Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Clinton walks fine line on carbon tax

Hillary Clinton’s campaign is leaving the door open to supporting a carbon tax, hinting that the Democratic nominee could eventually back the controversial idea.

Statements from top campaign officials made during the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia could endear her to environmental activists who are pressing her to adopt more of the progressive positions of primary rival Bernie Sanders — a vocal carbon tax supporter.

But it could be a difficult decision for Clinton with clear political costs.

Putting a price on carbon dioxide emissions — which would raise the costs of fossil fuels — has rarely gone over well politically, and could open Clinton up to attacks from Donald Trump and conservatives.

At a League of Conservation Voters event in Philadelphia, Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta toldPolitico that “if Congress wants to come forward with [a carbon tax proposal], we’ll take a look at it.”

Trevor Houser, Clinton’s top energy adviser, had a similar take at a separate event, saying that “if Congress wants to have a conversation about addressing climate change, Secretary Clinton would be delighted to have that conversation.”

Both men were careful to add caveats to their answers, making it clear that Clinton is not proposing a carbon tax, and her chief climate plan is to build upon President Obama’s agenda through regulation.

“Democrats believe that climate change is too important to wait for climate deniers in Congress to start listening to science,” Houser said.

The statements, though, nonetheless move Clinton past her previous refusal to even talk about the issue.

During the primary fight with Sanders, she tiptoed around the issue.  Sanders repeatedly pushed Clinton to take a position on carbon taxes and said that her silence meant she did not take the climate issue seriously enough.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who’s on track to lead the Senate Democratic caucus in 2017, said last year that a carbon tax is likely to pass the Senate if Clinton wins and Democrats retake control of the upper chamber.

Clinton supported cap-and-trade, another mechanism for putting a price on carbon emissions, in the 2008 campaign, before legislation for such a plan died in the Senate in 2010.

Now she's walking a fine line on carbon pricing, keeping the door open, but not too enthusiastically.

Barry Rabe, a public policy professor at the University of Michigan, said her refusal to rule out a carbon tax is telling.  "What this does is further suggest that it’s possible, post-election, that some form of carbon price could be on the table. We’re not hearing the campaign saying ‘absolutely not,’” Rabe said.

He added that a few factors could push Clinton more toward a carbon tax, either during the campaign or if she wins the election. Chief among them would be the need to win over progressive Sanders supporters. “I can’t help but think she’ll be looking for ways to do that, not just on climate,” he said.

But she also might believe that regulation isn’t enough to tackle the scope of the climate challenge.

Carbon pricing has wide support among liberals and among some conservative economists, as a relatively straightforward way to reduce carbon emissions, depending on how it is structured. The Democratic Party platform this year also endorses a price on carbon.

But Republican lawmakers and Trump are steadfastly against it. Most of the party’s leaders, including Trump, doubt the impact of greenhouse gases on climate change, and see a carbon tax as little more than an increase in energy costs.

Republicans passed a symbolic resolution in June denouncing a carbon tax, hoping to close the door completely on the question.

Clinton’s delicate handling of the issue is probably informed in part by the political history of energy taxes.

The Democratic-led House passed a “BTU tax” — for British thermal unit, a measure of energy — in 1993, costing the party its majority the next year. After Democrats retook the House, they passed a cap-and-trade bill in 2009, and again lost the majority in 2010.

“Clinton has no intention of being suckered into a political disaster by advocating a carbon tax,” said Paul Bledsoe, a political consultant who worked for the Senate Finance Committee’s Democrats when the House passed its tax in 1993. He later served as the spokesman for the White House’s Climate Change Task Force under President Bill Clinton.

“If Republicans will come out for it and vote for it, that’s a different matter. But until that happens, the Democrats should have nothing to do with it, because it’s political poison,” Bledsoe said.

Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), an adviser to the Trump campaign, said any change from Clinton is likely to be a liability for her. Trump has already criticized her for endorsing an expansion of Obama’s environmental policies, and a carbon tax would make that attack easier.

