Capping Prosperity, Trading It For Poverty

As the media fixates on the death of Michael Jackson, Congress stands ready to enact the largest and most regressive tax hike in history in the guise of “cap-and-trade.” Jim Lindgren explains why this bill is so dangerous:

The cap-and-trade bill, if passed by the Senate and actually implemented over the next few decades, would do more damage to the country than any economic legislation passed in at least 100 years. It would eventually send most American manufacturing jobs overseas, reduce American competitiveness, and make Americans much poorer than they would have been without it.

The cap-and-trade bill will have little, if any, positive effect on the environment — in part because the countries that would take jobs from US industries tend to be bigger polluters. By making the US — and the world — poorer, it would probably reduce the world’s ability to develop technologies that might solve its environmental problems in the future.

Cap-and-trade is a joke—it is a policy that has already failed in Europe and in virtually guaranteed to fail here in the United States. By giving in to the demands of radical environmentalists, Congress is preparing to take our current recession and plunge it into depression.

As the media focuses once again on celebrity, the advent of the next Great Depression comes closer. Cap-and-trade is terrible policy enacted for foolish reasons, and we will all pay the price for it if we allow it to pass.

Obama’s Anti-Energy Policy

Robert Samuelson has a great piece on President Obama’s counterproductive bias against domestic oil and gas production in favor of unrealistic “green” jobs:

In 2007, wind and solar generated less than 1 percent of U.S. electricity. Even a tenfold expansion will leave their contribution small. By contrast, oil and natural gas now provide two-thirds of Americans’ energy. They will dominate consumption for decades. Any added oil produced here will mostly reduce imports; extra natural gas will mostly displace coal in electricity generation. Neither threatens any anti-global warming program that Congress might adopt.

Encouraging more U.S. production also aids economic recovery, because the promise of “green jobs” is wildly exaggerated. Consider. In 2008, the oil and gas industries employed 1.8 million people. Jobs in the solar and wind industries are reckoned (by their trade associations) to be 35,000 and 85,000, respectively. Now do the arithmetic: A 5 percent rise in oil jobs (90,000) approaches a doubling for wind and solar (120,000). Modest movements, up or down, in oil will swamp “green” jobs.

Samuelson assumes that the White House is interested in common sense—they’re not. What the White House cares about is what all politicians care about—catering to their constituencies. The reason why Obama does not favor more domestic energy is because there’s no political upside to it for him. Obama can’t afford to annoy the environmentalist lobby that plays to American’s worse environmental fears. If he did, he’d risk losing political support.

Even though domestic energy exploration makes sense in terms of energy policy, national security, economics, and even environmentally, none of that means anything. It won’t play well politically, so it is dead on arrival.

That’s the way our government works in the 21st Century. For all the talk about “hope” and “change” the Obama Administration is as nakedly political as any other, and a politically unpopular program will not be enacted no matter how beneficial the results, and a policy that is economically ruinous but politically popular will always win out. It’s Reding’s Second Law of Public Policy—the best policy will always lose out to the most politically popular policy.

President Obama could show real leadership by dramatically increasing domestic energy productions. But “drill baby drill” was the motto of the other side, and with the worldwide recession pushing oil prices down, there won’t be a serious political demand for more domestic energy until the next crisis hits and it’s far too late.

Want To “Save The Earth?” Get Rich

In The New York Times, John Tierney has an excellent column about why getting rich is the best way to improve the environment:

As their wealth grows, people consume more energy, but they move to more efficient and cleaner sources — from wood to coal and oil, and then to natural gas and nuclear power, progressively emitting less carbon per unit of energy. This global decarbonization trend has been proceeding at a remarkably steady rate since 1850, according to Jesse Ausubel of Rockefeller University and Paul Waggoner of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station.

“Once you have lots of high-rises filled with computers operating all the time, the energy delivered has to be very clean and compact,” said Mr. Ausubel, the director of the Program for the Human Environment at Rockefeller. “The long-term trend is toward natural gas and nuclear power, or conceivably solar power. If the energy system is left to its own devices, most of the carbon will be out of it by 2060 or 2070.”

The best way to “save the environment” is to grow the economy and embrace new technologies. That means stopping our irrational fear of nuclear power. That means working to make solar a reasonable means of producing power. That also means, however, that we can’t just let some government bureaucrat decide what is best—we have to have a competitive marketplace for green technologies in which the best system wins.

