Posts tagged with: global warming

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A debate about the future of energy policy is being held over at sp!ked, sponsored by Research Councils UK. From their notice:

THE FUTURE OF ENERGY
Expanding supply or managing demand?

In the opening articles, five commentators address the question from different viewpoints.

ADAM VAUGHAN, online editor, New Consumer magazine argues that saving energy is the way forward: ‘By taking a number of simple steps, consumers can save energy and money – and help save the planet.’

JOE KAPLINSKY, science writer, spiked, believes that we need to greatly expand energy supply: ‘The best thing that we could do for future generations is to build a new energy infrastructure, bigger and better than the old one.’

MALCOLM GRIMSTON, associate fellow at Chatham House, argues that we need to embrace nuclear power: ‘Nuclear energy remains the only proven large-scale option that can deliver major saving in greenhouse gas emissions.’

MARK JACCARD, professor of resource and environmental management at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver believes that fossil fuels, particularly coal, remain central to energy supply: ‘Zero-emission fossil fuels will remain cost competitive for at least a century.’

JIM SKEA, research director, UK Energy Research Centre argues that renewables are not a panacea to all our energy problems, but ‘A variety of renewable technologies may play an important part in energy generation in the future.’

spiked is keen to find out what readers think, and you can respond to the debate here.

I would also briefly mention that you can read a related article by me here, and that in general I think the options posed in the debates subtitle (reduction of use or expansion of supply) is similar to the options posed by the problem greenhouse gas emissions (reduction of emissions or increase of sequestration).

Most of the policy recommendations I’ve seen regarding CO2 emissions have focused on reduction of emissions rather than an increases in the rate and amount of carbon sequestration (in forests and so on). There’s a lot of work to be done on that latter point, especially if largescale reduction of emissions is untenable both politically and economically for the foreseeable future.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, December 4, 2006

Joe Carter gives us some good context for today:

The fact that many people agree on something does not imply that what they agree on is true, whether the issue is climatology or farm subsidies. An appeal to consensus is merely a form of the argumentum ad populum fallacy (appeal to the majority). The status of the fallacy doesn’t change just because the members of the majority all have Ph.Ds. If you want to establish a consensus for your argument, you have to do more than appeal to a consensus.

What’s this context for? Today’s WSJ includes the text of a letter sent from Sens. Snowe and Rockefeller to ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson.

In the missive, the senators berate ExxonMobil for its support of a “climate change denial confederacy,” which “has exerted an influence out of all proportion to its size or relative scientific credibility.”

But in the face of adversity, there is always the safety of scientific consensus to fall back upon:

While the group of outliers funded by ExxonMobil has had some success in the court of public opinion, it has failed miserably in confusing, much less convincing, the legitimate scientific community. Rather, what has emerged and continues to withstand the carefully crafted denial strategy is an insurmountable scientific consensus on both the problem and causation of climate change.

This related WSJ editorial properly excoriates Snowe and Rockefeller and their letter, which the editorial says is “of a piece with what has become a campaign of intimidation against any global warming dissent.”

I have read through the opening arguments (PDF) in Massachusetts, et al., v. Environmental Protection Agency, et al. (05-1120) conducted yesterday morning before the Supreme Court. From a layperson’s perspective I would have to say that Jonathan Adler’s characterization of the nature of the proceedings in not quite correct.

Adler writes, “It is also important to underscore that this case is not about the science of climate change. There is no dispute that human emissions of greenhouse gases affect the global climate. Rather, the fundamental issues are whether the Clean Air Act mandates the sort of regulatory action the petitioners seek, and whether these (or any) petitioners are entitled to bring these claims in court.” It seems to me, however, that as much of the discussion focused on the issue of the petitioners’ standing, it necessarily included and touched on their ability to prove imminent threat of loss due to climate change.

