Friday, December 26, 2014
Legal Opinion That ‘EPA’s Clean Power Plan Is Unconstitutional’ Means More Than You Think
It’s a dead certainty that the Left will denounce Harvard constitutional law professor Lawrence Tribe for accepting a retainer from coal giant Peabody Energy to write an analysis concluding that “the EPA acts as though it has the legislative authority to re-engineer the nation’s electric generating system and power grid. It does not.”
It’s more certain that Tribe had concluded that before Peabody came knocking at his door with buckets of money. It’s even more certain that the EPA was not the primary target of Tribe’s wrath, but that it was aimed directly at his 1989 research assistant at Harvard Law School, Barack Obama.
That won’t make sense unless you know the back-story, and only a handful do. Among the hundreds of in-depth profiles I’ve done to expose the Left, Laurence Tribe is my favorite, but one I decided not to make public. And then Heartland Institute’s Joe Bast told me aboutTribe’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. It’s time.
Barack Obama got into Harvard Law School mostly because he was a “legacy,” the offspring of an alumnus: his father Barack Obama Sr., earned a master’s degree in economics from Harvard University. Harvard accepts 40 percent of all legacies that apply, but only 11 percent of all applicants.
In the spring of his first year at law school, Obama stopped by the office of Professor Laurence Tribe – recognized as the nation’s foremost liberal constitutional law scholar – about becoming a research assistant. Tribe rarely hired first-year students. An L1 – first year law student – doesn’t get a constitutional law class. But Tribe recalls “being struck by Obama’s unusual combination of intelligence, curiosity and maturity.”
He was so impressed in fact, that he hired Obama on the spot – and wrote his name and phone number on his calendar that day – March 31, 1989 – “for posterity.” (And no, he didn’t really know that posterity might be interested.)
Laurence Henry Tribe is not easily impressed. He literally wrote the book on constitutional law: he’s the author of American Constitutional Law, the most frequently cited treatise in that field, has argued before the U.S. Supreme Court at least 34 times, and is noted for his extensive support of liberal legal causes including environmental law.
Obama must have impressed Tribe with something more than his weird history of being born in Hawaii with an African father, his childhood in Jakarta with an Indonesian stepfather, and being raised by white grandparents who sent him to elite Punahou prep school in Honolulu and helped him through Occidental and Columbia universities.
Tribe had his own weird history. He was born in Shanghai, China, to Jewish immigrants from Europe. His father was Polish and had lived in the United States when very young, long enough to become a naturalized citizen in his early 20’s. Tribe’s mother was Russian, and considerably younger than his father. They met and married in her hometown in Soviet Russia in 1940.
Then Stalin’s massive 1941 deportation of ethnic groups including Jews forced them to Shanghai – luckily avoiding Siberia – where Laurance was born in October, just before Pearl Harbor and the Japanese occupation of Shanghai. The father, who was proud of being an American, irritated the Japanese, who put him in a concentration camp as a noncombatant enemy alien, leaving his infant son trapped in Shanghai’s French Quarter with his mother, stateless persons.
Young Laurance and mother were allowed only two visits with the father during all of World War II. After Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Tribe’s father was released and reunited with his wife and child. As an American citizen, the father obtained transport to San Francisco. The three Tribes left Shanghai in March, 1947 on the steamship SS General Gordon.
Laurance spoke only Russian when he arrived in America a little before turning six – back in Shanghai, he had been a bratty kid who refused to learn English in kindergarten – but once in San Francisco, he refused to speak Russian any more, and quickly learned English. He later went to Abraham Lincoln High School in San Francisco, became a naturalized United States citizen, graduated from Harvard College (1962, mathematics, summa cum laude), and earned his J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1966, magna cum laude, then worked for a while at the National Academy of Sciences, and finally became an assistant professor at Harvard Law School (1968), receiving tenure in 1972.
That beats Obama for weird by light years. And it proves anybody can become one of America’s preeminent constitutional legal scholars.
Tribe hired Obama for exactly the reasons he said: intelligence, curiosity, and maturity; because this icon of left-wing legal theories was preparing to write a fantastic paper that would require a diligent, observant, and daring researcher open to serendipity, the happy quality of finding more than you were looking for. Tribe was about to go out on a limb and wanted researchers who would go with him.
The paper would be titled The Curvature of Constitutional Space: What Lawyers Can Learn From Modern Physics – which is the zaniest title you’ll find anywhere in the pages of the Harvard Law Review. It would argue that strict constructionist interpretations of the U.S. Constitution were obsolete, being based on the rigid old Newtonian world-view, and needed to be replaced by more modern relativistic notions of curved space and quantum physics concepts of indeterminacy, which would release judges from the original intent of the Founders.
