Friday, November 01, 2019

Bill Gates says Fossil-Fuel Divestment Has ‘Zero’ Impact On Climate

Fossil-fuel divestment is a waste of time. At least, according to liberal billionaire and philanthropist Bill Gates.

While it may come as a shock to climate activists who claim to refuse to invest in oil and coal will help the planet, the Microsoft co-founder disagreed. Gates told Financial Times, “Divestment, to date, probably has reduced about zero tonnes of emissions.”

“It’s not like you’ve capital-starved [the] people making steel and gasoline,” he said. “I don’t know the mechanism of action where divestment [keeps] emissions [from] going up every year. I’m just too damn numeric.”

Gates argued that investors who want to reduce emissions would be better off funding “disruptive technologies that slow carbon emissions and help people adapt,” FT wrote on Sept. 17.

He cited his own backing of disruptive companies, a list that included Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, as an example of causing change.

“When I’m taking billions of dollars and creating breakthrough energy ventures and funding only companies who, if they’re successful, reduce greenhouse gases by 0.5 percent, then I actually do see a cause and effect type thing,” Gates added.

This wasn’t the first time Gates criticized fossil-fuel divestment. In 2015, The Guardian reported Gates’ opposition to the divestment movement’s “theory of change,” and called it a “false solution.”

“If you think divestment alone is a solution, I worry you’re taking whatever desire people have to solve this problem and kind of using up their idealism and energy on something that won’t emit less carbon – because only a few people in society are the owners of the equity of coal or oil companies,” he said. “As long as there’s no carbon tax and that stuff is legal, everybody should be able to drive around.”

In 2019, Gates was one of several CEOs who criticized Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ (D-NY) Green New Deal resolution. He said it was “not realistic.”


US Energy Reliability Gone With the Wind

It is too often assumed that making maximum use of renewables is the answer to addressing environmental goals.  So easy is it to buy into this assumption that intermittent wind power is pulling ahead of coal in Texas.

Energy analysts forecast that wind turbines in Texas will generate about 87,000 megawatt-hours of electricity next year, eclipsing the anticipated output from coal.  Coal power is falling in Texas and nationally, while wind power is on a rapid upward climb.  Wind power already supplies 20% of the Lone Star state’s power and it’s expected to reach 24% in 2020, second only to natural gas, while coal plants continue to close.

If you think those trends don’t come with a downside, think again.  The economy in Texas and nationally demands full-time electricity.  Wind only generates part-time electricity.  In West Texas this summer, on some hot and humid days it was so still there wasn’t enough of a breeze to stir a leaf.  Hundreds of wind turbines stopped spinning.  When the Texas grid needed wind power the most, it was nowhere to be found. The Texas electric power grid came perilously close to collapsing. 

Electricity prices spiked from their normal range of $20 to $30 per megawatt-hour to $9,000 not once but twice. The state teetered on the edge of rolling blackouts and no air conditioning for millions of families during triple digit temperatures. Operators of the Texas grid issued alert after alert asking consumers to turn off devices and conserve power.

Texas is unlikely to be the only state that comes perilously close to electricity shortages.  Federal and state subsidies have made wind and solar power so cheap that they are displacing essential baseload sources of power that are capable of running when needed. Nationally, electricity production from coal continues to decline, falling by 15% in 2019 and another 9% projected in 2020. The very power plants that have long underpinned grid reliability are being pushed aside for sources of power that jeopardize it.

All of this is ominous not only for Texas but also other parts of the country.  The rapid shift toward wind power is an opportunity for a reality check in the debate over the deployment of renewables, which benefit from federal tax credits and generous state mandates.

According to the Joint Congressional Committee on Taxation, wind and solar power will have received $36.5 billion in federal tax credits between 2016 and 2020.  It’s an imposing number but it doesn’t even touch the subsidies provided for solar and wind at the state level.State renewable portfolio standards that mandate ever-increasing amounts of wind and solar power have been just as disruptive to electricity markets and perhaps even more costly.

It brings into sharp focus the most urgent challenge: How will the United States scale back the use of fossil fuels, yet maintain an adequate energy supply?  Are renewables ready to fill the gap alone?  Can wind and solar power be advanced fast enough and of sufficient scale, given that energy consumption is expected to grow over the next 30 years.  For all the investment in wind and solar, despite all of the billions in subsidies, their limitations remain immense.  The United States and the rest of the world will continue to rely on traditional sources of power for decades as populations grow, economies expand and living standards rise.