It also means that we must stop looking at dangerous and economically unsound policies like “cap and trade”. As this article notes, cap and trade systems do not work and fail to reduce CO2 emissions while simultaneously hurting the economy. That kind of strategy will reduce capital that can be applied to new technologies, raise the price of energy through the roof, and end up raising the cost of living for everyone, disproportionately hurting the worlds’ poor who cannot pay extra for their electricity. Such a program would end up turning into a massive tax increase on America’s vulnerable middle class. Cap and trade is not the right solution.

The right solution is a system that fosters innovation. That means reducing the barriers that keep green technologies off the market, and giving tax incentives to those willing to take the risks of bringing new technologies to market.

Finally, we have to stop believing the cheap energy and green energy are opposed to each other. Basic economics teaches that as supply goes down, costs will go up. If we are running low on fossil fuels, then the prices for those fuels will only rise until the cost of “green” energy is substantially less. At that point, without of hint of government intervention, there will be a green revolution.

But government doesn’t want to wait. By scaring people into seeing an environmental “crisis” they want people to give them unprecedented power and control&madsh;power and control that they can use and abuse. Yes, we need a clean environment. But we don’t need scare tactics. We must take measured and rational steps rather than being frightened into radical and ill-conceived ventures.

200 years ago the streets of every major city were awash in horse manure, water supplies were unsafe, and soot darkened every building. Today, we have made incredible advancements in expanding human quality of life without damaging the environment. Tomorrow, who knows how far we will come if we abandon the politics of environmental fear and embrace the value of human ingenuity and the entrepreneurial spirit.

China Invests In Pebble-Bed Technology

Next Big Future reports on a joint Chinese-South African project to advance pebble bed reactor technology. Pebble bed reactors are an advanced type of nuclear reactor design that promises to be significantly safer than conventional designs, for more details see here.

One of the reasons I’ve said that the future may well belong to the East is because the Chinese are willing to invest in this kind of technology while Western governments are too motivated by short-term political pressure to invest in projects such as these. The only way we will be able to meet the energy needs of the future and preserve the environment is to start moving towards nuclear energy. The truth is that wind, solar, geothermal, and other “green” technologies cannot produce enough power to meet our needs. They may be supplements to a nuclear infrastructure, but they will never supplant it.

If President Obama wished to be truly forward-looking, he would commission a similar program in the United States. For all the talk about the “Republican war on science,” the Democrats remain in thrall to an environmental lobby that wants to push for forms of alternative energy that will never be able to meet America’s needs. So instead, we keep our inefficient fossil fuels and push for stopgap solutions like “clean coal” rather than investing in an energy infrastructure that truly meets the needs of the 21st Century.

Pebble bed reactors promise a safer, cleaner, and more plentiful form of energy for America and for the world. If we are to remain a superpower into the 21st Century, we cannot turn our back to advances such as this. We cannot let the stigma of the word “nuclear”—and the irrational fear it engenders—stand in the way of our future.

Hat tip to Glenn Reynolds for the link.

Science Is Not A Matter Of Opinion

Mitch Berg highlights a petition in which thousands of scientists state their opposition to the theory of anthropogenic global warming.

The problem with both the theory and the petition opposing it is that consensus has nothing to do with science. It doesn’t matter what the scientific community thinks about the issue, what matters is whether a result is reproducible and fits the observed world.

The scientific “consensus” in the 19th Century was that light had to have some kind of medium to move through in the same way that sound waves need air to travel. Except in 1897, the Michelson-Morley experiment demonstrated that there is no such “aether”. Most importantly, that result is reproducible by anyone. That is how science is supposed to be conducted.

The “consensus” about global warming is not science. It has nothing to do with science. It is opinion, and nothing but. Anthropogenic global warming theory says that the increase in global temperatures should cause oceanic warming which should drive more frequent and powerful hurricanes. Except the data doesn’t support that contention—ocean temperatures are not rising as AGM theory would expect them to and there’s no hard evidence that global warming would have any significant effect on hurricanes at all.

