Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Why shouldn’t Brazilians burn down trees?

The talk about Amazon oxygen is wrong.  A mature forest consumes most of the oxygen it creates when tree and plant litter decay.  Oxidization is part of the decay

The Western hysteria over the rainforest fires is riddled with colonial arrogance.

Every now and then the environmentalist mask slips. And we get a glimpse of the elitist and authoritarian movement that lurks beneath the hippyish green facade. The hysteria over the rainforest fires in Brazil is one of those moments. As well-off, privileged Westerners rage against Brazil for having the temerity to use its resources as it sees fit, and as they even flirt with the idea of sending outside forces to take charge of the Amazon, we can see the borderline imperialist mindset that motors so much green thinking. In the space of a few days, greens have gone from saying ‘We care about the planet!’ to ‘How dare these spics defy our diktats?’. And it is a truly clarifying moment.

You don’t have to be a fan of Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, and spiked certainly isn’t, to feel deeply uncomfortable with the Western outrage over his policy on the rainforest. Observers claim the Amazon is experiencing its highest number of fires since records began. That those records only began in 2013 should give the Western hysterics pause for thought – this isn’t the historically unprecedented End of Days event they claim it is. There are always fires in the Amazon, some started by nature, others by human beings logging or clearing land for farming. Some of the current fires were started by people who need wood or land – how dare they! – while others are just part of the natural cycle.

More tellingly, NASA has attempted to counter the hysteria. Its data suggests that, while the number of fires might be larger than in the past few years, ‘overall fire activity’ in the Amazon is ‘slightly below average this year’. How striking that the people who wave around NASA reports when making their case that mankind has had a terrible impact on the planet are ignoring NASA’s reports that there is less fire in the Amazon this year in comparison with the past 15 years.

The Brazil-bashers will not be convinced by reason. To them, the fact that there have been 74,000 fires in the Amazon between January and August is proof that human beings – well, stupid Brazilians – are plunging the planet into a fiery doom that will make Revelations look like a fairy story in comparison. The earth is ‘being killed’, greens wail. ‘Our house is burning. Literally’, says French president Emmanuel Macron, committing the grammar crime of saying ‘literally’ when he surely means ‘virtually’. Unless the Elysée Palace really is on fire?

Leonardo DiCaprio says ‘if the Amazon goes, we the humans will go’. So Brazil is killing us all. Bolsonaro, by giving a green light to development in the rainforest, is holding a gun to mankind’s head, apparently. No wonder Macron has suggested holding an international conference on how to save the rainforest, while some greens have said we need to intervene. Westerners going overseas to rescue natural resources from the ignorant natives? Yes, that went so well in the past.

The discussion about the rainforest is not only unhinged, using Biblical language to describe fairly routine events. It is also riddled with a colonialist view in which people in the developing world are presented as irresponsible and destructive, while Westerners, like the leader of France, are held up as the saviours of nature and mankind. This expresses one of the key ideas in the environmentalist movement – that the developing world cannot possibly industrialise and modernise as much as the West has, because if it does the planet will die. Hence eco-Westerners’ fury with ‘filthy’ China, their loathing of Modi’s promises of modernity in India, and now their rage against Bolsonaro for elevating economic development over natural conservation. They cannot believe these idiot foreigners are defying green ideology and seeking the kind of progress we Westerners already enjoy.

Indeed, the current fuming over Bolsonaro and the rainforest fires has been a long time coming. When he spoke at Davos in January, one headline summed up the response: ‘Bolsonaro alarms climate activists with pro-business speech.’ Environmentalists were horrified, the Guardian reported, that Bolsonaro ‘stressed that protecting his country’s unique ecosystem has to be consistent with growing the economy’. That is, Bolsonaro had the gall to suggest that the eco-sanctification of the entire rainforest ran counter to Brazil’s own need to develop – via agriculture, logging, urban expansion, and so on – and therefore a better balance would have to be struck between protecting ecosystems and achieving economic growth.