The paper compared Einstein’s theory that space is curved by large masses (such as the sun) to Tribe’s theory that courts shape the cultural “space” of institutions with “massive” rulings (such as segregation). The point was that major court rulings build social institutions, change perceptions of morality, and unjustly displace some people in the process, just as the sun makes starlight curve around its mass and displaces it from what Newtonian physics expected. Therefore, old wrongs done by courts, government, and the Constitution itself – such as allowing slavery – should be repaired by new broad constructionist interpretations of the U.S. Constitution.
The paper also emphasized quantum theory’s discovery that the process of studying an object changes its behavior in unpredictable ways, and compared that to a court reaching into society with powerful rulings and creating unpredictable consequences – like post-Civil War Jim Crow laws that led to a century of black struggle for civil rights, replete with murders, riots, revolutionary movements, bombings, and assassinations. These, Tribe asserted, should be repaired by broad constructionist interpretations of the U.S. Constitution.
When the article appeared in the November 1989 Harvard Law Review, Tribe’s mix of his mathematical expertise with his legal intellect was recognized by the cognoscenti as not so far-fetched as it seemed, but cleverly breathing new life into old liberal arguments – and it did: nearly 200 law reviews and periodicals subsequently cited the article, and four courts have cited it.
In Tribe’s acknowledgments stood the name of Barack Obama for “analytic and research assistance.” It guaranteed that Obama would graduate magna cum laude and got him selected in his first year at law school as an editor of the prestigious Harvard Law Review, of which he later became president.
The politically immature Obama learned more about the Constitution by helping Tribe research this sprawling 39-page, densely argued treatise – with its references to Supreme Court cases, court influences on society, the role of cultural anthropology, and the findings of physicists Stephen Hawking and Werner Heisenberg – than he would learn in his actual constitutional law class the next year.
He got to watch the mind of a brilliant left-wing legal icon at the height of his powers construct a sophisticated constitutional frame of reference that could be applied to government and achieve a Leftist revolution in the real world by legal means. The problem was that, when Obama gained the power to apply this knowledge, he didn’t use it to curve constitutional space, but to destroy the document in the fire of his dictatorial power lust. That, I assert, is something Laurence Tribe could not allow.
I cannot see Tribe’s reproachful headline as saying anything but this: “President Barack Obama, my prized student, acts now as though he has the legislative authority to re-engineer the nation’s electric generating system and power grid. He does not. Obama’s stolen authority – all of it – is unconstitutional.”
Perhaps I take Professor Tribe’s meaning too far. Perhaps he will enlighten us about my presumptions. But until and unless he does, I stand by my story.
Poor deluded Warmist is afraid to get on an aircraft
The more cynical Warmists will be laughing up their sleeves at her -- as they fly hither and yon in aircraft as often as they like
Humans are causing climate change. Contrary to what some politicians head-scratchingly argue, this is a matter of fact. And the onus of putting the brakes on what has become a runaway train of carbon emissions lies squarely on governments and major corporations. But the single biggest change that I can make, as just one individual human, is to cut down on the amount of times I get on a plane. Upon realizing that, the extent to which all the people I love are scattered across the country has never been more apparent.
All the while I was growing up in Pittsburgh, the narrative of what it meant to be successful always seemed to include going far away. Leave the state for college (I did). Travel internationally (I did). Find a job in a bigger, more “exciting” city (I did – twice). “Maybe don’t put 2-3 time zones in between you and the people you love” was never really a part of that. When my best friends and I were in middle school and high school, we would talk about how excited we were to grow up and live far away from home. Now, we talk about how we can’t wait to live somewhere where we can walk to see each other instead of boarding a 747.
It is very, very strange to be in a position now — and I don’t think I’m alone — where I find myself weighing seeing the people I love against my own complicity in the global climate crisis. I don’t know if this particular point of tension has ever existed before in our cultural consciousness: Never before has our economy been so effortlessly globalized that jobs pull people back and forth across countries and oceans, and never before have we had so much evidence that the systems and habits we’ve created to actually live in that economy are quite literally destroying the planet.
I chose not to go home for the holidays. How absurd and hypocritical would it be of me, I thought, to spend so much time writing about saving the climate and making green choices and then take two cross-country flights to the same place in one month? Especially, while we’re playing the real talk game, after flying to Bali this summer for a summit on climate change?
Instead, after staring at a blank Word document literally all day long, I am writing this at my dining room table at 11:30 p.m. on December 23 in an empty house as it pours rain outside, because this is Seattle. In the time that I should have spent writing this, I’ve talked with my dad, my mom, my sister, my brother, and my ex-boyfriend over a litany of forms of long-distance communication.
Am I pleased with my decision to remove one flight from some arbitrary yearly allotment? Do I feel that this gesture to reduce my carbon footprint for 2014 was worth it? What do you think?
