushed the President to oppose the pipeline — despite polling that shows the vast majority of the public supports it: “I encouraged him to follow through on the correct policy position, suggesting polling numbers aren’t always in support of smart policy.”

With his base is looking for immediate remedies, his popularity is plunging, and more negative news is hitting the airwaves every day, an announcement — as Whitehouse wants — of “strong regulatory steps” to “revive this great issue” could be advisable. It would give environmentalists the aggressive action they are itching for and divert the discussion from the various scandals plaguing his presidency.

Instead, when the White House made a decision to raise the social cost of carbon emissions by 60 percent — which will have a costly impact on the economy with wide-ranging implications for everything from power plants to the Keystone pipeline  —  there were no optics: no fanfare, no press conference, no announcement.

Tucked into a rule about microwave ovens’ efficiency standards (With everything going on in the world, we are worrying about microwave ovens?) is an increase in the figure the government uses to weigh costs and benefits of proposed regulations. The “so-called social cost of carbon” represents the “approximate losses from global warming such as flood damage and diminished crops.” The Daily Caller describes this social cost of carbon dioxide emissions as “a monetary estimate of the damages caused by carbon emissions” that “all federal agencies must use when formulating regulations.”

The White House Office of Management and Budget raised the cost of a metric ton of carbon from the current $23.80 to $38.00 in 2015 — which gives the administration “justification to be more aggressive than they otherwise would be,” explained Jeff Holmstead, air quality chief at the Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush.

It seems that this “determination” was intended as appeasement to Obama’s agitated base while not damaging his falling popularity — though it probably fails at both.

Frank Ackerman, an economist at Tufts University who published a book about the economics of global warming, calls the social cost of carbon “the most important number you’ve never heard of.” According to Bloomberg BusinessWeek, he said: “This is a very strange way to make policy about something this important.” And added, “The Obama Administration ‘hasn’t always leveled with us about what is happening behind closed doors.’”

Why bury “something this important” in an afternoon announcement about something that is virtually insignificant? The answer, I believe, is found in a small piece of the Washington Post story cited previously. Apparently, the White House’s own research found that when Obama, in his State of the Union speech, “vowed to act on climate change if Congress refused to do so,” a focus group’s “favorability” rating “plummeted.” White House transcripts reveal that Obama knows that “the politics of this are tough.”

At an April fundraising event at the San Francisco home of billionaire and environmental activist Tom Steyer, Obama defended his lack of action on climate change: “If you haven’t seen a raise in a decade, if your house is still $25,000, $30,000 underwater … you may be concerned about the temperature of the planet, but it’s probably not rising to your number one concern.”

As a result, his Organizing for America team — “formed to advance the president’s second term agenda” — has been laying the “groundwork with the American public before unveiling a formal climate strategy.” Teasing out the increase in the social cost of carbon was likely part of the strategy, intended to test the waters ahead of the planned climate announcements from the White House.

Likewise, his comments in Berlin, where he reintroduced the subject, calling climate change “the global threat of our time.” The next day, headlines read: “Obama to renew emissions push.” It is believed that the new “measures to tackle climate change” will “effectively ban new coal-fired power plants” — to which I add, will effectively ban “cheap electricity.”

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reports that U.S. power generation is, once again, using more coal — reversing the trend toward natural gas: “A flood of inexpensive natural gas led to the highest ever use of that fuel for electricity generation while coal-fired electricity fell to its lowest level in a quarter-century.”

Natural gas prices have been creeping higher and have pushed an increased use of coal in attempt to keep electricity costs as low as possible — after all, progressives and career environmentalists Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhous, of the Breakthrough Institute, posit: cheap electricity is a public good and a human right that has saved the forests, produced more food on less land, and lifted incomes.

Wait, wait, wait! Regular readers of my affordable energy advocacy should give pause here. It is not me saying that cheap electricity is a basic human right — though I believe it, it is Shellenberger and Nordhous whose own biographies describe them as “leading global thinkers on energy, climate, security, human development, and politics” and whose book, Breakthrough, has been called “the best thing to happen to environmentalism since Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.”