“Any time a candidate for any office — especially president — leaves the door open for any type of a new tax, you’re making yourself somewhat vulnerable, politically,” Cramer said.

The Trump campaign didn’t respond to the statements from Podesta or Houser.

Conservative anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist, who leads Americans for Tax Reform, said the Democrats probably lost the 2016 election already by including a carbon tax in their platform. “When counting to 270 — the number of electoral votes needed to win the presidency — the Republicans may have already won the election in five short words: ‘We oppose any carbon tax,’” he said in a statement.

Norquist pointed particularly to Pennsylvania, Ohio and Colorado as swing states, crucial to the election, but also home to large increases in oil and natural gas drilling in recent years that could be slowed down by restrictions on carbon.

Cramer too said Republicans would benefit from even having Clinton openly consider a carbon tax.

“It all adds up to an almost unarguable pattern that she wants to continue Obama’s policies,” he said. “It makes it easier than ever to tie her to his agenda. And I think that’s a sweet spot for our team.”


Phil Plait is on the stump again

He wants to link America's hot summer to global warming.  He knows he can't prove any link and that the IPCC says so as well but he is very big on "likely" and other weasel words

You want to know the very definition of irony? While the Republican National Convention is going on in Ohio—loaded to the hilt with people who deny the reality of global warming—the country itself is baking under a heat wave that is likely amplified by global warming.

That is a model of the air temperatures in the U.S. at 5 p.m. ET on July 18, showing what’s colloquially called a “heat dome” over about two-thirds of the country. It’s a high-pressure system that squats over an area and can lead to high temperatures. High-pressure systems have sinking air, and when the air drops down, it compresses and heats up. This is causing elevated temperatures from the Southwest to the East Coast, and elevated humidity in much of that area as well.

Worse, the system is moving only slowly … which is very likely to be due to global warming. Usually, such weather patterns don’t hang out very long. But the planet is warming, and this has consequences. Warming affects the Arctic more than lower latitudes, and the strength of the jet stream depends in part on the difference in temperatures at lower latitudes to those in the Arctic. With the North Pole warming, the jet stream weakens, and “blocking patterns” can result, where weather systems move more slowly or not at all for some length of time.

While it’s difficult to pin down any specific event to global warming, overall the effects of warming will make patterns like this more common, and we are seeing more of them.


The perils of scientific prophecy

“IT ALWAYS seems impossible until it’s done.”

It’s a quote often attributed to Nelson Mandela, but regardless of who uttered the famous words the sentiment rings true when it comes to humankind’s tendency to triumph.

The rate of technological innovation has exploded in the past century but life-changing inventions are seldom welcomed with open arms at first. The rate of technological adoption is greater than any other time in human history but it seems there will always be those who don’t believe.

From Lord Kelvin’s boast that “X-rays will prove to be a hoax” to Astronomer Forest Moulton’s assertion that “there is no hope for the fanciful idea of reaching the moon because of insurmountable barriers to escaping the Earth’s gravity,” there has been plenty of incidents in the past that illustrate the hazards of scientific prophecy — especially when it comes to the doubters.

Here is just some of the most embarrassing denouncements of new technologies that went on to change the world.


Less than 150 years ago the idea of the light bulb was pooh-poohed by many so called experts at the time.

Thomas Edison was already a formidable personality in the world of science after inventing the phonograph, but it wasn’t enough to earn him the benefit of the doubt when it came to his latest big idea.

When gas securities plummeted in 1878 because Thomas Edison announced he was working on an incandescent lamp, the British parliament set up a committee to look into the matter — and their conclusion was an unflattering one for Edison.

“Good enough for our transatlantic friends ... but unworthy of the attention of practical or scientific men,” the parliamentary committee said.

A few years later in 1880 Henry Morton, president of the Stevens Institute of Technology, said when referring to Edison’s light bulb: “Everyone acquainted with the subject will recognise it as a conspicuous failure.”