During the presidential campaign last year, Bolsonaro often argued that Brazil’s economic development was being stymied by ‘the world’s affection for the Amazon’. He said that companies interested in clearing parts of the rainforest would be allowed to do so. That he won the presidency suggests many Brazilians share his view that the Amazon has been sanctified at the expense of Brazilian growth and Brazilian sovereignty. And on this they are right, and the rich Western greens telling them to stop being so dumb and irrational are wrong.

For years, green-leaning NGOs have been swarming Latin America and using their clout to demonise and even try to reverse economic development. And Latin Americans rightly experience this as an assault on their sovereignty and aspirations. As early as 1972, UNESCO and WWF were writing to the Brazilian president, Emílio Garrastazu Médici, and warning him to halt economic activities in the rainforest. In the 1980s, there was an intensification of efforts by NGOs and outside forces to keep the rainforest as sacred ground that Brazilians shouldn’t interfere with. French president Francois Mitterrand even suggested Brazil should accept relative sovereignty, where a significant part of its territory – the rainforest areas – would be subject to international oversight. As one account describes it, many in Brazil came to see NGOs and others as ‘collaborating with foreign powers against Brazilian economic interests’. And it wasn’t only Brazil. Ecuador and Peru have both expelled foreign-funded NGOs over their agitation against development in forest areas and other natural areas.

Brazil is either a sovereign nation or it isn’t. If it is a sovereign nation, then it has every right to pursue economic growth as it sees fit. The rainforest belongs to Brazilians. A Brazilian approach that boosts economic development while keeping a close eye on the natural environment sounds like a good one. But it horrifies Western greens who are allergic to any kind of meaningful economic development. Under the guise of environmentalism they are pursuing the ugly old colonial goal of subjugating non-Western nations to their rules and diktats. And that’s far more horrifying than a few fires in the Amazon.


BBC climate lies now invading music programs

When buying tickets for a classical music concert based on the lost words of nature, parents may have expected a simple, poetic celebration of bluebells, conkers and otters.

Families who attended the BBC Proms this weekend were instead confronted with catastrophic warnings from climate change campaigners.

BBC Proms, a celebration of classical music intended to be non-political, opened its 49th Prom of the season with a new composition based on the words of Greta Thunberg warning: “We are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction.”

Intended as a “unique event for all the family” and including painting, poetry, dancing and birdsong, the concert was based on illustrated book The Lost Words, which aims to revive little-used or disappearing words that describe the natural world.

A spokesman for the BBC said the Proms team believed music should "amplify discussion", saying it should “react to the times in which we live”, so that it is “not divorced from reality”.

Ivan Hewett, Telegraph reviewer, said the concert was instead a “statement of the most extreme form of eco-catastrophism, designed to terrify and intimidate the mostly young audience, who clearly lacked the maturity to challenge it”.

“It’s unfortunate that the supposedly impartial BBC turned a promising event into an opportunity for eco-propaganda,” he said, in a two-star review, accusing the BBC of the “blatant politicising of an event aimed at children”.

The concert opened with the voice of Miss Thunberg, who has become the face of youth climate change activism, on a loop with excerpts from her speech to the EU Parliament in Strasbourg declaring: “You need to listen to us, we who cannot vote. What we are doing now can soon no longer be undone.”

Robert Macfarlane, author of The Lost Words, said he was “so thrilled” when he heard Miss Thunberg’s words would be used in the Prom, praising her “voice ringing with force and need and urgency but also breaking” and calling her a “figurehead” for the young.

The concert was said to have received a rapturous response from some members of the audience, a handful of whom tweeted to say they had been moved to tears.

A spokesman for the BBC said this year’s Proms were celebrating 50 years of the moon landings, the earth and the influence nature has had on composers past and present.

“It’s important for art to reflect topical debate and to bring this so the attention of the audience,” it said. 

“The three major new works focussing on our planet this year (Hans Zimmer’s world premiere ‘Earth’ at the CBeebies Prom, the Lost Words Prom and John Luther Adam’s ‘In the Name of the Earth’) are specifically aimed at families.

“It’s important to reflect that music reacts to the times in which we live, and is not divorced from reality, but can amplify discussion.”

In July, the Guardian described how this year's Proms is "sounding the alarm for a planet in peril”, interviewing director David Pickard about what it called “this year’s theme, nature, and our part in destroying it”.