The current path forward that ignores the need for a balanced mix of energy sources is a road to nowhere.

Instead of indifference, we need to regain our balance and encourage investment in advanced energy technology of all kinds – coal, natural gas, nuclear power, and renewables, along with improvements in energy efficiency – if we hope to avoid future havoc in electricity markets and ensure the availability of reliable and affordable power.


The myth of green growth

Here’s the story about climate that we liberals like to tell ourselves: once we get rid of dinosaur politicians like Trump, we’ll take on the fossil-fuel lobby and greedy corporations and vote through a “green new deal”.

It will fund clean, fast-growing industries: solar, wind, electric vehicles, sustainable clothes. That will be a win-win: we can green our societies and keep consuming. This story is called “green growth”.

Unfortunately, green growth probably doesn’t exist — at least not for the next couple of decades, during which time we’ll have to cut most of our carbon emissions to keep the planet habitable. Our generation has to choose: we can be green or we can have growth, but we can’t have both together.

Let’s start with the basics. We have to nearly halve current global carbon emissions by 2030 to have a chance of limiting the rise in the planet’s temperatures to 1.5C, says the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Many climate scientists think the IPCC’s backward-looking, consensus-based estimates are too optimistic, but let’s accept that figure for a moment. It would require quite a turnround. Global emissions are still rising, hitting a record last year. Meanwhile, the world’s population is growing.

So we need to slash emissions while feeding and fuelling more people. But those people are also getting richer: global income per capita typically grows about 2 per cent a year.

And when people have money, they convert it into emissions. That’s what wealth is.

To achieve green growth, we’d have to emit radically less carbon per unit of gross domestic product. The amount of carbon required to produce one dollar of GDP has recently been dropping, by about 0.4 per cent a year.

But to keep temperature rises at safe levels, the carbon intensity of the global economy needs to fall at least 10 times faster, estimates the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21), a think-tank.

Green-growthers will say: “Don’t worry, renewable energy is taking off.” And it’s true that modern renewables now account for more than 10 per cent of total energy consumption, according to REN21. By 2050, that figure could reach about 30 per cent.

But the IPCC estimates we’ll need to be at about double that by then. And global investment in clean energy projects fell to its lowest levels in six years in the first half of 2019, says Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Green-growthers trumpet the transformation of European economies in recent decades: higher GDP, falling emissions. But that’s mostly because these countries have offshored their emissions: much of their stuff is now made in Asia.

Moreover, aviation and shipping aren’t counted against national carbon budgets. Once you factor in emissions embedded in imported goods, the EU’s carbon emissions are about 19 per cent higher than the bloc’s official figures, calculates the Global Carbon Project, a network of scientists; for many big cities, the gap is about 60 per cent.

The sad truth is that moving from dirty to green growth will take much more time than we have. The infrastructure we’ll be using these next crucial decades has largely already been built, and it isn’t green. Most of today’s planes and container ships will still be in use by 2040. There are no green alternatives yet, nor enough vegan burgers or sustainable clothes.

In 2040, too, most people will be living on much the same streets as today, still driving cars. Electric vehicles won’t save us: their lifetime emissions are unacceptably high. (Mining lithium, making car batteries, shipping cars and generating most electricity isn’t clean.)

Or picture the world’s biggest new infrastructure project: China’s Belt and Road is a web of highways, ports, cement plants, power plants (many coal-fired) and, yes, lots of greenish rail, built to shunt consumer goods across the world at pace. That’s growth, but it isn’t green.

It’s true we’re becoming more fuel-efficient. Ships, cars and planes have all reduced their energy consumption per mile.

But as William Jevons pointed out in 1865, when fuels become cheaper and more efficient, we use more of them. Note the global rise in car sales, increased ship speeds and the growing numbers flying each year. About four out of five people on earth have never taken a flight. Many of them cannot wait.

If green growth doesn’t exist, the only way to prevent climate catastrophe is “degrowth” now, not in 2050: stop most flying, meat-eating and clothes-buying until we have green alternatives, ban privately owned cars and abandon sprawling suburbs. A long economic depression might be enough to keep the planet habitable. We’d also need to divert money from consumption to building green infrastructure. This is essentially Greta Thunberg’s argument.

But that would put us in a new world. Economic growth, democracy and CO2 have always been intertwined. Growth and democracy barely existed until coal fuelled the industrial revolution. Can democracy survive without carbon?