In one of the half-dozen conversations I had tonight with people I very much wish I were seeing face-to-face, I said, half-jokingly, to my dad, “Being an adult is hard.”
“Yes, honey,” he agreed, emphatically. “It really just means doing a lot of things that you don’t want to do!”
I suppose that responsibility and happiness have always, throughout human history, tended to be at odds with each other — but god damn, it sucks when that hits home. Or, as the case may be, keeps you from getting home when you most want to be there.
Rooftop Solar Panels Facing the Wrong Way
“Oops. I think we put those solar panels on the wrong way.”
That isn’t something most Americans want to hear when their friendly neighborhood solar technician climbs down the ladder after installing a rooftop solar system that may take twenty or thirty years to pay-off. But it turns out that most rooftop solar systems may be “on the wrong way,” even if they’ve been perfectly and professionally installed, if they face south rather than west, which an estimated nine out of ten do.
The recent rush to pave-over every American rooftop with solar panels has one major flaw, according to emerging new thinking in the field. Most of these systems face south, when pointing them west makes much more sense. It’s a case of misdirection, literally, that’s all too typical of the fly-by-night way this industry is evolving.
South-facing panels may generate more electricity throughout the day (assuming the sun’s shining), but demand for any surplus power they generate also slumps during those midday hours, since many of us are off at work, at school, or just aren’t using as much juice as we do in the morning and evening.
Typical residential energy use surges in the morning, when we all get up, but levels out or dips in the midday hours when a lot of Americans aren’t home. Another upward surge comes later in the day, usually around 5:00 pm, when the sun is heading for the Western horizon. That’s the time of day when people return home, make dinner, turn-on lights, use their devices and appliances, etc.
It’s during this late afternoon surge in use and demand that the grid needs all the extra electrons it can get. Problem is, south-facing panels at that time of day can do the hungry grid little good, since a setting sun isn’t packing the punch it did earlier in the day, when those extra electrons weren’t as needed or helpful.
Here’s the takeaway: Most residential solar panels are producing surplus power at times when that power is least useful to customers or the grid.
There’s a major misalignment between residential solar energy producers and the grid into which they feed surplus power, due to a lack of foresight and an all-too-typical indifference to how the grid actually works. If rooftop solar is generating too much surplus power when it isn’t needed, but too little surplus power when it is, aren’t we greatly undermining the point of the exercise?
It’s clear that homeowners would be doing themselves and the grid much more good by pointing panels west, rather than south. But only 9 percent of today’s rooftop arrays face west, while 91 percent face south. South isn’t necessarily the wrong direction; but it isn’t really the best direction to face panels if we want to get the most bang for our solar power buck.
This disconnect isn’t just a problem for the grid. It’s also potentially hurting residential solar users, depending on the contracts they have with their solar system providers and utility companies. If these folks had west-facing panels (which most don’t) and a plan that pays them a fluctuating, demand-based rate for their surplus power (which most don’t), they could be selling their late-day power at higher prices, since that’s when demand is up. Unfortunately for many, however, they’re stuck with flat rate plans that are completely disconnected from market or grid dynamics.
Some residential solar users probably couldn’t care less about such technicalities. As long as the meter is running backward at some point in the day, they’re happy campers. They just want to make themselves feel better about their energy choices and maybe “save the planet” along the way. And why would companies rushing to cash-in on the solar craze care? They just want to sell equipment and sign-up people for lucrative long-term contracts and loans.
But the rest of us should care about it, since we’re often subsidizing the solar fad with diverted tax or ratepayer dollars, on the premise that this is doing something significant to alter the energy landscape. If solar power is delivering less bang for the buck than promised, as this situation suggests, the rest of us are getting ripped-off and taken for a ride.
Ross Gelbspan: Up to His Old Tricks, Spreading Myths About Global Warming Skeptics
Ross Gelbspan is not a name most readers know. You should. Gelbspan is the grandfather of the media hysteria over man-caused, catastrophic global warming. He’s most famous for falsely ascribing all skepticism of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) to a conspiracy hatched by the fossil fuel industry.
What’s that you say? All skeptics really are in the employ of fossil fuel companies to defeat Al Gore and increase their profits? While that narrative may sound familiar, that narrative is false. There’s no money in skepticism, but a lot of grants and prestige in perpetuating AGW alarmism. (Watch this vid for an explanation of this truth.)
If you really want to rake in the dough, you hook up with Big Green and come up with an “alternative energy” scheme into which politicians will throw billions of your money. Even after all the waste, there are still millions left over for your crony-capitalist plutocrat buddies to line their pockets with … just before the inevitable collapse. Russell Cook outlines the truth about this dynamic — or, more to the point, debunks the reverse — at his site, The Gelbspan Files. Start with “Who is Ross Gelbspan,” and work through the site from there.