Pickard said: “When you ask someone to write about nature now, they are not necessarily writing about it in a romantic way, in the way Beethoven did. They’re writing about the danger of loss."

Jocelyn Pook, the composer of the piece which set Thunberg’s words to music, told the newspaper: “Her voice, a lone teenager, making such a difference is very heartening."

The Proms have faced increasing criticism about becoming politicised in recent years, with an ongoing battle between those waving EU flags and Union flags on the Last Night.

Conductors have used their platform to speak on issues including women’s rights, music education and European unity, with Daniel Barenboim using a 2017 appearance to warn about the dangers of nationalism after the Brexit vote.


‘Green’ Cities: Higher Costs, Lower Electricity Reliability

A number of Texas cities have jumped on the bandwagon of renewable energy initiatives in recent years leading to higher costs and reduced the reliability for their residents.

Among the many places jumping on the bandwagon of renewable energy initiatives in recent years are the Texas cities of Austin, Georgetown, and now San Antonio, each of which maintains a monopolistic, municipally owned electricity provider from which residents are forced to purchase electricity.
All these cities have pursued highly publicized “green” initiatives to increase the amount of renewable energy they provide to their captive electric power customers.

These initiatives have led to higher costs for consumers and poor investment decisions on the cities’ part, costing residents millions of dollars and reducing the reliability of the electric grid.

Behind these initiatives are government subsidies, such as the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC), that have allowed renewable energy producers to charge an extremely low price for their energy—sometimes even selling power at a loss.

Although this may seem like a good deal for energy consumers, these residents are also paying huge amounts in taxes to fund the incentives. Cost estimates of taxpayer subsidies for renewables in Texas show the cost to be as high as $36 billion from 2006 through 2029, when the PTC is currently scheduled to expire.

Green Energy Burns Budgets

Residents are also footing the bill in other ways for poor investment decisions made by cities in efforts to “go green.”

The city of Georgetown, home to a mere 71,000 residents, went $32.7 million over budget for renewable energy production from 2016 through 2018, and in 2018 Georgetown spent a whopping $53.6 million on electricity—22 percent above the $44 million the city budgeted for.

Not to be outdone by its neighbor, Austin built a biomass production plant to provide renewable energy to the city. And it did—for two whole months, before the city closed it down. This green experiment cost Austin residents $838 million, including a $460 million buyout of the 20-year contract originally worth $2.3 billion.

Renewable-Induced Energy Shortages

In addition to this costly malinvestment of tax dollars, Texas residents also face heightened threats of energy shortages as the use of renewables increases.

This is because of another fundamental problem with renewables: Wind and solar generation are inherently intermittent. The wind does not always blow, and the sun does not always shine. Also, the energy from renewable sources cannot be effectively stored for use at times of peak demand. Therefore, much of the energy generated—when these plants are actually generating power—is wasted, and unavailable when it is needed most.

In addition, renewable generation plants are typically located in less-populated areas away from the greatest demand, so the electricity must be transmitted over vast distances to reach the market. Power is lost in transmission, meaning additional power must be delivered from other sources to meet demand.

Texans have also borne $14 billion in costs for the transmission lines running from unpopulated west Texas, which doesn’t need the additional electricity, to populated cities like Austin and Dallas, which do, for these renewable power schemes.

Distorting the System

Finally, the extremely low prices for renewable energy, as a direct result of subsidies, are resulting in significantly less investment in reliable and affordable generation powered by natural gas and coal, placing a huge strain on the grid.

Coal and natural gas are more efficient and reliable than their renewable counterparts. However, during periods of high wind and sunlight unhampered by clouds, electricity prices can become so low that coal and natural gas plants must sell power at a loss. As money-losing plants are closed, the reserve margin shrinks, which threatens the entire grid because providers don’t have enough “spare” generating capacity to satisfy peak demand when renewables fail to deliver. The difference between the supply and demand of electricity may be as low as 7.4 percent this summer, a record low threatening to result in intermittent power shortages across the state at the peak periods.