As Lyle Denniston writes in summary of yesterday’s action, “The Supreme Court’s first public discussion of global warming was, in large part, an inquiry into the opportunity — or lack of it — to bring a lawsuit to try to force the government to promptly address the problem (the “standing” issue). And, it seemed clear that the deciding vote on that question probably lies with the Court’s key centrist Justice, Anthony M. Kennedy.”

With regard to Kennedy’s questioning, Denniston states, “Kennedy suggested that the Court could not bypass the larger question of whether global warming is a problem, in order to assess who might be harmed by it, ‘because there’s no injury if there’s not global warming.’”

Thus, the “science of climate change” is an issue…and a large one at that.

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Supreme Court is hearing a case today brought by 12 states and a coalition of environmental groups that sued the Bush administration in 2003 for refusing to issue regulations limiting carbon emissions. “On a global scale, forced cutbacks in CO-2 emissions would create an unconscionable setback for developing countries where economic development is just beginning to pull people out of poverty,” writes Jay Richards.

Read the commentary here.

Right about now, the Supreme Court of the United States should be hearing the beginning arguments in Massachusetts, et al., v. Environmental Protection Agency, et al. (05-1120). Not much attention has been paid to this case over the last few months, but recently a spate of media attention has arisen, citing this case as perhaps “the most important environmental case in many years,” as well as “one of the biggest environmental cases in years.” (Jonathan Adler responds to the NYT editorial at The Volokh Conspiracy.)

There are reasons to doubt the hype surrounding this case, however, and not just because of the dubiousness of the scientific “consensus” on climate change.

A spate of amici briefs Atlantic Legal Foundation and the National Council of Churches (PDF), the latter of which argues in part that scientific “uncertainty alone cannot justify inaction. To decide rationally whether climate change may ‘endanger public health or welfare,’ EPA must consider the harm that would result if the risk of climate change, however uncertain, is realized.” As I have argued against similar views elsewhere, such claims bring economic considerations, especially cost/benefit analysis of action vs. inaction, to the fore, which do not necessarily bear out the conclusion that the potential harm necessitates political action.

In fact, the EPA is not citing scientific uncertainty as its sole justification for refraining from regulatory action. One of its main claims is that it lacks the statutory authority to regulate CO2 emissions, and thus a large part of the case hinges on interpretation of certain provisions of the Clean Air Act.

Regarding the complexity of the case, Hugh Hewitt writes that “in one case do we get important issues of standing, legislative intent, deference to administrative agencies and, of course, the debate over global warming.”

He concludes, “The argument will be one worth listening to very closely, and the decision when it arrives in the spring will be, I predict, a duel between the justices who take seriously the idea of a Court of limited jurisdiction versus those justices eager for the EPA to get on with the urgent business of grappling with climate change.”

In a helpful overview of the case, Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSblog notes a similar concerns of a group of conservative law professors, including Robert H. Bork, that the petitioners’ claim is

part of a multi-faceted effort to draw the federal courts into one of the most important and controversial foreign policy and political battles of our time….Petitioners seek to remake U.S. climate change policy through litigation in the federal courts.

Likewise Rivkin and Casey in today’s WSJ, who filed an amicus brief in the case, conclude that “if economic growth is to be sacrificed because of global warming fears, the decision should be taken by Congress and the president, the people’s elected representatives, and not by the courts.”

At its current state, the petitioners’ claims were denied in a 2-1 decision by the D.C. Circuit Court, after which the appeal by the petitioners came to the Supreme Court. John Gartner of Wired’s Autopia warns, “If the Court sides with the EPA, it will be further proof that the judicial branch of government is out of step with the populace,” a claim which, while perhaps true, seems to advocate legislation from the bench.

Despite such rhetoric, the case has two major components, focusing not only on the science of climate change but on the question of the appropriate governmental authority to make policy decisions. Denniston summarizes it this way:

The controversy pursued in the briefs thus focuses heavily on the harms believed to arise from global warming, countered by the claims that the science on climate change is still evolving and uncertain. But equal controversy has arisen over what might be called the separation-of-powers issue: who decides how to attack the perceived problem of climate change?