Gelbspan this week posted on his Facebook page a slur against the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC). The Heartland Institute has published — count ‘em — one, two, three, four, five (and soon to be six) volumes of the panel’s work. These volumes amount to thousands of pages that cite the scientific peer-reviewed literature, standing as a check on the politicized and alarmist reports of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Read the work linked above, or just browse around at the NIPCC site, and you will recognize Gelbspan’s Facebook post for the uninterested-in-actual-science hackery it is:
"The “NIPCC” — an arm of the Koch-funded Heartland Institute, declared climate change has proved to be “nothing but a lie”, a British tabloid reports. The “NIPCC” is a creation of longtime skeptic Fred Singer who, in 2001, declared he had not received any oil industry funding for 20 years. We then published the fact that in 1998, Singer received $75,000 in funding from ExxonMobil. (The grant was listed on ExxonMobil’s website). So much for the “NIPCC”."
Russell Cook takes down a lot of this below, but first: (1) Heartland is as “Koch-funded” as Gelbspan is funded by anyone who picked up his lunch tab after a discussion about health care three years ago; and (2) he’s relying on a “British tabloid” for his good information? Egads!
As Cook related about Gelbspan’s screed in an email to Heartland this week:
"Ross Gelbspan – the epicenter of the smear of skeptic climate scientists, from which Oreskes gets her material – said the following about Dr Singer this morning on his Facebook page:
The “NIPCC” — an arm of the Koch-funded Heartland Institute, declared climate change has proved to be “nothing but a lie”, a British tabloid reports. The “NIPCC” is a creation of longtime skeptic Fred Singer who, in 2001, declared he had not received any oil industry funding for 20 years. We then published the fact that in 1998, Singer received $75,000 in funding from ExxonMobil. (The grant was listed on ExxonMobil’s website). So much for the “NIPCC”.
[Heartland Institute President] Joe Bast can tell you all exactly how much funding the Kochs do of Heartland. The $75,000 figure that Gelbspan refers to consists of the long-ago $10,000 strings-free Exxon grant that Exxon gave to SEPP which Dr Singer fully disclosed at his site in the 1990s, and the extra $65,000 is actually an item having nothing to do directly with Exxon, but is instead a reference to a donation to the Atlas Economic Research Foundation — which Gelbspan at least describes a bit more accurately in his HeatIsOnline link, identically seen in the 4th paragraph of his 2001 The Nation article.
Atlas itself donated office space to SEPP, a fact I had confirmed to me by Atlas’ Brad Lips in a 2011 email inquiry about that matter. For Gelbspan to call that the whole amount a direct donation from Exxon is, at the very least, disingenuous misinformation. The question is, did he say what he said today on Facebook with malicious intent knowing it was wrong, or did he give himself an ‘out’ by linking to his old article where he splits the dollar figure?
Russell Cook, unlike Gelbspan and the MSM, actually researches such things. The truth is out there, but Gelbspan and the MSM are obviously not interested in the truth. They have an agenda, and that agenda rules all their actions.
Fracking is Fundamental
by Alan Caruba
“It is a sad day when a state chooses to listen to the fear, uncertainty, and doubts spread by anti-fossil fuel agitators rather than making a decision for economic strength that would benefit schools, communities, and many of its poorest citizens—especially when the vilified technology, hydraulic fracturing, has been used safely and successfully for more than 60 years and has brought prosperity to other formerly struggling regions.” -- Marita Noon -- Executive Director, Citizens Alliance for Responsible Energy & Policy Advisor, The Heartland Institute
Responding to the announcement by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo that the state would ban fracking, Ms. Noon joined others, bringing their expertise to bear on a topic that remains a concern only because environmentalist enemies of energy in America continue to lie about it every chance they get.
In his book, “The Fracking Truth–America’s Energy Revolution: The Inside, Untold Story”. Chris Faulkner wrote “Furthermore, it’s been commonplace for decades. Worldwide, it’s estimated that more than 2.5 million wells have been fracked and the U.S. accounted for about half of those. Today, about 35,000 wells are fracked each year in all types of wells. And it’s impact on industry? It’s been estimated that 80% of production from unconventional sources such as shales would not be feasible without it.”
The Governor’s decision has everything to do with wooing the support of environmentalists in New York and nothing to do with the jobs and billions in tax revenue that fracking would have represented.
New York’s acting health commissioner, Howard Zucker, justified the decision saying that “cumulative concerns” about fracking “give me reason to pause.” Are we truly expected to believe that five years of study since the initial 2009 memorandum about fracking any provided reason to ban it? If the use of fracking technology dates back to 1947 without a single incident of pollution traced to it, what would it take to create “cumulative concerns” except ignorance or prejudice against the facts?