The Texas Legislature can and should ameliorate these problems by eliminating the preferential treatment Texas affords renewables. In addition to doing this at the state level through the Public Utility Commission, it can also take away the power of cities to impose costly, inefficient initiatives simply to support the latest environmental fads.

These steps would allow the market to provide more affordable and reliable energy for all Texans, and they would work in other states as well.


More fake five-alarm crises from the IPCC

“Mainstream” news outlets dutifully feature climate cataclysm claims that have no basis in reality

Paul Driessen

Efforts to stampede the USA and world into forsaking fossil fuels and modern farming continue apace.

UN and other scientists recently sent out news releases claiming July 2019 was the “hottest month ever recorded on Earth” – nearly about 1.2 degrees C (2.2 degrees F) “above pre-industrial levels.” That era happens to coincide with the world’s emergence from the 500-year Little Ice Age. And “ever recorded” simply means measured; it does not include multiple earlier eras when Earth was much warmer than now.

Indeed, it is simply baseless to suppose that another few tenths of a degree (to 1.5 C above post-Little Ice Age levels) would somehow bring catastrophe to people, wildlife, agriculture and planet. It is equally ridiculous to assume all recent warming has been human-caused, with none of it natural or cyclical.

Moreover, as University of Alabama-Huntsville climate scientist Dr. Roy Spencer has noted, this past July was most likely not the warmest. The claim, he notes, is based on “a limited and error-prone array of thermometers which were never intended to measure global temperature trends.”

The measurements come primarily from airports and urban areas that are artificially warmed by cars, jets, asphalt, air conditioning exhausts and other human heat sources that warm the measuring sites as much as ten degrees F above temperatures in rural areas just 10 to 25 miles away. They do not reflect satellite data or “global reanalysis estimates” that would give a much more accurate picture.

The “hottest month” assertions also ignore major changes in measurement technologies, especially for ocean data, over the past 100-150 years. Perhaps most important, they ignore the paucity or absence of data for millions of square miles of oceanic, Siberian, Arctic and other regions, many of which have much cooler temperatures that would drive “average planetary temperature” figures downward. (And let’s not forget the record cold temperatures recorded for February 2019 in many parts of the world.)

The news media, however, dutifully repeated the spurious hottest-ever assertion as fact – and made no effort to seek out or quote skeptical experts like Spencer. Far worse, most of the experts who developed and propagated the “overheated planet” claims know all of this. But they have a narrative, an agenda, and are not going to let inconvenient facts get in the way. The “mainstream media” behaves similarly.

Then, a few days later, the same doom-saying “experts” issued dire warnings that global agriculture is on the brink of disaster. A “landmark report” by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said our dangerously warming planet is continuing to damage lands and forests, imperiling mankind’s ability to produce food. Climate change has become a growing danger to global food supplies, it intoned.

Prolonged rains well into the 2019 Midwestern US spring season certainly delayed planting and could affect 2019 corn and other harvests. However, bumper crops elsewhere in the world cast serious doubt on this latest round of IPCC and media fear-mongering.

India’s rabi (winter) wheat crop weighed in at an official record of 101.2 million tons. Near-record corn (maize) exports and sunflower seed harvests were forecast for Ukraine. In Argentina, wheat farmers expect a record harvest. In Crimea too. The Canadian National Railway logged all-time grain movement records. The USDA’s October 2018 Crop Report showed record northern USA canola production.

Better hybrid seeds, biotech seeds, and modern fertilizers, pesticides, tractors and farming practices all played a role, as did weather that cooperated with farmers, if not with climate alarmists. However, another major factor is more carbon dioxide (CO2) in Earth’s atmosphere – which helps crop, forest and grassland plants grow faster and better, and also withstand droughts better. In fact, Dr. Craig Idso has estimated, rising CO2 levels generated some $3.2 trillion in cumulative extra global crop yields between 1961 and 2011, and another $9.8 trillion in predicted CO2-enhanced global crop harvests by 2050.

And now, in a bout of schizophrenia, the IPCC has further muddled its climate chaos message. Now it claims modern agriculture is not just a “victim of climate change.” It also causes climate chaos and must thus be part of “the solution.” Agriculture is responsible for over a quarter of total global greenhouse gas emissions (carbon dioxide and methane), and therefore must change its practices “to save the world.”