It was not entirely uncommon for the Brits to get their knickers in a twist about American inventions at the time. But in this case it meant they underestimated what was later considered the invention of the century.

Thomas Alva Edison, holds his ‘Edison Effect’ light bulb in his West Orange, NJ laboratory, the first long-lasting, practical electric light bulb. Picture: J. Walter Thompson

Thomas Alva Edison, holds his ‘Edison Effect’ light bulb in his West Orange, NJ laboratory, the first long-lasting, practical electric light bulb. Picture: J. Walter ThompsonSource:AP


The history of the automobile is a long a winding road, but one that can be traced back to Karl Benz who patented the three-wheeled motor car in 1886.

While there were plenty of men who contributed to the idea one way or the other, it is Benz who gets the credit. His car was practical, used a gasoline-powered internal-combustion engine and worked much like modern cars do today.

Despite the seeming inevitability of the automobile, the naysayers were abound.

“The ordinary ‘horseless carriage’ is at present a luxury for the wealthy; and although its price will probably fall in the future, it will never, of course, come into as common use as the bicycle,” claimed the Literary Digest in 1899.

A few years later some people still weren’t convinced the car would catch on. In 1902 Harper’s Weekly wrote: “The actual building of roads devoted to motor cars is not for the near future, in spite of many rumours to that effect.”

Industrialist Henry Ford who brought the invention to the masses put it best when describing the difficulty of selling the public on a groundbreaking invention.

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses,” he is famously reported to have said.
The inventor and his creation: Karl Benz (in front) at the wheel of his patent motor car model III, together with Friedrich von Fischer.

The inventor and his creation: Karl Benz (in front) at the wheel of his patent motor car model III, together with Friedrich von Fischer.Source:Supplied


Most people know the story of the Wright brothers, the American duo and aviation pioneers who are generally credited with inventing, building, and flying the world’s first successful aeroplane.

But what most people don’t remember is just how many highly credited people they proved wrong.

“Flight by machines heavier than air is impractical and insignificant, if not utterly impossible,” physicist and Director of the US Naval Observatory, Simon Newcomb, said in 1902, just one of many who pooh-poohed the idea.

The following year the Wright brothers proved him wrong.

William H. Pickering, the director of the Harvard College Observatory, joined the chorus of scepticism in 1910 after a fixed wing aeroplane had proved successful.

“It is clear that with our present devices there is no hope of aircraft competing for racing speed with either our locomotives or automobiles,” he said.
The Wright brothers took on the “impossible”.

The Wright brothers took on the “impossible”.Source:Supplied


Televisions are so ubiquitous these days that you can find them in cars and on the doors of fridges. But less than a century ago, they had yet to be introduced to the world.

Electronic television was first successfully demonstrated in San Francisco in September 1927, unveiled by its 21-year-old inventor Philo Farnsworth.

The young man had devised a system capable of capturing moving images in a form that could be coded onto radio waves and then transformed back into a picture on a screen.

It was primed to become a commercial juggernaut but not everyone was impressed.

Inventor of gems like the vacuum tube and self described “father of radio” Lee De Forest slammed the prospect of television.

“While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially, I consider it an impossibility, a development of which we need waste little time dreaming,” he said in 1926.

How wrong he was.


We live in a computerised world but the idea of a personal home computer was once a far-fetched notion.

In 1949 inventor, mathematician, physicist and computer scientist John von Neumann thought we’d come to the end of the road when it came to computers.

“It would appear that we have reached the limits of what it is possible to achieve with computer technology,” he said. However he was smart enough to add a caveat saying; “although one should be careful with such statements, as they tend to sound pretty silly in five years.”

He was both wrong, and then right.

The first personal computers, introduced in 1975, came as kits (the MITS Altair 8800, followed by the IMSAI 8080) but were products that catered to a very esoteric market.

However the personal computer went on to find its first true commercial success when Apple introduced the Apple II.

Other computers released around the same time also ... and a major industry was born.