In a treatise, which I believe should be required reading for everyone, titled: “Has there been a great progressive reversal? How the Left abandoned cheap electricity,” they outline a historic shift that’s taken the Left from being champions of the poor to being “developed-world progressives, comfortably ensconced in their own modernity.”

They explain: 80 years ago, “The best forests had been cut down to use as fuel for wood stoves. Soils were being rapidly depleted of nutrients, resulting in falling yields and a desperate search for new croplands. Poor farmers were plagued by malaria and had inadequate medical care. Few had indoor plumbing and even fewer had electricity.” Cheap electricity changed all that and Senator Al Gore, Sr., fought for it.

Today, “Environmentalists demand that we make carbon-based energy more expensive” and the Left calls it “a threat to the planet and harmful to the poor.” Shellenberger and Nordhous state: “In the name of democracy it now offers the global poor not what they want — cheap electricity — but more of what they don’t want, namely intermittent and expensive power” which “offers the poor no path to the kinds of high-energy lifestyles Western environmentalists take for granted.”

Believers in anthropogenic global warming, they acknowledge that “modernization” does have “side effects,” but they believe that these are problems that can be “dealt with.” Shellenberger and Nordhous state: “In the name of democracy it now offers the global poor not what they want — cheap electricity — but more of what they don’t want, namely intermittent and expensive power” which “offers the poor no path to the kinds of high-energy lifestyles Western environmentalists take for granted.”

Shellenberger and Nordhous close their eye-opening commentary by stating that the 1.3 billion people who lack cheap grid electricity should get it. “It will dramatically improve their lives, reduce deforestation, and make them more resilient to climate impacts. … Any effort worthy of being called progressive, liberal, or environmental, must embrace a high energy planet.”

Their logic is tough to dispute. While I do not agree that global warming is a manmade crisis, I certainly support their conclusions about the importance of cheap energy as a human right and public good.

This whole line of reasoning, begs some questions:

*    Why did the left abandon cheap energy? (Remember, in California, it was the rich, white Democrat representatives who voted to ban fracking while the black and Hispanics, in districts in need of jobs, didn’t vote for the ban.)

*    Why is the Obama administration willing to make policy that will cause its favorability rating to “plummet,” raise the price of energy, and disproportionately hurt the poor?

*   Why does America continue subsidies that emphasize activity rather than outcomes and continue to follow the failed energy policies of socialist Europe?

Your answers to these questions should scare you and bring another question to your mind: How do we stop this and save America?


The message of Britain's shale gas is: scrap the Climate Act

The news that we have such rich shale-gas reserves makes a further mockery of our energy policy

Who could doubt that the Almighty has a sense of humour when, on the very day headlines were filled with warnings that our electricity system is now in such a parlous state that we can soon expect power cuts and electricity “rationing”, we were also told that Britain is now sitting on what has been called “by far the biggest shale gas basin in the world”.

There may have been some journalistic licence in how the two reports from which these claims derived were written. Even so, the cautious predictions of the British Geological Survey confirmed that Britain has a potential shale-gas resource as significant as the oil and gas we found in the North Sea, and enough to meet all the UK’s energy needs for many decades to come.

The point about these two contrasting announcements is that they highlight more starkly than ever the barely credible shambles successive governments have made of our national energy policy, how ludicrously skewed it has become by their obsession with global warming and the delusion that, by cutting down our “carbon emissions”, we can somehow change the Earth’s climate.

The Government’s current policy, as I have repeatedly explored here, is twofold.

On one hand, it is based on building tens of thousands of useless and ludicrously expensive wind turbines, made possible only by forcing us to pay double or treble the normal cost of the pitiful amount of electricity they so unreliably produce. On the other, by taxes and regulations designed to make “renewables” seem competitive, they plan to double the cost of any power from other sources, whether fossil fuels or nuclear. In short, they want to make our electricity more expensive than anywhere else in the world.

