Category Archives: climate legislation

What the government shutdown can tell us about the politics of climate legislation

This past Friday, the Diane Rehm show had a discussion about the recent shutdown of the Federal Government as Republicans tried to defund the Affordable Care Act.

There was a brief exchange that illustrates a dynamic I have been harping on for years, with respect to the idea of getting Republicans to vote for climate legislation. The panel is talking about the shutdown and the goal to defund the American Care Act, but the dynamic discussed would apply equally to voting for some sort of cap and trade, carbon tax, or fee and dividend program to cut domestic emissions.

Lori Montgomery:  We’ve reported, you know, endlessly, ad nauseam that Boehner himself, you know, told his rank and file not to try to fight Obamacare on the government funding bill. That was his preference. But you had this campaign led largely by outside groups, like the Jim DeMint-run Heritage Foundation and Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Mike Lee, who are Tea Party-backed guys. All summer, they were beating the drum against Obamacare. And they turned the heads of enough Republicans that Boehner could not proceed with a clean CR.

Ari Shapiro:  Lori… referenced outside groups which are a huge factor on this, which has gone under-remarked upon. Any Republican who acknowledges reality, that Obamacare is not going to be repealed, that at some point government funding is going to have to go into effect, that they probably will not get their fullest of demands. Any Republican who comes out and says that right now has a target painted on their back by some of these conservative groups that are very intent on funding primary challengers to force Republicans to adhere to this ideology that says we won’t budge.

[S]o many of these Republicans represent these blood-red districts where the demographic trends are going in the opposite direction from the rest of the country. The rest of the country is getting more diverse. It’s getting younger. These districts are getting more white. They’re getting older.

They represent districts where Romney beat Obama by a huge margin. And so the American people that they are representing do not necessarily look like the rest of the American people, and they have no incentive to negotiate with Democrats because that just means they’ll get primaried and kicked out in the next election.

Jeff Mason:  Well, and exactly. It also means that they won’t get punished for what some people think is really irresponsible behavior. It’s quite the contrary. What they’re seeing is that their political base is quite happy with the government shutdown and quite happy with the stand they’re taking on the Affordable Care Act.

Image courtesy of Flickr user “Fibonacci Blue”, used under Creative Commons

So we’re left with this. Even though there are Republicans who were amenable to funding the government rather than shutting it down as a last ditch attempt to sabotage health care legislation, they are constrained by outside interest groups who will primary them at the first sign of ‘appeasement’, and they’re also seated in districts with an increasingly fringe constituency, who are scared, angry and feel like they have lost control of the country.

The same seems to be true for the time being on climate legislation. Polling shows that while people don’t like what they imagine “ObamaCare” to be, they actually quite like the specific provisions of the actual Affordable Care Act. Similarly, polling shows that climate change isn’t perceived as a terribly immediate problem for the average voter, but specific actions relating to mitigating climate change are quite popular. But any Republican that shows a willingness to work on climate legislation is risking ideologically/industry-backed outside groups funding a primary challenge from their right, and their constituents are increasingly out of touch with the country on support for common sense actions on climate.

There are some people who would have you believe that this opposition to the Affordable Care Act, as well as climate legislation, is an organic, bottom up, ‘will of the people’ type thing. The irony of course is that the centerpiece of the Affordable Care Act was a conservative/Republican idea created as a market-based alternative to feared universal health care. Similarly, cap and trade was a conservative, market-based alternative to command and control options for pollution regulation, and until relatively recently, embrace of cap and trade (or a carbon tax) was a standard Republican position. The opposition to the Affordable Care Act and climate legislation does not stem from some organic, principled, groundswell of belief about what is best for the country, but rather is a form of tribal identity politics, which is fueled by special interests and think tank astroturfing and discourse policing.

No one could have predicted

Remember how a few years back, supporters of aggressive climate mitigation legislation were castigated for being shrill, tribal, hippies? And how if only we tried a “third way” of making incremental progress with opponents of greenhouse gas limits, a bipartisan tide would lift us all to new clean energy heights?