The difference between opinion and science is that science isn’t about “saving the world” (that sort of thing is for cheesy Sci-Fi movies), but about observation and experimentation. If global warming were subjected to serious scientific inquiry (rather than self-interested “studies” based on limited computer models), most of it would fall apart under the weight of its own hyperbole.

There’s an easy way to add scientific rigor to the study of global warming—make it double-blind. The team that comes up with the model should not be the one verifying it. Instead, the model should be evaluated by two separate teams—one using real-world data and the other using random data. If both detect a warming trend, there’s reason to believe that the model being used is flawed. The IPCC’s infamous “hockey stick” graph is an example of a theory that could have been easily debunked in that way—if the same algorithm used to create that graph is fed purely random data it still produces the same “hockey stick” pattern. It wasn’t that there was a dramatic surge in global temperatures in the last century, it was that the algorithm was faulty.

So long as global warming advocates continue to treat global warming “deniers” as akin to Holocaust deniers, they shouldn’t be taken seriously. Real scientists don’t belittle alternative theories and skepticism, they welcome it. Skepticism and empiricism is the foundation of hard science.

It doesn’t matter what any given group of scientists think, what matters is what the data shows. The reality is that the data does not support the theory that humanity has caused an unprecedented warming trend in the Earth’s climate. The reality is that we don’t fully or completely understand how Earth’s climate works. We don’t know how ocean currents and wind systems like El Nino and La Nina affect the global climate. We don’t fully understand the relationship between solar activity cycles and climate. Anyone who says that they can say with absolute certainty that human activity is raising temperatures is a charlatan. We simply don’t have all the evidence, all we have are guesses, and guesses that so far aren’t being matched by empirical evidence.

The planet is on a warming trend, but we don’t fully understand the scope, the cause, and we certainly aren’t about to be wiped off the Earth by a temperature change that’s paltry in comparison to historical changes in climate like the Medieval Warm Period or the massive disruptions in climate caused by the Krakatoa explosion in the 19th Century. It may be a perfectly good idea to minimize CO2 emissions regardless of whether anthropogenic global warming is right or not, but we shouldn’t be basing policy on blatant fear-mongering and politicized science.

The politicization of science over global warming is a greater affront to scientific principles than even the “intelligent design” debate. While ID is a fringe theory, the more we establish that it’s perfectly acceptable for scientists to step into the role of policymaker rather than maintaining an attitude of skepticism and rigor, the more we chip away at the very foundation of scientific reasoning itself.

McCain’s Climate Change Plan: Great Politics, Terrible Policy

Scott Johnson has a deeply skeptical look at Sen. McCain’s new “climate change” policy

. From a standpoint of policy, that skepticism is well warranted. The political story, however, is entirely different.

The political reality is this: global warming concerns are part of the political landscape now. Too many voters have bought into the hype to stake a position on the theory that climate change doesn’t matter in this election. While that is bad science, that is also the political reality the GOP faces. For that matter, even if there is no man-made global warming, there’s no reason why America shouldn’t be looking ahead to an age of increasing scarcity of oil. The more power America gets domestically from renewable resources, the fewer petrodollars flow into the hands of two-bit tyrants like Hugo Chavez. Some “green” policies make sense for other reasons than environmental hysteria.

The problem with the McCain approach is that it gets the politics right, but makes for atrocious public policy. For example, a “cap and trade” system would necessitate a massive new government bureaucracy and raise America’s energy prices. The Congressional Budget Office has found that the current Lieberman-Warner bill amounts to a trillion dollar tax increase in a time when Americans are already finding it hard to pay for energy. Even more troubling, this tax would be incredibly regressive, its impacts adding more stress to families barely able to pay for heat and fuel.

Republicans should have a plan that reduces our dependence on sources of energy that produce pollution. However, that should not mean abandoning political principles or the rules of basic economics. The GOP should push for more clean nuclear power, tax credits for research and development of clean fuel sources, and should embrace something like Bob Zubrin’s flex-fuel plan (using cellulosic ethanol rather than burning what we eat). There are plenty of economically viable ways for the U.S. to “go green,” but we need policymakers willing to support those sound policies.

The GOP has good reason to grumble at McCain’s energy policy, but the fact that it talks about climate change is not it. It would be nice for more politicians to stand against the bad science behind the global warming movement, but in an election year you have to pick and choose your battles, and this year the GOP needs to have an energy policy on the table to compete on this issue.