Because of the multi-faceted nature of the case’s arguments, Denniston writes that this decision could end up not setting a major precedent on the politics of climate change: “Before the Court ever reached the ‘global warming’ problem, it could be stopped by a maze of procedural issues, as well as by a bold challenge to the judiciary’s power to take on the problem.”

Update: Autopia’s John Gartner now says that the court’s greenhouse ruling “won’t matter,” at least in the short-term.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The UN has been busy updating the Chicken Little fable into a contemporary context. You know the story where the little chick runs around crying, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”

In this edition, however, the looming disaster is (predictably) climate change. The news comes courtesy of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (HT: NewsBusters).

Sedna, the Mother of the Sea

The Gaia motif is perhaps the most revealing part, as in “Tore and the Town on Thin Ice,” (PDF) the title character is visited by “Sedna, the Mother of the Sea” who claims to be “the one who created and cares for the sea creatures – whales and walruses, seals and fish.”

Sedna is the Inuit goddess of the sea, and apparently the link between environmentalism and paganism is a natural one at the United Nations Environment Programme.

Of course the Christian faith provides a more than adequate basis for true stewardship of the environment, which neither divinizes the creation nor absolutizes human power over the world.

The Lord who “created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind” also made man the “ruler over the works” of his hands, including “the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.”

If it is true that the sea life is suffering, I think it is less a sign of the distress of Sedna than it is something else…the day of the Lord, perhaps? See what some of the prophets have to say about this, particularly Ezekiel and Zephaniah.

But perhaps that story is too scary for the UN. It prefers the Chicken Little myth and the illusion both that human action is the direct cause of and the potential solution for all disasters.

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Tuesday, November 7, 2006

In response to Sir Nicholas Stern’s cost/benefit analysis of dealing with climate change, Christopher Monckton, former adviser to Margaret Thatcher and journalist, has published an article (a second will be published next week) and what looks like a very long, researched and documented paper [pdf] explaining why the “consensus” regarding global warming is not correct. Here is a summary of his argument:

All ten of the propositions listed below must be proven true if the climate-change “consensus” is to be proven true. The first article considers the first six of the listed propositions and draws the conclusions shown. The second article will consider the remaining four propositions.

  1. That the debate is over and all credible climate scientists are agreed. False
  2. That temperature has risen above millennial variability and is exceptional. Very unlikely
  3. That changes in solar irradiance are an insignificant forcing mechanism. False
  4. That the last century’s increases in temperature are correctly measured. Unlikely
  5. That greenhouse-gas increase is the main forcing agent of temperature. Not proven
  6. That temperature will rise far enough to do more harm than good. Very unlikely
  7. That continuing greenhouse-gas emissions will be very harmful to life. Unlikely
  8. That proposed carbon-emission limits would make a definite difference. Very unlikely
  9. That the environmental benefits of remediation will be cost-effective. Very unlikely
  10. That taking precautions, just in case, would be the responsible course. False

While I tend to disbelieve the general “consensus” that our world is warming at exceptional rates, sea levels will rise twenty feet, and we’re all going to die in 50 years because we didn’t ratify Kyoto, I do think it’s generally good stewardship to try not to pollute and to take responsibility for the pollution that we put into the air, water and land.

Anyhow, read the article, and let us know if you share Monckton’s skepticism, or if you are unpersuaded by his analysis.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, November 2, 2006

Bjørn Lomborg responds to the Stern Report (discussed here) in today’s WSJ, “Stern Review.”

About a month ago I posted some responses to the editorial position taken at the Economist. One of their claims was with regard to the Kyoto Protocol and that “European Union countries and Japan will probably hit their targets, even if Canada does not.”

At the time I registered skepticism with respect to these estimates. Turns out my skepticism was well-founded.