Good times.

[Via]

Roy Spencer reveals his motivation for rejecting the climate mainstream- not science issues, but economic concerns

Image courtesy of Flickr user "SarahDeer", used under Creative Commons

Straight from the horse’s mouth, emphasis Spencer’s:

[Washington Post reporter Juliet Eilperin] provided several paragraphs alluding to why scientists on the [mainstream] side of the issue speak out, but nowhere could I find reasons why WE [i.e. the contrarian minority] speak out.

I had told her that ill-conceived energy policies that hurt economic growth kill poor people. Was that not a sufficiently interesting thing to report on?

I guess after a while, even ostensibly serious “skeptics” like Spencer forget that they’re supposed to pretend they’re arguing science instead of a whacked out, far right wing, “economic” ideology.

Although probably unnecessary, it might be worth pointing out that actual economists think that delaying action on climate change will hurt more than using “cheap” fossil energy will help.

Rumors of cap and trade’s demise have been greatly exaggerated

Image courtesy of Flickr user Bernt Rostad

The world’s 8th largest economy is going to enact a cap and trade program to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Apparently they didn’t get the memo that cap and trade is “dead”.

Game changer, or hot air?

Image courtesy of Flickr user dirkjankraan.com

The Times of India reports:

In a dramatic move that will alter India’s climate change policy irrevocably, Jairam Ramesh, speaking at the ministerial summit at Cancun, said India was willing to commit to legally binding commitments as part of an international climate deal.

But that’s not really the meat of it, though it might make better headlines. Ramesh explicitly rejects that such an agreement will come at Cancun. But, further down:

US has talked of binding agreement in the past. Brazil and China, I can tell you clearly, in a Basic [Brazil-South Africa-India-China] meeting expressed support for a legally binding agreement. South Africa has consistently talked of of a legally binding agreement. So have the Chinese and and they are willing to live with it. This is the reality.

And here we go

According to Science Insider:

Representative Ralph Hall (R-TX) has staked his claim to the chairmanship of the House Science and Technology Committee

Hall announced his intention to run the Committee while saying:

We must also conduct strong oversight over this Administration in key areas including climate change, scientific integrity, energy research and development (R&D), cybersecurity, and science education. Over the past few years the unprecedented growth of the Federal government and the creation of multiple new and duplicative programs occurred without having first assessed the effectiveness and success of existing programs.

Let the show trials begin!

Hall’s current position on climate change is utterly predictable:

I am alarmed that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Obama Administration are forging ahead before Congress has finalized any legislation, and are taking further steps to promote Federal regulations of carbon dioxide. There is growing concern and evidence that scientific data, from which global warming theories emerged, has been manipulated, enhanced or deleted. The IPCC data was used by the EPA as part of the data that went into their endangerment finding. This is especially problematic since the endangerment finding will most likely be used as the basis for a regulatory regime in the U.S.

Recent events have uncovered extensive evidence from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia in England, which involved many researchers across the globe discussing the destruction, alteration and suppression of data that did not support global warming claims. Leaked email exchanges detail attempts to alter data that is the basis of climate modeling. These exchanges reveal actions that constitute a serious breach of scientific ethics.

Regulations based on the EPA’s endangerment finding could undermine economic growth and destroy American jobs. It is irresponsible for the Federal government to tax energy consumption and put more Americans out of work.

According to OpenCongress, Hall was “one of the largest recipients of oil money” during 2000-2008, and “voted in favor of big oil companies on 82% of important oil-related bills from 2005-2007″. He received a score of 0 during each of the last three Congressional sessions from the League of Conservation Voters.

Bonus Trivia Fact [Via Wiki]: Hall “is the oldest serving member of the House of Representatives and the oldest member of either House of Congress.”

“GOP plans attacks on the EPA and climate scientists”

For those who couldn’t see where all this was heading, read this LA Times article.