Plant-fertilizing carbon dioxide is 0.04% of the atmosphere, and methane represents 0.00017% – of which one-third is from natural sources (termites, swamps and bogs) and two-thirds from human activities: 39% of that from fossil fuels, 16% from landfills, 9% from waste management and 27% from farms.

In other words, agricultural methane could possibly be 27% of two-thirds of 0.00017% of atmospheric methane (CH4) – and that barely detectable 0.00003% (30¢ out of $1-million) of the atmosphere is supposedly driving dangerous manmade climate change. And based on that, we must change our farming and eating habits.

Instead of beef, humans must switch to “nutritious and environmentally sound” alternatives like green pepper, soy, asparagus and squash, says the IPCC. Instead of the full package of beef, pork and poultry, we should eat buckwheat, soy, pears and kidney beans – or other “globally optimal plant replacements.” Of course, locusts, grasshoppers, grubs and other insects are also excellent protein sources, it notes.

The 20,000-some activists, bureaucrats and politicians heading to Salt Lake City for the August 26-28 UN climate change and sustainability conference will no doubt be following that sage advice. (Perhaps they’ll share their menu and Bugs Not Beef recipes.) They could also have had a global teleconference, instead of flying and driving halfway around the world – instead of spending millions of dollars, consuming millions of gallons of aviation and vehicle fuel, and emitting prodigious quantities of CO2 and CH4.

But they’re much more comfortable lecturing the hoi polloi of humanity on how we must travel, eat, and heat and cool our homes (no cooler than a comfortable 82 F in summer, say EPA-Energy Star experts) in more sustainable and climate friendly ways. UN elites much prefer to tell the poorest people on the planet how much they will be “permitted” to develop and improve their living standards.

Dangerous manmade climate change “deniers” like me were of course not invited to participate in this taxpayer-financed UN event. We never are. So the Heartland Institute organized a separate August 26 program nearby, at which alternative evidence and perspectives will be presented and live-streamed.

Heartland speakers will explain why climate change is some 97% natural, not manmade (contrary to that phony 97% consensus that says otherwise); and why real-world evidence does not support IPCC claims about dangerously rising seas, increasingly violent storms or worsening droughts. My talk will focus on why biofuel, wind, solar and battery technologies are not clean, green, renewable or sustainable.

I will point out for example that replacing 100% of US gasoline with ethanol would require some 360 million acres of corn – seven times the land area of Utah. Replacing the more than 25 billion megawatt-hours of electricity the world consumed in 2018 would require some 100 million 400-foot-tall 1.8-MW bird and bat-butchering wind turbines that would actually generate electricity only about 20% of the time.

Assuming just 15 acres apiece, those monster turbines would require some 1.5 billion acres – nearly 80% of the entire Lower 48 United States! And those wind turbines would need some 200 times more raw materials per megawatt than combined-cycle gas turbine power plants. Building and installing them would require massive increases in mining and quarrying all across the globe.

The UN and IPCC delegations and Green New Dealers absolutely do not want to talk about any of this – much less about slave and child labor for cobalt, rare earth and other metals that are the foundation for their make-believe “renewable, sustainable, no-fossil-fuel” future. No wonder they don’t invite us.

These are vitally important issues. They demand robust, evidence-based debates – with all interested and affected parties participating – including the world’s poor and manmade climate chaos skeptics.

Via email

“Planting Trees” Disrupts the Carbon Tax Narrative
It's possible to plant enough trees to get atmospheric CO2 levels down

A recent article in The Guardian trumpeted the findings of a new study published in Science that found massive tree planting would be—by far—the cheapest and most effective approach to mitigating climate change. Ironically, the new thinking shows the pitfalls of political approaches to combating so-called “negative externalities.” The good news about tree planting disrupts the familiar narrative about carbon taxes that even professional economists have been feeding the public for years. The whole episode is an example of what Ronald Coase warned about, in his classic 1960 article showing the danger in the traditional approach of using taxes to fix alleged market failures.

