Thursday, November 13, 2014

As Obama Announces 'Ambitious' New CO2 Reduction Targets, China Agrees to Unspecified Cuts

Hot air.  He can have all the targets he likes but he won't be around long enough to do much about them. He can't control the future. Such targets are a matter for Congress anyway and they would only stick with bipartisan support -- which they won't get.  He is just blowing smoke

 President Obama in Beijing on Wednesday declared far-reaching new targets for reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and for the first time, China agreed  to cut its emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases blamed for climate change.

"This is an ambitious goal, but it is an achievable goal," Obama said. "It will double the pace at which we're reducing carbon pollution in the United States. It puts us on a path to achieving the deep emissions reductions by advanced economies that the scientific community says is necessary to prevent the most catastrophic effects of climate change."

Obama said the new goal was to reduce domestic emissions in the U.S. by 26-28 percent by 2025, compared with 2005 levels. By contrast, Obama at a climate conference in Copenhagen in late 2009 set a U.S. reduction goal of 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.

Chinese President Xi Jinping announced that his country would aim for its greenhouse gas emissions to peak by 2030, or earlier. Unlike Obama, he did not commit to a specific reduction percentage target.

China has also agreed to increase the proportion of energy it gets from non-fossil fuel sources – such as solar, wind and nuclear – to about 20 percent by 2030, according to the White House.

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called Obama’s targets unrealistic.

“Our economy can’t take the president’s ideological war on coal that will increase the squeeze on middle-class families and struggling miners,” he said in a statement. “Easing the burden already created by EPA regulations will continue to be a priority for me in the new Congress.”

Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been ardently promoting climate change cooperation between the world’s two biggest emitters, hailed the agreement as a “breakthrough.”

In a New York Times op-ed, Kerry called the new U.S. targets “both ambitious and feasible.”

“It roughly doubles the pace of carbon reductions in the period from 2020 to 2025 as compared to the period from 2005 to 2020,” he said, adding that it puts the U.S. on track to reduce emissions by some 80 percent by the middle of the century.

Kerry expressed hope that the U.S. and Chinese announcements would encourage other countries, ahead of climate negotiations resuming in Lima, Peru next month, and a major climate conference in Paris, France in a year’s time that aims to deliver a universal agreement on emission reduction for the post-2020 period.

“The commitment of both presidents to take ambitious action in our own countries, and work closely to remove obstacles on the road to Paris, sends an important signal that we must get this agreement done, that we can get it done, and that we will get it done.”

Climate activist and former Vice President Al Gore praised “President Obama’s commitment to reduce US emissions despite legislative obstruction,” and called the joint announcement “a major step forward in the global effort to solve the climate crisis.”

“Much more will be required – including a global agreement from all nations – but these actions demonstrate a serious commitment by the top two global polluters,” Gore said in a statement.


A frustrated Al Gore

Sen.-Elect Capito Vows 'Extremely Aggressive' Fight Against EPA Regs

Sen.-elect Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) pledged on “Fox News Sunday” to be “extremely aggressive” in trying to rollback some regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Extremely aggressive,” she said when asked how aggressive she would be in the Senate in trying to rollback some of the EPA regulations. “That is my promise to West Virginia. We have lost over the last two years, 5,000 jobs. Those are just coal jobs.

“We had several thousand other miners who are what are called a warn notice, meaning they're potentially going to be losing their jobs. That doesn't even count the transportation job, the electricians, the tire distributors, all the other jobs that go with coal mining,” Capito said. “Coal is our base load fuel.”

Capito, currently a U.S. congresswoman, became the first woman elected as West Virginia senator in last week’s midterm election.

She said President Barack Obama’s policies are “disenfranchising” her part of the country.  “We've been picked as a loser. I'm not going to stand for it. Rolling back the EPA regulations is the way to do it,” she said.

Capito said it would be “really smart” for the president to back down on the Keystone pipeline.

“I think he'd be really smart to do it when he sees a margin in the Senate of over probably 65 votes. I would hope so. I mean, if we're looking at jobs, if we're looking at infrastructure, we've got an energy growth in our country that we really need to capitalize on,” she said.


Brainless EPA Puts Inert Argon on List of Banned Pesticide Ingredients

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed taking 72 hazardous chemicals off of its approved list of inert ingredients allowed for use in pesticides.

But the inclusion of argon (AR) - a naturally occurring element and the third most abundant gas in the Earth’s atmosphere - has left some people scratching their heads.