The Next Global Warming Meme

ABC News has a piece on this year’s unusually active tornado season. While ABC was careful to note that there’s no real scientific evidence tying an increase in tornados to global warming, a lack of scientific evidence has never stopped the environmentalist lobby from making dire pronouncements before.

In somewhat related news, a majority of British citizens see global warming hysteria as an excuse for more tax revenues to the government. It’s heartening to see so many people exercising their critical reasoning skills these days.

Glenn Reynolds says it best:

It seems large majorities of voters believe that climate-change talk is mostly an excuse to raise taxes. So is this in spite of all the PR about global warming, or because of all the PR about global warming? It’s been pretty heavy-handed. Anyway, as I’ve said before, this is why if you want to implement carbon taxes, etc., they need to be revenue-neutral. And it’s also why, if our “leaders” want us to treat this as a crisis justifying public sacrifice, those leaders need to act as if it’s such a crisis themselves, instead of treating it as an opportunity.

It’s Time For A 21st Century Energy Economy

Jerry Pournelle has a suggestion for how we can make this country energy independent:

As to whether American ingenuity can use that technology to help win us energy independence, I have to say it again: cheap energy will cause a boom. The only cheap energy I know of is nuclear. Three Hundred Billion bucks in nuclear power will do wonders for the economy. We build 100 1000 MegaWatt nuclear power plants — they will cost no more than 2 billion each and my guess is that the average cost will be closer to 1 billion each (that is the first one costs about 20 billion and the 100th costs about 800 million). The rest of the money goes to prizes and X projects to convert electricity into mobility.

But he ends on a more somber note:

Of course we won’t do that.

Even though some in the environmental movement have embraced nuclear energy as a way of reducing CO2, the kneejerk reactionaries are still numerous enough to prevent any real progress. The fact that the government horrendously mishandled the regulation of nuclear plants and stifled the chance at making the industry viable didn’t help either. We could have been energy independent right now had we done things right in the 60s and 70s.

Meanwhile, France gets 70% of their energy from nuclear sources, reprocesses their waste, and is far less dependent on Saudi shieks or Venezuelan strongmen for their fuel. Their nuclear plants were build around common plans so that there was little duplication of effort, and spare parts could be made in batches rather than having every reactor be a largely unique design.

A smart politician would be pushing for a new Manhattan Project—the United States getting 25% of our electricity from clean nuclear reactors by 2020. A program that offsets the strain on the electrical grid from electric vehicles by building more capacity from nuclear power. A program to speed the development of safe pebble-bed reactors that won’t be capable of spreading radiation and doesn’t pose a threat from the proliferation of nuclear materials.

We can do those things, but all it takes is the political will to push them through. Sadly, it seems like our political leadership is decidedly lacking in will. Glenn Reynolds is right, we do have a lack of faith in our political leadership, and that comes because politicians are too willing to push for burning more of our food stocks than leading us into the 21st Century. We can do better, but we can’t do that if our political class is more interested in jockeying for power than pushing this country forward.

The Lessons Of The DDT Ban

The New York Times has a piece on how DDT is returning as an effective control agent in the fight against malaria. After Rachel Carlson’s shoddily-researched Silent Spring motivated governmental agencies and NGOs to push for a virtual ban on the anti-mosquito agent, the subsequent explosion in the preventable disease has caused scientists to take a second look. Despite the anti-DDT fervor of the last few decades, DDT is effective in stopping human contact with infected mosquitos:

From the 1940s onward, DDT was used to kill agricultural pests and disease-carrying insects because it was cheap and lasted longer than other insecticides. DDT helped much of the developed world, including the United States and Europe, eradicate malaria. Then in the 1970s, after the publication of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” which raised concern over DDT’s effects on wildlife and people, the chemical was banned in many countries. Birds, especially, were said to be vulnerable, and the chemical was blamed for reduced populations of bald eagles, falcons and pelicans. Scientific scrutiny has failed to find conclusive evidence that DDT causes cancer or other health problems in humans.

Today, indoor DDT spraying to control malaria in Africa is supported by the World Health Organization; the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; and the United States Agency for International Development.