There are no experts on the future

The track record of forecasters, except through extrapolation, is poor

Michael Gove was mocked during the referendum campaign for saying that “I think people in this country have had enough of experts.” Critics asked pointedly if he dismissed the expertise of doctors when ill. But subsequent weeks have left economic experts, at least, looking a bit less than the full Nostradamus.

The expert pollsters told the hedge funds Remain would win right up till when it lost, so the pound and the FTSE 100 rose, then crashed. The expert financial forecasters then told investors the FTSE 100 would fall further, but it quickly recovered all its lost ground and more. The expert analysts told us we should watch the FTSE 250 plunge instead, but that has now returned to the level it was at a week before the referendum.

Meanwhile, the IMF experts have abandoned their prediction of a recession, and all talk of a punishment budget from the Treasury experts has been forgotten. By contrast, Friday’s bad snapshot from the purchasing managers index was all the more credible for being a non-expert survey.

Yet of course it is still true that we turn to doctors, accountants, plumbers, motor mechanics and weather forecasters for their expertise, and rightly so. Why are some experts indispensable some of the time and others not? I suspect the answer is simple: there are no experts on the future. Explaining the present and the past requires expertise: “it’s your carburettor/prostate”. In forecasting the future, experts are generally no better than everybody else. They might be worse.

Even weather forecasters, who are very good these days, have a short time horizon. More than five days out and they struggle. The Met Office, badly burned by the failure of its long-range forecasts a few years ago, now adopts a more humble tone. Half way through May it said this about the coming summer: “the outlook suggests the chances of above – or below – average rainfall are approximately similar.” Which covers all possibilities, like an astrologer. Even then, it added a disclaimer: “this is not a normal weather forecast. It’s an experimental and complex outlook based on probabilities”. Whatever that means.

No wonder it is cautious. In 2007 the Met Office said “there are no indications of a particularly wet summer." Floods followed. In 2009 it forecast a “barbecue summer” with “rainfall average or below average” before one of the dullest and wettest Julys. In September 2009 it forecast that the winter “is likely to be milder than last year” before the coldest winter in 30 years. In October 2010, it forecast a 60-80 per cent chance of “warmer-than-average temperatures this winter” before the coldest December in 100 years. A blindfolded person throwing darts at a chart would have done better than this. A little expertise is clearly a dangerous thing

Beginning in the 1980s, Philip Tetlock, now of the University of Pennsylvania, ran a tournament testing 28,000 specific predictions from 284 experts over 20 years. He found that on average expert forecasters were only slightly more reliable than chance, and that simple extrapolation was usually more accurate.

The more famous the forecaster, the worse his or her performance. (He has since found there are a very few “superforecasters”, generally rather self-effacing types, who do more consistently get things right

The reason for this lack of expertise about the future among experts is partly that their forecasts rely too heavily on pet arguments or assumptions. The Met Office’s computer had been programmed to expect faster global warming than was happening. Economists get certain bees in the bonnet. Famous people succumb to their own fame.

There is also the temptation to get media attention for a forecast by indulging in excessive pessimism. Paul Samuelson famously joked that stockmarkets forecast nine of the last five recessions. Doom has been selling newspapers for decades, in the form of impending war, famine, pollution, disease or economic collapse. Cassandras generally get more coverage than Pollyannas.

Here’s Robert Heilbroner, a famous economist, in 1973: “The outlook for man, I believe, is painful, difficult, perhaps desperate and the hope that can be held out for his future prospects seems to be very slim indeed.” Here’s a famous ecologist, Paul Ehrlich, speaking at the Institute of Biology in London in 1971: “If I were a gambler, I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000.”

Simple extrapolation is more reliable. If you had defied the gloomsters and said in 1960 that the world economy would grow by 2-6% a year every year with few exceptions for more than 50 years, you would have been laughed at, but you would have been right. There was only one year in that period when the world economy shrank – 2009 – and even that merely brought it back to its long-term trajectory. This is much steadier than any one country. I find that rather strange and don’t fully understand it.