Ronald Coase vs. A. C. Pigou on “Externalities”

Coase’s “The Problem of Social Cost” is one of the most frequently cited economics articles of all time, but it can be difficult for a newcomer to absorb its lessons. In this revolutionary piece, Coase challenged the standard approach to externalities that had been developed by economist A. C. Pigou.

According to Pigou, the market economy works fine in allocating resources efficiently under most circumstances. However, when third parties experience benefits or harms because of particular market transactions, the Invisible Hand fails. For example, if a factory dumps waste into a river as a by-product of making TVs, then the factory owner is making “too many” TVs because the owner isn’t taking into account the harm his business is imposing on the people living downstream. The profit-and-loss system presumes that consumers and firms are receiving feedback from the impact of their actions, and so (Pigou argued) a case of pollution leads to inefficiency.

Pigou suggested that in a case like this, the government should impose a tax on the TV factory, corresponding to the harm that additional output causes to the people living downstream. The tax would then lead the owner of the factory to scale back production, to the point at which the “marginal” TV produced would bestow roughly equal benefits and costs to society, taking everything into account. (Without the Pigovian tax, the factory owner would produce additional TV sets for which their marginal cost to society exceeded their marginal benefit, meaning society would be worse off because of these additional units.)

For the purpose of this IER post, I’ll have to be brief, but here is the quick and dirty version of how Ronald Coase came along and completely upended this traditional Pigovian analysis: First, Coase told his readers to stop thinking of these situations in terms of the good guys and bad guys. In my hypothetical TV factory case—which is my example, not Coase’s—we shouldn’t view the factory owner as someone violating the downstream homeowners. Rather, Coase urged his readers to consider, what he called, the “reciprocal nature” of the problem.

Specifically, Coase would say in our example that the real problem is one of scarcity and competing uses for the river water. The factory owner would like to use the river as a place to dump his waste after producing TVs, while the homeowners would like to use the river for their kids to play in or to wash their clothes. The two uses are incompatible, and the issue is: To which party should the use of the river be allocated? Coase warns us that if the government installs a TV tax on the factory, the politicians are simply assuming that the most efficient solution to the conflict is for the factory to scale back TV production.

But we can imagine better outcomes, depending on the specifics. Suppose, for example, that there are only a few households who live downstream from the factory, and are harmed by its waste products. In this situation, rather than the owner greatly scaling back TV production—and depriving consumers around the country of having cheap TVs—maybe the least-cost solution is for the factory owner to buy the properties from the few families and pay them to move somewhere else. Note that we are talking about voluntary exchanges here; the people aren’t being evicted by the sheriff. Rather, just suppose for the sake of argument that for (say) $2 million, the factory owner could buy out the families living downstream, and everybody would be much happier than the outcome that would result under a TV tax.

Now that we’ve worked through this hypothetical example to illustrate the out-of-the-box thinking Coase developed in his 1960 paper, I’ll demonstrate its relevance to the new study about trees and climate change.

Tree Option Might Greatly Reduce the “Social Cost of Carbon”

As The Guardian piece explains, the new study is far more optimistic about the scale of tree planting available on Earth than had been earlier believed. This is why the scientists involved in the study think a massive campaign of planting trees is now the single best approach to mitigating climate change. Here are some key excerpts from The Guardian article:

Planting billions of trees across the world is by far the biggest and cheapest way to tackle the climate crisis, according to scientists, who have made the first calculation of how many more trees could be planted without encroaching on crop land or urban areas.

"As trees grow, they absorb and store the carbon dioxide emissions that are driving global heating. New research estimates that a worldwide planting programme could remove two-thirds of all the emissions that have been pumped into the atmosphere by human activities, a figure the scientists describe as “mind-blowing”.


“This new quantitative evaluation shows [forest] restoration isn’t just one of our climate change solutions, it is overwhelmingly the top one,” said Prof Tom Crowther at the Swiss university ETH Zurich, who led the research. “What blows my mind is the scale. I thought restoration would be in the top 10, but it is overwhelmingly more powerful than all of the other climate change solutions proposed.”