Then, just as they have cobbled this crazy joke of a policy together, we discover that we are sitting on what is potentially the world’s largest resource of a fuel so cheap that it has halved the price of gas across the Atlantic in just five years.

The last time I observed that the Almighty must have a sense of humour was in October 2008 when, just as our MPs were voting almost unanimously for Ed Miliband’s Climate Change Act, committing us to economic suicide by cutting CO2 emissions by 80 per cent in 40 years, the first October snow was falling in London for 74 years.

We will not see an end to this insanity until our politicians recover their senses, struggle back into the real world and strike that Act from the statute book.


Dirty tricks of the the fracking deniers: How Green zealots peddle cynical propaganda to stop Britain mining £3trillion of shale gas...enough to keep the lights on for 141 YEARS

Green pressure group Friends of the Earth is preparing a bitter legal battle to try to block Britain’s trillion-pound shale gas bonanza.

It wants to prevent any exploitation of this vast new reserve of cheap, clean energy forever and is already fighting to stop all exploratory test drilling.

But an investigation by The Mail on Sunday suggests that the group’s campaign is based on alarmism, spreading highly misleading claims about shale gas’s supposed dangers.

Last week the organisation issued an ‘action guide’ for activists, advising them how to stop shale gas extraction – known as ‘fracking’ – by manipulating the planning system.

It leaves no doubt as to its purpose: ‘The ultimate aim of our fracking campaign is that we stop it!’

Disclosure of FoE’s plans comes in the wake of a British Geological Survey (BGS) report, which revealed that the UK’s reserves are truly staggering – potentially enough to reverse economic decline and to turn the country into a net exporter of energy, competing with states such as Qatar.

It estimates that around 1,329 trillion cubic ft of gas and oil are held within Northern England’s Bowland shale alone – just one of six such geological ‘basins’ in the UK.

Conservative assessments say about ten per cent of this should be commercially recoverable – worth, at current gas prices, £1 trillion, and enough to meet all the UK’s gas consumption needs for 47 years, based on current demand.

It is equivalent to Qatar’s entire gas production for 36 years, or one and half-times as much as all the gas extracted from the North Sea since 1970.

Last week, Chancellor George Osborne suggested communities where there was fracking should be given a levy of one per cent of revenues. On that basis, Bowland would be given a £10 billion boost.

But industry experts believe the eventual percentage recoverable is likely to be much higher – perhaps as much as 30 per cent – worth £3 trillion and enough to last 141 years.

In the US large-scale fracking since 2005 has caused energy prices to plummet, sparked economic recovery and cut greenhouse gas emissions to levels last seen in 1990. Fracking there usually recovers about 18 per cent of the gas the rock contains.

Chris Wright, chief executive of Liberty Resources, one of America’s biggest investors in shale gas and oil, said that in Britain, the shale beds are more than a mile thick, as opposed to a few hundred feet in the US.

Commenting on the first fracking test well drilled by the firm Cuadrilla two years ago, he said: ‘The data looked very encouraging’. He added that in the US, estimates of the size of reserves had been continually revised upwards once drilling began and technology improved.

Meanwhile Nigel Smith, co-author of the British Geological Survey’s report, told The Mail on Sunday that there is ‘a lot more gas’ offshore in the Irish and North Seas  – perhaps a further ten times as much.

He added some of this could be exploited without the need for offshore drilling platforms, by drilling horizontally from sites on land.

Later this year the geologists are  to publish their assessment of the Wessex basin, which runs from Kent to Dorset.  Further reserves are being investigated in Somerset, South Wales, Scotland and County Fermanagh.

However, FoE is determined to try to stop this energy revolution.  Helen Rimmer, its North West England staff campaigner, said: ‘It’s a  fossil fuel that we don’t need. It would be better to keep it in the ground.’  Instead, she said, Britain should invest only in renewables, such as wind turbines.

Underlying the FoE campaign is its obsession with global warming – despite a modern, gas-fuelled power plant emitting less than half the carbon dioxide of a coal plant.