Dreams of a “post-partisan”  compromise clean energy “breakthrough” under a Republican-led House are just that- dreams.

UPDATE: Here’s James Fallows on the prospects of clean energy investment in a “divided” (i.e. GOP-led House) US government:

When a party is willing to hamstring the country’s overall prospects, as “collateral damage” in its effort to weaken the other party, the results are bad for everybody. To choose one example, about which I have more to say in an upcoming magazine article: Everybody knows that “green tech” / “clean tech” businesses of many descriptions are going to be a future source of jobs, wealth, influence, and growth. The Chinese government, as we’ve read so often, is putting a lot of money behind them — and will keep doing so over the next decade. The U.S. government has started making such investments in the past couple of years — but these will surely become hostage to “divided government,” since stopping them will be a way of “stopping Obama.” And what will really be stopped is America’s future share of such jobs, wealth, influence, and growth, since you can’t develop these projects through short-term, stop-start spending. Sigh. Rather, Grrrrrr.

Stop the Presses! Climate journos think the emissions-reduction issue looks an awful lot like a narrative problem. No word yet on just how “nail-shaped” people wielding hammers see it

Cartoon by Tom Toles

Keith Kloor, Andy Revkin, and Tom Yulsman appear to have bought into the meme that in order to really combat climate change, what’s really needed is a New Narrative. For too long, Keith tells us, people have framed the problem of climate change as… a problem of climate change.

So, I’ll bite. After all, I care about the end success, not about any particular road to it. So what’s this “new” narrative, and what’s the underlying plan to limit climate change? Apparently it goes something like this:

  1. Fund clean energy technology!
  2. ???
  3. Climate disaster averted!

Longtime participants in the climate blogosphere will note that, far from being a “new” narrative, this is just another iteration of the technology trap. Moreover, there isn’t actually anyone in favor of averting disruptive climatic change opposing clean energy technology investment- we’re all big, big fans.

Why are Kloor and Co. so hot for a master Narrative game changer? This meme plays straight into two key occupational prejudices: narrative primacy and conflict. People who make a living painstakingly creating stories from ideas tend to overvalue the importance of narrative. Additionally, people who have been brought up on journalistic crutches like forcing events into artificial frames of conflict are predisposed to view systematic and process-based events and outcomes in terms of individual actors and thus winners and losers. This is almost comically evident Kloor’s piece “Who’s got game?“:

Well that ball is dead. There’s no longer a game. There’s not even the pretense of a game on the global stage. So all those progressive steps that were promised by the legislation’s supporters are not going to happen. Where does that leave them?

Well, why not try a new ball with some life in it and get another game going? For that, let’s go to one of the willing players…

… Here’s the way I look at it: there’s no game in town right now. Norris and his team see an open court and are starting their own game, with their own ball. Some people are starting to come by and watch what unfolds. The other guys who held the court before don’t like that. Well you lost and got kicked off. What are you going to do now? Hurl insults from the stands, or take on the new guys?

In response, I and a whole host of others have pointed out that the flawed assumptions implicit in Keith’s framing of this issue in the comments section of that post. My chief objection is that it’s a little absurd to “challenge” people to adopt a “new narrative” to prevent climate change problems when said narrative is neither new nor explains how it will- even in theory- actually prevent climate change problems.

Keith has responded several times telling us all that we just don’t get what he’s saying (guilty as charged!)- he isn’t going to debate the actual merits of the “new narrative” in terms of its viability as a strategy to combat climate change. Rather, he’s interested in why people seem so unwilling to adopt this new narrative before being informed about its viability as a strategy to combat climate change. I point out the implicit, problematic assumptions in doing so, Keith complains that I’m missing the point, and on and on.

Did I mention that this New Narrative meme is being pushed by the same people who are arguing against any sort of meaningful emissions pricing? They wouldn’t have a vested interested in framing emissions legislation as a dead, would they? I mean, it’s not like they would ignore that for the first time in US history, climate legislation actually passed in the US House of Representatives.