Citing a figure that planting a new tree costs roughly 30 cents, Prof. Crowther remarked that we could plant the target of 1 trillion trees by spending about $300 billion. Sure, that’s a big number, but its nowhere close to the economic cost of imposing a worldwide carbon tax, the “solution” that many economists have been promoting for years as a no-brainer. (William Nordhaus’ model in its 2007 calibration estimated that even his modest carbon tax would cause several trillion dollars [in today’s dollars] in economic compliance costs, while the more aggressive proposals would cause more than $20 trillion in economic costs.)

This episode is a specific example of the type of problem Ronald Coase warned about. Specifically, the carbon tax logic assumed that the problem was, “People are emitting too much carbon dioxide and we need to coerce them into scaling back.” But what if instead the problem was, “People aren’t planting enough trees, and we need to coax them into planting more”?

To give some quick numbers: By some estimates, a single healthy tree can sequester up to a ton of carbon dioxide by the time it reaches 40 years old, and we also read that a silver maple tree will absorb 400 pounds of carbon dioxide by the time it reaches 25 years old.

So consider a coal-fired power plant that is going to emit a ton of carbon dioxide in order to produce some additional electricity. If the pro-tax economists had gotten their way, there would be a $42 tax levied on the power plant, since the Obama EPA estimated that that was the “social cost of carbon” for the year 2020.

Yet if there is room on Earth for more trees—given the plans of everybody else—that Obama-era estimate greatly overstates the harm of the emission. Rather than imposing $42 in damages as the EPA calculations suggested, the power plant owner could spend a mere $3 to plant 10 trees, meaning that over the next two decades the trees would have absorbed more than the additional emissions, and would in fact continue reducing CO2 in the atmosphere for decades beyond.

As this simple example illustrates, a carbon tax of $42 would have been a gross overkill. It would have led power plants and other firms to scale back their emissions in very costly ways that stifled economic growth, when—apparently—there was a much cheaper solution available. And notice throughout all of this discussion, I am stipulating the basic externality framework for the sake of argument, and am merely showing the problems that Ronald Coase demonstrated with this one-size-fits-all way of thinking.

A Theater Analogy

Consider a movie theater. It’s a problem that people sometimes drop popcorn and other litter on the floor. Now there are two ways the theater could respond: (1) It could install cameras and personnel to monitor the customers and heavily fine anybody caught dropping stuff on the floor. This would be a huge inconvenience and make movie-going far less pleasant. Or (2) the theater could hire personnel to clean up the floor after a show. And notice that even if some combination were used—maybe the theater calls the police on somebody who just runs up and down the aisles dumping soda on the floor—there is no reason that the “fine” imposed on litterers should be used to pay the salary of the employees who pick up popcorn with a broom. Those are two totally different considerations.

When it comes to carbon taxes, the conventional logic has simply assumed that penalizing emissions is the appropriate solution to the ostensible problem of harmful climate change. But maybe that is totally wrong. Perhaps it would make far more sense to pay people to plant trees.

And while it’s true that some carbon tax proposals contain (mild) provisions for reforestation, there is no reason at all for those programs to be linked. In general, taxing carbon is a very inefficient way to raise government revenue. If tree planting is truly superior, then it would make more economic sense to use general tax funds for the subsidies. There is no reason at all to earmark carbon tax revenues for reforestation; this would be as silly as insisting that movie theaters only pay the clean-up employees out of their “litter tax” rather than the general revenues from ticket sales.


New developments in the scientific literature show that tree-planting might be the single best way to reduce the human contribution to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The whole episode shows the folly of top-down political solutions to social challenges. Even if we stipulate the standard framework of “market failure,” it does not follow that a carbon tax set to the “social cost of carbon” is the way to restore efficiency. The case for a carbon tax is much weaker than the so-called experts have been assuring us.



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


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Why shouldn’t Brazilians burn down trees?"

Ash builds humus, which not only clears land for agriculture, but also without which agriculture is impossible. Ancient ash layers have been found in the Amazon, which tell us that those who populated it then knew that. Sadly, the morons telling us it's wrong haven't a clue about anything. It's a wonder they ever learned to dress themselves or tie their shoes.