Even the Environmental Protection Agency has never found evidence of the chemicals used in fracking entering the nation’s groundwater. Moreover, fracking fluid is 99.5% water and sand. The rest is a mixture of chemicals similar to household products that could be found under the kitchen sink.
As Dr. Jay Lehr, Science Director of The Heartland Institute, a free market think tank, points out, “Today we only fracture wells that are drilled horizontally and that requires 1,500 feet of vertical depth for the well” and thus “all such wells are way below local water wells.”
How idiotic, then, is it to seal off some twelve million acres of the Marcellus Shale, an underground rock formation with natural gas reserves that have helped create energy production booms in North Dakota, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Colorado, and Ohio?
A December 19 Wall Street Journal editorial noted that just across New York’s border with neighboring Pennsylvania, “A 2011 Manhattan Institute study estimated that each Marcellus Shale well in Pennsylvania generates $5 million in economic benefits and $2 million in tax revenue.” Companies there have generated more than $2.1 billion in state and local taxes since the fracking boom began. As one observer noted, “The ban ignores New York’s “6% unemployment rate, a depressed upstate region, and the fourth highest electricity prices in the nation.”
I don’t know how long it will take for the vast majority of the U.S. population to conclude that everything the environmentalists and their propagandists in the nation’s schools and media have to say about energy is as vast a hoax as the now discredited “global warming”, since renamed “climate change.”
Energy is the master resource, the lifeblood of ours and the world’s economy, the basis for electricity, for the ability to travel vast distances, for machines that enable vast harvests of crops by barely 2% of the U.S. population, to power all manufacturing, and to heat or cool our living and workplaces.
Fracking is yet another technological miracle and, of course, the environmentalists oppose it.
Hot Stuff, Cold Logic
Economist RICHARD TOL assumes that global warming is happening but then shows how irrational is Warmist policy still
Politically correct climate change orthodoxy has completely destroyed our ability to think rationally about the environment.
Climate change is sometimes called humanity’s biggest problem. Ban Ki-moon, Christine Lagarde, and John Kerry have all said as much recently. The mainstream Western media often discuss climate change in catastrophic, or even apocalyptic, terms. Indeed, if you take newspaper headlines seriously, the Fifth Assessment Report of Working Group II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change came accompanied by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse; predictions of famine, pestilence, war, and death proliferated hither and yon. Conversely, when, on November 11, 2014, the United States and China inked an agreement on climate whose actual consequences are at best liable to be indistinct, banner headlines broke out, as though messianic times were nigh.
Assuming it falls somewhat short of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, how serious will the impact of climate change be really? How much do we know about these impacts? What are the implications for policy?
It’s helpful to recall here that climate change means a lot more than just different temperatures. It means more or less rain, snow, wind, and clouds in various places. It means different outcomes for plants, whether direct or, since plants compete for resources, indirect. It means changes for the animals that eat those plants. And this includes changes for everything that hitches a ride on those plants and animals, and hence changes for all sorts of pathogens. Nature, agriculture, forestry, and health will all be different in the future. The seas will rise as water expands and glacial ice melts, affecting coastlines and everyone and everything that resides there. Water supplies will be affected by changing rainfall patterns, but water demand will also be altered by changing temperatures. Energy demands will change, too; there may be less need to heat houses in winter and perhaps greater need to cool them in summer. Traffic, transport, building, recreation, and tourism, too, will all feel the impact of a changing climate.
For some, the mere fact of these impacts is reason enough for governments, businesses, and individuals to exert themselves to reduce greenhouse gases to minimize the change. That is strange logic, however. Change, after all, can be for the better or the worse, and at any rate it is inevitable; there has never been a lengthy period of climate stasis.
Just as there is no logical or scientific basis for thinking that climate change is new, there is no self-evident reason to assume that the climate of the past is “better” than the climate of the future. With just as little logic, we might assume that women’s rights, health care, or education were necessarily better in the past. Any such judgment also contradicts Hume’s Law and, perhaps worse, is grounded in a fallacious appeal to nature understood in a very slanted way. There is no prima facie reason to assume that any given past climate was better than the prospective one.There is no prima facie reason to assume that any given past climate was better than the prospective one. The climate of the 21st century may well be unprecedented in the history of human civilization; the number of people living in countries with free and fair elections is unprecedented, too. So what? “Unprecedented” is not a synonym for “bad.”
Others argue that the impacts of climate change are largely unknown but may be catastrophic. The precautionary principle thus enjoins that we should work hard, if not do our utmost, to avoid even the slim possibility of catastrophe. This logic works fine for one-sided risks: We ban carcinogenic material in toys because we do not want our kids to get cancer. Safe materials are only slightly more expensive, and there is no likely or even imaginable “upside” to children having cancer. Climate policy, on the other hand, is about balancing risks, and there are risks to climate policies as well as risks caused by climate change. Sharp increases in energy prices have caused devastating economic recessions in the past, for example. Cheap energy fueled the industrial revolution, and lack of access to reliable energy is one factor holding back economic growth in most developing countries. In the short run, we rely on fossil fuels to keep us warm and keep the lights on, to grow our food, and to purify our drinking water. So there is a cost to human well-being in constraining fossil fuel use.