We are not going to find out. No electorate will vote to decimate its own lifestyle. We can’t blame bad politicians or corporates. It’s us: we will always choose growth over climate.


The Bogus "Consensus" Argument on Climate Change

One of the popular rhetorical moves in the climate change debate is for advocates of aggressive government intervention to claim that “97% of scientists” agree with their position, and so therefore any critics must be unscientific “deniers.”

Now these claims have been dubious from the start; people like David Friedman have demonstrated that the “97% consensus” assertion became a talking point only through a biased procedure that mischaracterized how journal articles were rated, and thereby inflating the estimate.

But beyond that, a review in The New Republic of a book critical of mainstream economics uses the exact same degree of consensus in order to cast aspersions on the science of economics. In other words, when it comes to the nearly unanimous rejection of rent control or tariffs among professional economists, at least some progressive leftists conclude that there must be group-think involved. The one consistent thread in both cases—that of the climate scientists and that of the economists—is that The New Republic takes the side that will expand the scope of government power, a central tenet since its birth by Herbert Croly a century ago.

The Dubious “97% Consensus” Claim Regarding Climate Science
Back in 2014, David Friedman worked through the original paper that kicked off the “97% consensus” talking point. What the original authors, Cook et al., actually found in their 2013 paper was that 97.1% of the relevant articles agreed that humans contribute to global warming. But notice that that is not at all the same thing as saying that humans are the main contributors to observed global warming (since the Industrial Revolution).

This is a huge distinction. For example, I co-authored a Cato study with climate scientists Pat Michaels and Chip Knappenberger, in which we strongly opposed a U.S. carbon tax. Yet both Michaels and Knappenberger would be climate scientists who were part of the “97% consensus” according to Cook et al. That is, Michaels and Knappenberger both agree that, other things equal, human activity that emits carbon dioxide will make the world warmer than it otherwise would be. That observation by itself does not mean there is a crisis nor does it justify a large carbon tax.

Incidentally, when it comes down to what Cook et al. actually found, economist David R. Henderson noticed that it was even less impressive than what Friedman had reported. Here’s Henderson:

[Cook et al.] got their 97 percent by considering only those abstracts that expressed a position on anthropogenic global warming (AGW). I find it interesting that 2/3 of the abstracts did not take a position. So, taking into account David Friedman’s criticism above, and mine, Cook and Bedford, in summarizing their findings, should have said, “Of the approximately one-third of climate scientists writing on global warming who stated a position on the role of humans, 97% thought humans contribute somewhat to global warming.” That doesn’t quite have the same ring, does it? [David R. Henderson, bold added.]

So to sum up: The casual statements in the corporate media and in online arguments would lead the average person to believe that 97% of scientists who have published on climate change think that humans are the main drivers of global warming. And yet, at least if we review the original Cook et al. (2013) paper that kicked off the talking point, what they actually found was that of the sampled papers on climate change, only one-third of them expressed a view about its causes, and then of that subset, 97% agreed that humans were at least one cause of climate change. This would be truth-in-advertising, something foreign in the political discussion to which all AGW issues now seem to descend.

The New Republic’s Differing Attitudes Towards Consensus
The journal The New Republic was founded in 1914. Its website states: “For over 100 years, we have championed progressive ideas and challenged popular opinion….The New Republic promotes novel solutions for today’s most critical issues.”

With that context, it’s not surprising that The New Republic uses the alleged 97% consensus in climate science the way other progressive outlets typically do. Here’s an excerpt from a 2015 article (by Rebecca Leber) in which Republicans were excoriated for their anti-science stance on climate change:

Two years ago, a group of international researchers led by University of Queensland’s John Cook surveyed 12,000 abstracts of peer-reviewed papers on climate change since the 1990s. Out of the 4,000 papers that took a position one way or another on the causes of global warming, 97 percent of them were in agreement: Humans are the primary cause. By putting a number on the scientific consensus, the study provided everyone from President Barack Obama to comedian John Oliver with a tidy talking point.

Notice already that Leber is helping to perpetuate a falsehood, though she can be forgiven—part of David Friedman’s blog post was to show that Cook himself was responsible (Friedman calls it an outright lie) for the confusion regarding what he and his co-authors actually found. And notice that Leber confirms what I have claimed in this post, namely that it was the Cook et al. (2013) paper that originally provided the “talking point” (her term) about so-called consensus.