After all, the economy shares an essentially unpredictable feature with the climate: they are both chaotic. That is to say, they have many small causes, which affect each other and result in complex feedback loops. Small perturbations in initial conditions can create big later changes: in the clichĂ©, a butterfly’s wing flap can lead to a hurricane.

And unlike in climate forecasting, prediction of human trends is difficult because discovery and innovation keep throwing spanners in the works. “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts,” said the physicist Richard Feynman, reflecting on the tendency of research to explode complacency and embarrass experts who tell you what’s impossible.

Experts are notoriously bad at seeing technological change coming. When they do, they often expect it in the wrong area. Fifty years ago, after dramatic changes in transport but not much change in communication, futurologists were all babbling about personal gyrocopters, regular supersonic flights and routine space travel – none of which have yet materialized. Very few of them saw mobile phones coming, let alone the internet, search engines or social media.

So trust experts, yes, but never about the future. The inventor, James Lovelock, aged 96, put it rather well in an interview with the Bournemouth Echo at the weekend: “I think anyone that tries to predict more than five to ten years ahead is a bit of an idiot, so many things can change unexpectedly.”


Philippines President, U.S. House Reject UN Climate Initiatives

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte announced on July 18 his  administration would not honor the December 2015 Paris agreement on climate change, calling agreement “stupid” and “absurd.” The Philippines signed the Paris agreement but has yet to ratify it, which now seems unlikely based on Duterte’s statements. Duterte says the international treaty would stymie the country’s industrial growth.

The issue arose when a foreign ambassador reminded Duterte of the country’s commitment to limit its carbon emissions. Duterte told the ambassador the climate change agreement was forged just when the Philippines was on its way to develop its own industries, stating, “Now that we’re developing, you will impose a limit? That’s absurd. … They [industrialized countries] think that they can dictate the destiny of the rest of the [world].”

Going further Duterte said, “We have not reached the age of industrialization. We’re now going into it. But you are trying to stymie [our growth] with an agreement that says you can only go up to here. That’s stupid…. That was not my signature. I will not honor that.”

While the Philippines is rejecting the UN’s Paris Climate Deal, the U.S. Congress seems intent on halting all funding to the UN’s Green Climate Fund.

On July 12, the House Appropriations Committee rejected an amendment by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) to the House State Department and foreign operations spending bill to let the federal government contribute to the United Nations’ Green Climate Fund (GCF). Texas Rep. Kay Granger (R) objected to the amendment, noting it would “strike language preventing the administration from carrying out its harmful climate change policies.” Lowey’s proposal failed on a 20–29 vote.

Although the Obama administration has pledged $3 billion for the GCF, Congress, which constitutionally controls the purse, has rejected such spending. The 2015 year-end spending deal didn’t include the $500 million Obama wanted for the GCF, but the State Department provided the funding anyway, arguing, because the deal didn’t explicitly prohibit GCF spending, it could shift the $500 million from other accounts to contribute to the GCF.

To prevent such fund- shifting in the future, Appropriations Committee Republicans in both the House and Senate included GCF funding prohibitions in their 2017 State Department spending bills.

Granger, chairwoman of the State Department appropriations subcommittee, said she received more member requests to block GCF spending than for any other program.

At least some political leaders are not being buffaloed into funding flawed, costly, ineffective climate change boondoggles. Hallelujah!


A moderate weather event

It is midwinter in Brisbane where I live.  The temperature at my place with doors open and no heating in operation was 28 degrees C at 3pm yesterday.  Britons would call that a heatwave.  So how come such heat in midwinter?  Brisbane is, after all, in a sub-tropical latitude, not the tropics.  Could it be that global warming is catching up with me?

Not quite.  You see, we also had a very cool summer at the beginning of this year.  So instead of extreme weather events, we are having a moderate weather event -- where summer and winter temperatures converge to an unusual degree.

I am sure the Warmists could explain it.  They can explain everything "post hoc". But it's certainly pretty weird in an opposite direction to what the panic merchants have predicted.  If this is global warming, I love 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.  

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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