What this means is that, instead of assuming the worst, we should study the impacts of climate change and seek to balance them against the negative effects of climate policy. This is what climatologists and economists actually have done for years, but their efforts have been overshadowed by the hysteria of the Greens and the Left, and the more subtle lobbying of companies yearning for renewables subsidies and other government hand-outs. It is especially important to maintain an objective attitude toward the tradeoff between possible dangers and the costs of policy, because estimating the impacts of climate change has proven to be remarkably hard. Past climate change is not much of a guide. The climate supposedly changed much less over the previous century than it is projected to do over the current one, but global mean surface air temperature has barely moved over the past two decades—and this is the period with the best data, in which almost all climate change impact studies have been done.
Besides, the faint signal of past climate change is drowned out by all the other things that have changed. If one tries to study the impacts of climate change on crops, for example, one must factor in the impact of new seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, and a host of other confounding variables such as air pollution and atmospheric deposition of nutrients. If one is interested in commercial agriculture, one needs to consider subsidies and international trade. If one studies the impacts of climate change on health, one needs to control for progress in medical technology, different diets, changes in work and leisure, aging, migration, and so on and so forth. If one studies the impacts of sea-level rise, one needs to cope with subsidence and tectonic movements, changing land use, shifting priorities in coastal zone management, eutrophication, and more besides. The same is true for all past climate change impacts: Many things are changing, often much faster than the climate, and in ways that confound all unifactoral explanations potentially relevant to policy.
The same is true for the impacts of future climate change. The confounding factors will not go away. In academic papers, we typically do the scientifically respectable thing and change one variable at a time. Controlled experiments make great science—even if done in silico—and since we cannot observe the future, experiments with computer models are the only option available to study the impacts of climate change. Controlled experiments make for poor predictions, however. The future is not ceteris paribus. It’s ceteris imparibus. Change happens, pretty much all the time.
We know a lot about some of the impacts of climate change, such as those on agriculture, human health, and coastal zones. Other impacts are not as well understood even to the point of opacity, such as those on transport, production, and water resources. This partly reflects the differences in the complexity of the impact. Projections of future sea-level rise agree on the direction of the change and its order of magnitude. Projections of future rainfall, however, are all over the place. But our differential knowledge also reflects variations in attention. Academic incentives do not help. It is much easier to publish a paper in a good journal if it improves on a previous one. It is much easier to get funding if you have a track record on a particular subject. Papers or proposals that are genuinely new are often ill-regarded. This implies that some impacts of climate change have been extensively studied whereas other impacts have been largely ignored.
Impacts of climate change are so many and so diverse, varying over space, over time, between impacts, and across scenarios, that it makes no sense to speak of “the” impact of climate change. People have tended to produce two solutions for this problem. Some just write about their favorite impact (or perhaps about the impact that supports their political position), pretending that this impact is somehow representative of all other impacts. Others add up impacts. This exercise is just as fraught as adding up all those proverbial apples and oranges, but it at least reflects the sum total of our knowledge, and the inescapably subjective elements in aggregation are well understood. (Below I use human welfare to add up impacts.)
Understanding what the science of climate does and does not enable us to do readily in a policy vein is hard enough for some people. If one adds to that a requirement to know some basic economics, a good number of deeply concerned people appear to be rendered completely incapable of anything we should wish to bless with the term “thought.” And indeed, many an otherwise intelligent economist has lost his marbles when confronted with global warming.
In a barter economy, one needs to know the price of everything relative to everything else. How many eggs for a liter of milk? How many slices of bread for a liter of beer? How many iPads for a yacht? In a monetary economy, however, one needs to know the price of everything in money only. In a barter economy, there are n2-2n prices (with n being the number of goods and services for sale). In a monetary economy, there are only n prices. That is why, at some time in the deep past, many human civilizations of diverse origins independently invented money.
If one knows the prices of the things one wishes to buy, and one knows one’s own budget, informed trade-offs become possible. Most of us have to make choices. We cannot go on expensive holidays, send our kids to posh schools, drive fancy cars, and quit work all at the same time. In our daily life, we constantly choose among things that are otherwise incomparable. We may choose to pay more for a product because it says on the tin that it is good for the environment. We may opt to buy products that we think are good for our health. The same is true in the public domain. We vote for politicians who promise to do more (or less) for environmental protection and health care. From this, we can deduce our willingness to pay for a better environment or a healthier life. We can then apply these “prices” to the impacts of climate change.