According to the Gas Encyclopedia, “the name argon comes from the Greek argos, meaning ‘the lazy one’” because it is so chemically stable. The element, which was discovered in 1894, is “so unreactive” that it is primarily used to provide “an inert atmosphere in which hot metals can be worked.”

This “noble gas” is also used in auto air bags, fluorescent light bulbs, as insulation in double-glazed windows, and for growing semiconductor crystals.

In a May 22 letter to California Attorney General Kamala Harris and representatives of two environmental groups denying petitions they “submitted in 2006 identifying 371 pesticide inert ingredients as hazardous,” EPA Assistant Administrator James Jones assured them that “the agency would take appropriate action to address risks from pesticide inert ingredients.”

EPA whittled their original list down to 72 inert ingredients, including turpentine oil and nitrous oxide, because none of them are currently being used in any registered pesticides, according to the EPA.

“Once an inert ingredient is removed from the list, any proposed future use of the inert ingredient would need to be supported by data provided to and reviewed by the EPA as part of a new inert ingredient submission request,” the agency noted.

But because people breathe argon and its atoms “do not combine with one another, nor have they been observed to combine chemically with atoms of any other element,” a number of public comments posted on EPA’s website expressed incredulity that argon is on any hazardous list in the first place:

“I'm a professor of chemistry at the University of Nebraska. Removal of argon, the quintessential common inert gas, from the approved inert ingredients list, is likely to result in ridicule for the EPA. Government science agencies have a poor enough reputation already. Please don't make it worse!”

“You should withdraw this entire proposal, and tell the activists that you will consider their petition to be a sham and a mockery of science, based on their inclusion of argon on the list.”

“I was absolutely dumbfounded to see Argon (#48) on this list. Considering that this noble gas is TOTALLY INERT and no compounds that can be created with this element (only by using extraordinary effort in a lab environment) can survive at room temperature, why on earth would it even be on a list of banned substances?!! I think someone at the EPA must have previously consumed too much of some banned substance -- as this makes absolutely no sense!”

“The ridiculous inclusion of Argon, a noble gas and the fourth largest component of Earth's atmosphere behind Nitrogen, Oxygen and water, on this list, casts tremendous doubt on the knowledge and expertise of the list's creators. It provides reason to genuinely doubt the inclusion of any of the other 71 ingredients on the list as well.”

“The burden of proof lies on those who want ingredients removed. Ingredients should be removed only if there is substantial evidence of their causing harm (certainly not the case with Argon, which we all breathe in great quantities each and every day). To remove ingredients first and require proof of non-harm (a null hypothesis situation) in the future directly opposes the scientific process upon which all of our knowledge of the world is built.”

“Banning Argon? It's an inert gas. Think about it. This is beyond human comprehension. What idiotic environmentalist came up with this idea? Aren't you embarrassed?”

“Argon? C’mon, who's checking this stuff before you publish it?” did not receive a reply to its request that an EPA spokeswoman explain why it is proposing to ban argon from its list of approved pesticide ingredients.

The agency will be accepting public comments on the proposed action until Nov. 21.


UK: Fracking ‘will transform the North’: Minister reveals Government plans for 'sovereign wealth fund' which will hold revenues from shale gas in certain parts of the country

Fracking for shale gas could prompt a gold rush that will turn northern towns like Blackpool into British equivalents of oil-rich communities in the Middle East, a Cabinet minister has claimed.

Business and energy minister Matthew Hancock revealed that the Government is preparing to announce plans for a ‘sovereign wealth fund’ to hold the revenues from fracking for the north of England.

Such state-owned funds have been set up in the Middle East and Norway to generate huge sums from the proceeds of oil and gas exploration.

They invest in assets such as stocks, property, infrastructure and precious metals, with proceeds able to fund public spending. Chancellor George Osborne is expected to unveil details of a fund in his autumn statement next month.

Mr Hancock will also today announce the creation of a new National College for Onshore Oil and Gas, based in Blackpool with offshoots in Chester, Portsmouth, Redcar and Strathclyde.

It will train school leavers and graduates in fracking technology, enabling them to win lucrative jobs in the industry.

Ministers believe fracking could herald an energy revolution that will boost the economy, make Britain more self-sufficient and bring down sky-high bills from greedy energy firms. The Treasury has offered generous tax breaks to kickstart the technology.

Scientists say the UK is potentially sitting on shale deposits filled with enough gas to supply the whole country for at least 40 years – a discovery that could see a repeat of the North Sea oil boom.

Shale gas development has taken off in the US, using the controversial process of fracking, or hydraulic fracturing. Gas deposits trapped underground are extracted by fracturing shale rock with blasts of water, sand and chemicals.