Look, as I’ve said before- pursuing clean energy on its own isn’t going to keep coal in the ground. What is the proposed mechanism by which the “breakthrough” scheme accomplishes this? If they don’t have one, they should just explicitly acknowledge it. If they have a mechanism, they should articulate it, so that people like me will become evangelicals for them. I’m ripe for conversion, “breakthrough” people. Help me help you. How, absent a price on carbon or obscenely distorive subsidies does a clean energy fund keep coal in the ground?

It’s nice that you have a meme. It’s nice that some journalists bit. When you feel like getting around to actually hooking some grassroots support, give us a reason to support your Narrative besides an appeal to novelty.

Meanwhile, there has been early signaling that any dreams of a post-partisan big clean energy push will be dead on arrival. In a Politico story framed in terms of compromise- precisely the mood that the “breakthrough” people assure us will make their scheme viable whereas emissions pricing is not- GOP insiders have showed their hand on energy plans in a Republican-led 112th Congress: drilling in ANWR, some tax breaks for coal and nukes, with a token nod to renewables. Same old, same old. What of a transformative investment in clean energy breakthroughs?

One thing is certain: Republican leaders probably won’t have to worry about being called overly ambitious.

“I wish I had some real great novel stuff, but this is all Riggins up the middle,” said a former House Republican energy staffer, referring to former Washington Redskins running back John Riggins.

The GOP isn’t interested in averting dangerous climatic changes because it as a party has almost uniformly turned its back against science. It may make token gestures towards geothermal, natural gas, and electric vehicles as the Politico article later guesses, but a party that sees no problem with GHG emissions is going to dig up the coal and either burn it, turn it into synthetic gasoline, or export it.

Rather than take serious steps to address the issue, they’re going to try to defang or coopt the relevant Congressional committees and regulatory agencies like the EPA, Department of Interior, etc. They’re going to push for tax breaks for their pet energy industries- namely oil and gas, coal, and nuclear- without regard to GHG emissions. They’re going to push for more domestic fossil fuel consumption, not less. As they whinge about government spending and deficit doom, they will close the government’s purse strings to the kind of funding that the “breakthrough” people assured us will have bipartisan support.

Clean energy developers themselves seem to have little faith in the “breakthrough” scheme, with some major players moving their projects to nations that have more aggressive clean energy incentives and low carbon requirements. Even though there is some bipartisan support for some aspects of clean energy funding in the Senate:

[T]here’s also willingness on the Republican side to resist anything constructive being enacted.

A large majority of Americans wants the government to limit greenhouse gas emissions. As such, that isn’t the narrative failure on this issue. I do agree with Roger Pielke Jr. and many others who point out that when people are given a choice between economic growth and emissions reductions, they will choose the former over the latter. But you can substitute virtually any other subject for “emissions reductions” in that proposition and it will still hold true. If there is a narrative failure on the climate issue, it has been the utter failure to communicate to the general public that there are genuine economic costs in failing to reign in emissions. People mentally compare the costs of reductions with unimpeded economic growth, not with the costs of unchecked emissions growth.

The physical science basis for the case for emissions reductions was made sufficiently back in 1979. Obviously that doesn’t mean that there are no unanswered questions or that future studies cannot meaningfully further strengthen that case. But at a policymaker-level, the focus needs to shift to the impacts and economics of different emissions trajectories. If the various “-gates” have taught us anything, it’s that the WGII and WGIII IPCC reports need to be tightened up far more than the WGI Physical Science report.

Economic models that show a mere 50% loss in GDP for a 20°C temp increase need to be rejected out of hand. On what basis should we believe that people prefer and are willing to pay for a hotter planet? That initial warming will see a large decrease in mortality?