From Wired News:

Between 1990 and 2004, emissions of all industrialized countries decreased by 3.3 percent, mostly because of a 36.8 percent decrease in the former Soviet bloc, the U.N. reported. Since 2000, however, those “economies in transition” have increased emissions by 4.1 percent.

Well, I’ve examined the decreased emissions in Russia before, which has been due in large part not to any government action but by the extensive contraction of the Russian manufacturing sector. The decrease in carbon emissions came at a huge economic cost, all of which was incidental and unrelated to the ratification of Kyoto.

More from Wired,

Of the 41 industrialized nations, 34 increased emissions between 2000 and 2004, the U.N. reported…. Among countries bound by Kyoto, Germany’s emissions dropped 17 percent between 1990 and 2004, Britain’s by 14 percent and France’s by almost 1 percent, the U.N. reported. But Kyoto signatories such as Japan, Italy and Spain have registered emissions increases since 1990.

Looks like Russia might have some buyers for those carbon credits after all.

In a report commissioned by the UK government, Sir Nicholas Stern, a former chief economist of the World Bank, argues that the cost of waiting to take action to curb CO2 emissions will outpace other economic arguments against action on climate change.

The BBC reports (HT: Slashdot) that Stern found “that global warming could shrink the global economy by 20%,” but that this opportunity cost for not taking action immediately could be offset by moving now: “Taking action now would cost just 1% of global gross domestic product, the 700-page study says.” This is essentially the same economic argument I’ve previously used against action on climate change, but reversed to endorse action.

UK prime minister Tony Blair echoed the report’s conclusions, “For every ਱ invested now we can save ਵ, or possibly more, by acting now.”

“We can’t wait the five years it took to negotiate Kyoto – we simply don’t have the time. We accept we have to go further (than Kyoto),” Blair said.

The BBC claims that Stern’s report “is the first major contribution to the global warming debate by an economist, rather than a scientist.” This may be true in a sense, but the Copenhagen Consensus of 2004 embodies the conclusions of a number of economists, although it does not, in point of fact, examine the issue at a length in excess of 700 pages.

The conclusions of the consensus differ from Stern’s. Robert W. Fogel writes, “The environment is considered to be important, but it is not yet time to do anything massive about climate change. But with continued research and development (R&D) it will be possible to address future catastrophes and climate change mitigation and adaptation.”

Vernon L. Smith concludes, “It is clear from both the science and the economics of intervention that those of us who care about the environment are not well advised to favour initiating a costly attempt to reduce greenhouse gases (ghgs) build-up in the atmosphere in the near future based on available information. Although the ultimate dangers may turn out to prompt action, the current evidence indicates that it is much too soon to act relative to the many other important and pressing opportunities that demand immediate attention.”

The group’s consensus is, however, that our knowledge of the problem and potential solutions will increase over time, so that they leave open the possibility of recommending action in the future. Nancy L. Stokey sums it up well: “Future decision makers will be better equipped to decide whether more aggressive action is needed.”

Is two more years long enough? Have we learned enough in the intervening period to give greater weight to Stern’s conclusions?

One other item that Stern notes is that he’s hopeful about the possibility of curbing climate change. “I’m optimistic – having done this review – that we have the time and knowledge to act. But only if we act internationally, strongly and urgently,” he says.

Stern puts the emphasis on acting internationally. “Unless it’s international, we will not make the reductions on the scale which will be required,” says Stern. Just what international organization is envisioned as the arbiter of global climate change policy? The UN? The WTO? Or some as-yet uncreated entity, a la the Kyoto Protocol?

In the review summary (PDF), Stern writes, “The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Kyoto Protocol and a range of other informal partnerships and dialogues provide a framework that supports co-operation, and a foundation from which to build further collective action.”

Update: Arnold Kling adds some commentary on the report over at EconLog.

Futher Update: Not too surprisingly, an OPEC spokesman contends that the Stern report propounds “scenarios that have no foundations in either science or economics.”