Studies, assessed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its latest report, that have used such methods find that the initial, net impacts of climate change are small (about 1 percent of income) and may even be positive. Many people, including supposedly objective academics, find it hard to admit that climate change can have positive impacts. But, as already noted, warmer winters mean less money spent on heating. They also mean fewer people dying prematurely of cold. Carbon dioxide makes plants grow, and makes them more drought-tolerant, a boon particularly to poorer countries. In the short run, these positive impacts may well be larger than the negative impacts.
In the long run, however, negative impacts may surge ahead of positive ones. The positive impacts saturate quickly; one cannot save more on winter heating than one spends. The negative impacts do not saturate quickly; air conditioning bills will keep rising as summers get hotter. The long-run impacts are what matter most for policy. The climate responds only slowly to changes in emissions, and emissions respond only slowly to changes in policy. The climate of the next few decades is therefore largely beyond our control. It is only in the longer term that our choices affect climate change, and by then its impacts are likely to be negative on net. This implies that climate change is an economic problem, and that if economics could be rid of politics, greenhouse gas emissions should be taxed.
The economic case for emission reduction is thus remarkably simple and robust. We only need to argue that in the long run unabated climate change will do more harm than good. If so, we need to start moving away from using fossil fuels. The question is therefore not whether there is an economic case for climate policy; it’s how much emission reduction can be justified at given losses to social welfare. To answer that question, we need to understand the size of the impacts of climate change. The current evidence, weak and incomplete as it may be, as summarized by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, suggests that moderate warming—say, what we might expect around the year 2075—would make the average person feel as if she had lost 0.2 to 2.0 percent of her income. In other words, a century worth of climate change is about as bad as losing a year of economic growth. In other words, a century worth of climate change is about as bad as losing a year of economic growth.
Larger climate change would have more profound impacts. Negative surprises are more likely than positive surprises. But even if we take this into account, a century of climate change is not worse than losing a decade of growth. So if, as Bjørn Lomborg has been at pains to point out, we “spend” the equivalent of a decade of growth or more trying to mitigate climate change, we will not have spent wisely.
Climate change is a problem, but at least as an economics problem, it is certainly not the biggest problem humankind faces. The euro crisis knocked off a third of the income of the people in Greece in five years’ time. Climate change does not even come close. And the people of Syria wish their problems were as trivial as those of the Greeks. Climate change is not even that large compared to other environmental problems. Urban air pollution kills millions of people per year in Asia. Indoor air pollution kills millions of people per year in Africa. The health problems related to climate change are unlikely to cause similar carnage before the end of the century.
The estimates of the total impact of climate change call for a modest tax on greenhouse gas emissions—or perhaps a cap-and-trade system with a generous allocation of emission permits. The best course of action is to slowly but surely move away from fossil fuels, and in that, as usual, both markets and the parameters governments invariably set for markets to function have roles to play.
Many disagree with this plan of action, of course, calling for a rapid retirement of fossil fuel use. Economically, their justification rests on assuming that we should care more about the future than we do in contexts other than climate change, that we should care more about small risks than we do, or that we should care more about poor people than we do. These justifications rest in politics or raw moral logic, not economics. Each of these arguments would affect not just climate policy but other areas, too. If one argues we should care more about the future, one argues not just for increased investment in greenhouse gas-emission reduction, but also, logically, in pensions, in education, in health care, and so on. If one argues we should be more wary of risk, one argues not only for increased investment in greenhouse gas-emission reduction, but also in road safety, in food safety, in meteorite detection, and whatnot. Ditto for concern about the poor.
Speaking of the poor: Poorer countries are notably more vulnerable to climate change than richer ones. They tend to have a larger share of their economic activity in areas that are directly exposed to the weather, particularly agriculture. Poorer countries often lack access to modern technology and institutions that can protect against the weather; for example, air conditioning, malaria medicine, crop insurance. Poorer countries may lack the ability, and sometimes the political will, to mobilize the resources for large-scale infrastructure—irrigation and coastal protection, for example.
Bangladesh and the Netherlands are two densely populated, low-lying countries at risk from flooding by river and sea. Bangladesh is generally seen to be very vulnerable to climate change, whereas most think that the Netherlands will be able to cope; the Netherlands is famous for thriving below sea level, after all. The Netherlands started its modern, large-scale dike building program only in 1850. Before that, dike building was local, primitive, and not very effective: The country was regularly plagued by devastating floods. In 1850, the Netherlands was only slightly richer than Bangladesh is now, but Bangladesh now of course has access to much better technology than the Netherlands did then.
However, the main difference between the Netherlands in 1850 and Bangladesh in 2014 is political. In response to the European Spring of 1848, the Netherlands adopted a new constitution in 1849 that introduced a powerful central government broadly representative of the population (or rather, the male Protestant part of the population). The new Dutch government promptly went after public enemy number one: floods.