If there was a grossly underestimated or zero cost associated with burning a house to the ground, who would insure their home against fires? How can we expect people to prefer a significant price on carbon when they believe the alternative is basically no economic cost whatsoever? Getting a more realistic handle on the cost of unchecked emissions should be a bipartisan (post-partisan, post-post-partisan, what have you) goal. Will the “breakthrough” people and climate journalists in search of a new narrative buy in? Or are they going to bet the future of ameliorating climate problems on the GOP allowing massive governmental interference in the energy market?

UPDATE: Why on Earth is anyone supposed to take claims of bi- or post-partisan anything seriously when the GOP leadership is trumpeting its plans to frustrate the current administration at every turn? Does this sound like a political party that is going to work across party lines for massive governmental funding of a clean energy “breakthrough”?

“The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” — Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), in an interview with the National Journal, describing his goal in retaking the Senate.

Wegman plagiarism scandal heating up

 

Courtesy of Flickr user TalkMediaNews

 

I’ve been a little unsure how or when to discuss John Mashey’s and Deep Climate’s yeoman’s work on uncovering the depths to which Edward Wegman stooped in attempting to discredit the work of Mike Mann, Ray Bradley, and Malcolm Hughes.

But the ScienceFair blog at USA Today has posted on it, so it’s probably going to reach “mainstream” status soon. Wegman’s university is formally investigating him for plagiarizing (at the very least) Raymond Bradley.

I’m curious to see how far this will go. There’s certainly enough circumstantial evidence to consider investigating the full extent of Reps. Barton and Whitfield’s offices involvement in this farce.

For those of you who don’t have a clue what this is all about, DeSmog Blog has a good backgrounder here.

As an aside- many of the champions of the Wegman Report (e.g Steve McIntyre) took up Wegman’s claim “Method Wrong + Answer Correct = Bad Science” as a sort of incantation, chanting it as though it might somehow dispel the fact that reality appears to have a hockey-stick-shaped bias. I am sure that these same people will maintain their integrity and immediately disavow the Wegman Report and its conclusions.

—-

 

I’ve been an outspoken critic of Keith Kloor, but please give him deserved respect for at least covering this, unlike so many other “climate journalists”.

Did Lomborg really change his delayer tune?

Way back in July of 2008, I wrote this about Bjørn Lomborg:

Lomborg, similarly to Michael Shellenberger, Ted Nordhaus, and Roger Pielke, Jr. is not actually a climate change denier per se- he claims to accept the underlying principles whereby anthropogenic emissions warm the planet and alter the climate, though he often underplays or otherwise attempts to minimize the expected impact- rather these “non-skeptical heretics” argue against emissions regulation policies and instead push for increased investment in future technologies, which presumably will come to fruition at an unspecified later date that will arrive in time to prevent the most severe negative consequences otherwise expected…

You can be guaranteed that the take home message from Lomborg at the end of the day will be “delay, delay, delay” [pricing and reducing emissions] “because technology, technology, technology”.

Has Lomborg changed at all? Lomborg was recently (21/9/10) interviewed by New Scientist, in a piece headlined: “Bjørn Lomborg: Use technology to fight climate change“. He argues for the same in an op-ed in the Australian earlier this month:

Galiana and Green find that devoting just 0.2 per cent of global GDP, about $US100 billion a year, to green energy R&D would produce the kind of game-changing breakthroughs needed to fuel a carbon-free future. Not only would this be a cheaper fix than trying to cut carbon emissions, it would reduce global warming much more quickly.

There is no currently available “breakthrough” energy technology, nor is one on the horizon. Banking on this myth is like betting that you don’t have to have a fire evacuation plan for your office because you hope to ride a unicorn out of the burning building.

The “breakthrough” needed to develop cost-competitive alternatives to fossil fuels is to actually price in the negative externalities from carbon-intensive fuels, in order to let the market most efficiently determine the “winning” substitutes. This is basic, market-based economics. Funny how the “alarmist” greenie commies are the ones that constantly need to point this out, isn’t it?