Opponents warn that the technology risks causing small earthquakes, polluting water supplies, blighting the countryside and affecting house prices.

Possible sites for the extraction of shale gas have been identified across the north of England, from Morecambe Bay and Cheshire across to North Lincolnshire and Humberside. The Weald Basin and the central belt of Scotland also harbour potentially valuable deposits, experts say.

Mr Hancock told the Daily Mail: ‘Fifty years ago there was a debate about whether we get oil out from under the North Sea. Our country would have been much poorer if we had chosen not to do so.

‘Now we need to extract the gas that’s deep beneath the ground to improve our energy security and provide jobs and prosperity.

‘Aberdeen has become a global hub for offshore oil and gas expertise. We want Blackpool to become the hub for expertise in onshore oil and gas.

‘We have to make sure that when the revenues flow, we make best use of them. As well as money going directly to local communities and landowners, we are also working on a sovereign wealth fund to make sure the revenues are well spent on behalf of the nation.

‘Lots of different countries have these funds. Norway is the best example and the Shetland Islands also have a fund using some of the oil revenues that they keep.

‘When we extract shale gas, there is the potential for very large returns and we have to ensure they are spent wisely. A sovereign wealth fund would make sure the money is spent for the long-term.

‘There is a very good case for it to focus on where the shale flows from, which would make at least part of it a northern fund.’

Mr Hancock said it was estimated that at least £3.5 billion a year in net benefits could flow from shale extraction.

‘One shale pad has the potential to generate between £5 million and £10 million-worth of gas over its lifetime, which is a transformative amount in a local community.

‘The truth is, nobody knows exactly how much is down there or how much we can get out. The way to find out is to get on with it.’

As well as the economic benefits, Mr Hancock suggested it was important to reduce Britain’s dependence on foreign gas.

‘In terms of our energy security, we import eight per cent of our gas from Qatar. We import a small amount from Russia. Domestic gas is a much more secure supply,’ he said.

‘It has been extracted from the North Sea for 50 years, but that’s on a downward trend.’

Despite Mr Hancock’s enthusiasm for the technology, some of the Government’s own energy advisers suggested yesterday that ministers may have overstated the potential of fracking to transform the British economy.

Criticising politicians’ ‘premature’ claims, scientists from the UK Energy Research Centre said the need for gas is falling - not growing - and shale can only have a limited role in Britain.

Professor Jim Watson, research director of UKERC and an advisor to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), dismissed suggestions of a rapid economic revolution.

‘I think where the Government has gone wrong is talking this whole thing up, in the early days when it first came on the agenda, as if it was going to reduce consumer bills and tackle energy security problems in a substantial way any time soon,’ he said.

Dr Christophe McGlade of University College London, an author of a new report on fracking, said: ‘There’s no evidence there will be a huge boom in the UK: absolutely explore, but stop banking on it being plentiful and cheap.’


There is NO optimal population

A sophisticated  argument from economics below  --  too erudite for the simple Mathusians of the Green/Left

Tyler Cowen has a column in the New York Times that discusses the issue of population. I mostly agree with his policy recommendations, but what interests me is the underlying assumptions. What is the optimal global population? What is the optimal population for each country? How should global population be distributed?

Tyler notes that global population will increase sharply over the next century, with almost all of the growth occurring in relatively underdeveloped Africa and South Asia. In contrast, population will actually decline in some countries, and indeed is already doing so in Japan. So why should we care?

"It's an area that will prove central to understanding whether nations will grow richer -- or will stagnate and lose global importance."

This begs the question of what we mean by "richer" and "stagnate" and "global importance." Later Tyler notes that many economists have steered clear of the difficult problem of population:

Many economists are uncomfortable with population issues, perhaps because they aren't covered in depth in the standard graduate curriculum, or because they touch on topics that may be culturally controversial or even politically incorrect. That's unfortunate.

"In the future, population economics -- and associated social issues -- are likely to be at front and center of our most important policy concerns."

This is probably correct, but leaves out one additional problem---we don't have a good model. In my area (monetary economics) I take population as a given, and look for policies that will maximize aggregate utility, or utility per capita. If we take population as a given then those two goals are identical. Not all economists are utilitarian, but most use utilitarian assumptions in their analysis.

Even if population is assumed fixed, utilitarianism raises all sorts of thorny problems. For instance, can we really make interpersonal comparisons? But if we allow population to be endogenous then the problems multiply exponentially. Perhaps the biggest problem is determining our objective function; what are we trying to maximize? (And of course, who is "we?") Is it total aggregate utility? Is it utility per capita? Those two objectives might lead to radically different policy conclusions.