Bangladesh is one of the most corrupt countries in the world, and its political elite is more interested in partisan fights and self-enrichment than in the well-being of its citizens. Floods primarily hurt the poor, who live near the river and the coastal flats where land is cheap. There is no political reason to protect them; after all, floods are thought to be an act of Allah rather than a consequence of decisions made or not made by incompetent and indifferent politicians. As long as this is the case, Bangladesh will be vulnerable to climate change.
The disproportionate exposure to climate change of those most vulnerable is a good reason to be cautious about greenhouse gas emissions. The case has been exaggerated, however. It is peculiar to express great concern about the plight of the poor when it comes to climate but not in other policy domains.It is peculiar to express great concern about the plight of the poor when it comes to climate but not in other policy domains. Levels of charitable giving and official development aid suggest that we are actually not that bothered. Our trade and migration policies would even suggest that we like to see them suffer. More importantly, there are two ways to mitigate the excessive impact of climate change on the poor: Reduce climate change, and reduce poverty.
In the worst projections, climate change could cut crop yields in Africa by half. At present, subsistence farmers often get no more from their land than one-tenth of what is achieved at model farms working the same soil in the same climate. The immediate reason for the so-called yield gap is a lack of access to high-quality seeds, pesticides, fertilizers, tools, and things like that. The underlying causes include a lack of access to capital and product markets due to poor roads and insecure land tenure. Closing the yield gap would do more good sooner than climate change would do harm later. If one really wants to spend money to help farmers in Africa, one should invest in the land registry rather than in solar power.
Indeed, modernizing agriculture in Africa would also make it less vulnerable to climate change. African farming is particularly vulnerable, because isolated, undercapitalized farmers struggle to cope with any change, climatic or otherwise. Infectious diseases illustrate the same point. There were outbreaks of malaria in Murmansk until the 1920s. Sweden suffered malaria epidemics in the 1870s, and the disease was endemic in Stockholm. George Washington did not want the new capital to be built in the estuary of the Potomac because of the malaria risk. Nowadays, malaria only occasionally returns to these places by plane, and it rarely kills.
Largely as a consequence, malaria has become a tropical disease. Many fear that climate change would spread malaria because the parasite is more vigorous in hot weather and mosquitoes thrive in hotter and wetter places. However, in the rich world, habitat reduction, mosquito control, and medicine long ago tamed malaria. Mosquitoes need warm, still-standing water to breed. As we roofed houses, paved roads, and drained wetlands, their habitats disappeared. Clouds of DDT helped bring about the demise of the mosquito as well. Malaria medicine stops one from getting (seriously) ill, and from infecting others.
These things cost money. A dose of malaria medicine costs $100—small change in the United States but a fortune in South Sudan. Therefore, malaria is first and foremost a disease of poverty. We can spend our money on combatting greenhouse gas emissions, reducing malaria risks for future generations. We can also spend our money on insecticides and bed nets, reducing malaria risks today. We can also invest in medical research. A malaria vaccine holds the prospect of a world free of this awful disease, regardless of climate. If our resources were unlimited, we could do all things worthwhile. With a limited budget, we should focus on those investments with the greatest return.
These three examples—of coastal protection, agriculture, and malaria—show that development and vulnerability to climate change are closely intertwined. Slowing economic growth to reduce climate change may therefore do more harm than good. Concentrating the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in rich countries will not solve the climate problem. And slower growth in rich countries means less export from and investment in poor countries.
There is an even more direct link between climate policy and development. Cheap and abundant energy fueled the industrial revolution. Sudden increases in the price of oil caused many of the economic recessions since World War II. Lack of (reliable) electricity retards growth in poor countries, not just today through its effect on production, but also in the future, as electric light allows kids to do their homework after sunset.
A fifth of official development aid is now diverted to climate policy. Money that used to be spent on strengthening the rule of law, better education for girls, and improved health care, for instance, is now used to plug methane leaks and destroy hydrofluorocarbons. Some donors no longer support the use of coal, by far the cheapest way to generate electricity. Instead, poor people are offered intermittent wind power and biomass energy, which drives up the price of food. But the self-satisfaction environmentalists derive from these programs does not put food on poor peoples’ tables.
In sum, while climate change is a problem that must be tackled, we should not lose our sense of proportion or advocate solutions that would do more harm than good. Unfortunately, common sense is sometimes hard to find in the climate debate. Desmond Tutu recently compared climate change to apartheid.1 Climate experts Michael Mann and Daniel Kammen compared it to the “gathering storm” of Nazism in Europe before World War II.2 That sort of nonsense just gets in the way of a rational discussion about what climate policy we should pursue, and how vigorously we should pursue it.
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.
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Posted by JR at 1:40 AM