‘We need to consider the climate impact,’ Ms Rimmer said. ‘We think fracking is incompatible with our  carbon targets. It’s completely the wrong direction for our energy.’

FoE’s principal weapons in its bid to stop fracking are challenging Cuadrilla and other firms through the planning process – even for short-term test drills – and via the Environment Agency which issues permits.

But report by Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering last year concluded that with deep fracking this risk is 'very low'.

FoE officials admit that these formal challenges are likely to be only the first stage in a tactic designed to stop any fracking until at least 2015: if the EA and councils do issue permissions to drill, they will face challenges in the courts through judicial review.  Jake White, from FoE’s legal department, said: ‘There could well be no further activity before the Election.’

He also admitted that although FoE was concerned about ‘local impacts’ such as the possible effect on bird life, its real concern was the climate.

However, some of the claims being made by FoE in its legal letters are extremely contentious, and may require expert witnesses and days of testimony in court.

For example, FoE says that earthquakes triggered by fracking may cause wells to leak, contaminating water supplies.

Yet two tremors that halted UK fracking two years ago were too small to cause damage, and were weaker than tremors commonly triggered by coal mining. In millions of US fracking operations, there has never been a powerful quake.

FoE says a EU directive demands that unless it can be proved beyond reasonable doubt there is no risk to groundwater and aquifers, permission must not be granted.

However, last year a report by the Royal  Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering said the risk of contamination was ‘very low’ when, as in Britain, fracking takes place deep below ground.

FoE’s claims about greenhouse gases are also misleading. It has repeatedly asserted that even though gas-fuelled electricity produces less carbon dioxide than coal, the overall greenhouse impact is greater, because methane escapes during fracking, and methane’s greenhouse impact is greater than carbon dioxide’s.
fracking graphic

Yet this rests on a single, hotly disputed study, which other scientists have criticised as ‘deeply flawed’.

Moreover, in the early days in America, flowback water, which may contain methane, was sometimes stored in open ponds, but UK rules forbid this, so greatly reducing the scope for gas emissions.

Ultimately, the FoE hopes the courts will rule that fracking was ‘inconsistent with climate policy’ – and so render it unlawful permanently.

But if fracking produces cheap power, it will mean that alternatives such as wind power will be increasingly expensive in comparison.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said: ‘The gas volumes in the survey are astounding: this is a natural bonanza which we must grasp.  ‘Rather than be persuaded by scare tactics, we need to look at  the facts.

‘Do we really want to deny the British public a clean, affordable, home-grown energy supply which could free us from dependency on unstable regimes and which would give a huge boost to our industry?’


Ryanair CEO blames notion of global warming on “environmental loonies”

“Mixed with his routine invective and only a single passing use of the f-word,” O’Leary’s comments appear at the end of a long article about “737s, acquisitions and taxes.”

“Michael O’Leary, the devil-may-care head of Ireland-based European budget airline Ryanair, made his first Air Show appearance in Paris this past week, and lived up to his reputation for colorful language and unmediated disrespect for government bureaucrats” says this story in the Seattle Times.

“O’Leary, arguably the most hard-nosed operator in the airline world…. offered nuggets of wisdom on the state of the airline world, mixed with his routine invective and only a single passing use of the f-word.

“On the European Union plan to introduce a carbo- emissions tax on airlines…. He began by deriding the notion of global warming, which he blamed on “environmental loonies” and “a bunch of incompetent European politicians taxing Europe’s consumers so that they can do something about climate change.”

“It would be better to address real issues such as European unemployment by promoting tourism, he said.

“Instead of trying to solve nonexistent issues like climate change, why don’t you actually get young people in Europe back to work?”




Preserving the graphics:  Graphics hotlinked to this site sometimes have only a short life and if I host graphics with blogspot, the graphics sometimes get shrunk down to illegibility.  From January 2011 on, therefore, I have posted a monthly copy of everything on this blog to a separate site where I can host text and graphics together -- which should make the graphics available even if they are no longer coming up on this site.  See  here and here


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