The point of Leber’s essay is to then denounce Ted Cruz and certain other Republicans for ignoring this consensus among climate scientists:

All this debate over one statistic might seem silly, but it’s important that Americans understand there is overwhelming agreement about human-caused global warming. Deniers have managed to undermine how the public views climate science, which in turn makes voters less likely to support climate action.

Now here’s what’s really interesting. A colleague sent me a recent review in The New Republic of a new book by Binyan Appelbaum that is critical of the economics profession. The reviewer, Robin Kaiser-Schatzlein, quoted with approval Appelbaum’s low view of consensus in economics:

Appelbaum shows the strangely high degree of consensus in the field of economics, including a 1979 survey of economists that “found 98 percent opposed rent controls, 97 percent opposed tariffs, 95 percent favored floating exchange rates, and 90 percent opposed minimum wage laws.” And in a moment of impish humor he notes that “Although nature tends toward entropy, they shared a confidence that economies tend toward equilibrium.” Economists shared a creepy lack of doubt about how the world worked. [Kaiser-Schatzlein, bold added.]

Isn’t that amazing? Rather than hunting down and demonizing Democratic politicians who dare to oppose the expert consensus on items like rent control—which Bernie Sanders has recently promoted—the reaction here is to guffaw at the hubris and “creepy lack of doubt about how the world [works].”


From the beginning, the “97% consensus” claim about climate change has been dubious, with supporters claiming that it represented much more than it really did. Furthermore, a recent book review in The New Republic shows that when it comes to economic science, 97% consensus means nothing, if it doesn’t support progressive politics.


Australia: Pressure rising for drivers of electric cars to pay their way

Electric vehide drivers should be charged road-user costs, with 76 per cent of Australians calling on green-car owners to contribute to transport infrastructure, and almost one-in-two declaring it unfair they avoid paying fuel excise.

New polling obtained by The Australian reveals pushback against electric vehicle owners, with Australian motorists warning "there shouldn't be one rule for them and another for us". The sample of 1500 Australians, conducted by pollster Toby Ralph for the Australian Automobile Association, shows an "overwhelming sentiment that all road users should pay to fund the roads, not just those using petrol or diesel".

The research, based on 1400 quantitative and 100 qualitative interviews across the nation in July, also revealed concerns about Australia holding 50 days of fuel stocks, with 55 per cent saying it was insufficient and 31 per cent unsure.

AAA managing director Michael Bradley said the data spoke to the fact that "Australian motorists are incredibly price sensitive and very focused on high transport costs". "People understand motoring taxes build and maintain the roads and rail networks we all need, and Australians clearly want that burden shared equally," Mr Bradley said.

"Low emissions vehicle technologies are evolving rapidly and while no one wants the adoption of cleaner, safer cars stifled, Australia's tax system needs to be updated if it is to be ready for the changes coming.

"The task in front of government is to fix a structural flaw in the federal budget by creating a national road access charge for low emission vehicles, which brings this growing fleet into the tax system without disincentivising uptake."

According to Infrastructure Australia, electric vehicles are projected to account for 70 per cent of new vehicle sales and 30 per cent of the vehicle fleet by 2040. In February, the Electric Vehicle Council welcomed IA's identification of the need to construct a national electric vehicle fast-charging network as a "high priority initiative for Australia".

According to interviews conducted for the AAA-commissioned research, respondents raised concerns over electric vehicle owners not paying the fuel excise of 41.6c for every litre of petrol. "It's their choice to get (an electric car) but they should pay too," a respondent said.

Others said "when you think about it, it's like tax avoidance", "why should I subsidise them" and "it's only fair they pay something".

Debate over electric vehicles peaked ahead of the federal election after Bill Shorten flagged an electric vehicle target of 50 per cent of new car sales by 2030.

Both major parties have baulked at funding a major rollout of recharging infrastructure across the nation and supporting generous subsidies for electric vehicles, which have been adopted by some overseas governments.

The AAA research showed while a majority of Australians knew about the fuel excise, they were unaware of how much it was worth, and only older motorists knew it was used to pay for roads. Excise rates on fuel and petroleum products are indexed twice a year in line with the consumer price index.

On paying to increase fuel stocks to 90 days, 59 per cent of those surveyed said nothing and 21 per cent flagged they would likely pay less than 2c. Asked if they were aware Europe's petrol is "cleaner" than Australia's fuel, 72 per cent said they weren't and only 41 per cent of respondents were likely to pay more for cleaner fuel that would "reduce emissions and improve community health".

From "The Australian" of 28/10/2019


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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