For the sake of argument, let's assume that utility is positive, on average. Even this seems like a leap of faith to me; I can't even imagine how we could reach that conclusion scientifically. You'd expect the forces of evolution to program us with strong survival instincts even if most people "lead lives of quiet desperation." Nonetheless, it seems completely unproductive to make any assumption other than that most people are net positive in utility.

The much tougher problem is whether to focus on average utility, total utility, or some third category (which seems implied in Tyler's essay.) If average utility is the right criterion, the optimal global population might be quite small. Or it might not, we simply don't know. I've lived in both Australia (1991) and England (1986), which are near the extremes of population density for the developed world (England is far more densely populated than metro Atlanta, and Australia has 1/10th the US population in an area almost as large as the continental US.) It seemed to me that living standards were considerably higher in Australia, mostly because it was much less crowded. But that's obviously highly subjective; Australia lacks a city as sophisticated as London.

On the other hand if total utility is the right criterion, and if people in even poor countries are often surprisingly happy (as many surveys suggest), then the optimal population might be extremely large. Bryan Caplan has made a similar argument from a non-utilitarian perspective, as do religions like Christianity.

There are probably intermediate criteria that put some weight on both average utility and maximizing the number of geniuses (and hence culture and science,). Here I have something in mind that might view Germany as in some sense more successful than both Luxembourg and India, despite having a smaller total GDP than India and a smaller GDP per person than Luxembourg.

In any case, it seems clear to me that one reason that economists steer clear of the population question is that they don't have any confidence in any particular "model."

I also have a few observations about Japan's falling population, which is something that Tyler views as being worrisome. I'm also a bit pessimistic about Japan, but it's worth noting that it's really hard to make an objective argument that falling population is a problem, in and of itself. Consider a few possible scenarios:

1. Suppose Japan's population kept falling until it reached about half its current level of 125 million. It would still have almost as many people as Britain and France do today. Would that sort of population reduction significantly impact its ability to influence world events? A little bit, but It's hard for me to imagine that Japan's ability in the long run to hold onto the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, for instance, will hinge on that sort of change in population. China's already 11 times more populous, and has nukes. Either China will get he islands or it won't--I doubt Japanese population will play much of a role. And are those tiny uninhabited islets actually very important--for reasons other than national pride?

2. Now let's suppose that after Japan's population falls in half, real estate becomes so inexpensive that the Japanese start living in Dallas-style McMansions and having 2.1 kids per family. So the population levels off and the Japanese islands are less crowded. Is that population "wrong"? It's hard to say. Also suppose New Zealand's population grows from 4 million to 40 million, at which point they call a halt to immigration and level off. New Zealand would still have fewer people than Japan. What should we focus on, levels or changes? Which country would have the "better" population policy? It's a historical accident that these two highly fertile Pacific islands have such vastly different populations. Why should we regard either country's current population as being even close to "optimal?"

3. Is aging really a problem? Aging is generally associated with better health. Suppose we made the retirement age for public pensions equal to life expectancy minus 25% of the gap between life expectancy and age 20. In other words, if life expectancy was 80, people would retire at 80 - 0.25(80-20), which equals 65. If life expectancy rose to 100, the retirement age would rise to 80. An aging population by itself does not create any special challenges for fiscal policy, unless we allow it to. I.e. unless we arbitrarily keep reducing the share of adult years that people are required to work before getting a public pension. On the other hand aging combined with a low birth rate, as in Japan, does put a temporary burden on the public sector, until Japan's population levels off. But it's a transitional problem, not a long run problem.

To summarize, I remain an extreme agnostic on all population questions. I have no idea what the optimal population is for planet Earth. If there is a "true" answer to that question, it might well be 20 billion, or 2 billion, or zero. And how much weight should we put on animal welfare? Given all that uncertainty, I'll keep working to improve living standards for the people who are actually here, by advocating non-destructive monetary policies such as NGDPLT. I'll let much smarter people like Bryan and Tyler wrestle with the big questions.

PS. You might think my real estate price argument is implausible, as Japan would still be much more densely populated than places like Australia. But Australia has strict zoning laws, and hence I'd guess that in 50 years houses in Sydney will cost much more than in Osaka.



For more postings from me, see  DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC and AUSTRALIAN POLITICS. Home Pages are   here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  

Preserving the graphics:  Most graphics on this site are hotlinked from elsewhere.  But hotlinked graphics sometimes have only a short life -- as little as a week in some cases.  After that they no longer come up.  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 or here


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