The remaining concern has been that the greater use of DDT in Africa would only lead mosquitoes to develop resistance to it. Decades ago, such resistance developed wherever DDT crop spraying was common. After the DDT bans went into effect in the United States and elsewhere, it continued to be used extensively for agriculture in Africa, and this exerted a powerful pressure on mosquitoes there to develop resistance. Although DDT is now prohibited for crop spraying in Africa, a few mosquito species there are still resistant to it. But DDT has other mechanisms of acting against mosquitoes beyond killing them. It also functions as a “spatial repellent,” keeping mosquitoes from entering areas where it has been sprayed, and as a “contact irritant,” making insects that come in contact with it so irritated they leave.

The DDT ban, as a consequence of environmentalist hysteria has resulted in an explosion of malaria throughout the developing world that has claimed millions of lives to a preventable disease. In terms of human catastrophes, the DDT ban has been one of the most horrendous misuses of science in human history — and its impact has irreparably harmed the developing world.

The lesson of the DDT ban gives us a stern warning about the problems of succumbing to interest-group hysteria — as other interest groups flog their pet policies, they tend to be blind to the consequences of those policies. The DDT ban was based on poor science and policymaking motivated largely by interest group politics. Such a combination is usually deadly.

As Glenn Reynold quips:

The debate over DDT is over. There’s scientific consensus. Anyone who disagrees is a DDT denialist and a mouthpiece for Big Mosquito.

Sadly, that sort of logic is all too prevalent, and it’s precisely that combination of shaky science and interest groups playing the politics of fear that led to the disastrous ban on DDT. With the hysteria over global warming reaching a fever pitch, the possibility of the developing world once again being irreparably harmed by the fear of others remains all too prescient. Millions died because of DDT hysteria. How many millions more will die due to the global warming scare?

The Simplistic Worldview Of Global Warming

Robert Samuelson has a great editorial in Newsweek which takes his own magazine to task for presenting a piece on global warming that tries to paint the issue as a simplistic morality tale:

If you missed NEWSWEEK’s story, here’s the gist. A “well-coordinated, well-funded campaign by contrarian scientists, free-market think tanks and industry has created a paralyzing fog of doubt around climate change.” This “denial machine” has obstructed action against global warming and is still “running at full throttle.” The story’s thrust: discredit the “denial machine,” and the country can start the serious business of fighting global warming. The story was a wonderful read, marred only by its being fundamentally misleading.

The global-warming debate’s great un-mentionable is this: we lack the technology to get from here to there. Just because Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to cut emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 doesn’t mean it can happen. At best, we might curb emissions growth.

Global warming is pure hype. Even if the science is sound, the policy certainly is not: the Kyoto Treaty is worthless, carbon credits are a scam, and the technology to replace fossil fuels is likely to be decades away. Samuelson notes that even if the global warming crusaders get their way, it won’t make a difference: China isn’t going to reduce emissions because we tell them to, and the developing world is rapidly become the central source for CO2 being dumped into the atmosphere.

The reality is that for all the environmentalist doomsaying, the reality is that the planet’s climate varies all the time: Greenland wasn’t given its name for irony’s sake. The figures showing a massive increase in temperatures in the last few years have been shown to be the result of incorrectly processed data. The idea that there’s no room for debate whether anthropogenic global warming exists or not is an idea that directly contradicts science — science is not about consensus, but about reproducible results.

What is truly hypocritical about the global warming lobby is how the argument goes that those who question the status quo on anthropogenic global warming are all part of some sinister cabal. No one seems to question the idea that those who flog those theories do so out of their own sense of self-interest — there’s no quicker way to get funding than to use global warming hysteria, and the global warming lobby has been funded to the tune of $25 billion since 1990. The notion that those who oppose the anthropogenic theory are all in the pockets of Big Oil while those who push it are without conflicts of interest doesn’t hold up to much scrutiny.

Global warming studies should be conducted under rigorous scientific conditions using the same double-blind methods commonly used to eliminate bias in drug tests. If most global warming studies were conducted in that way, much of the hysteria would evaporate as sensationalism was kept in check by hard science.

Unfortunately, that’s not the way the system works, and the constant global warming fear-mongering from the media will undoubtedly continue so long as it sells newspapers and gets academics plenty of government funds — and after that it will be replaced by whatever invented scare captures the popular imagination.

Samuelson is right — global warming should not be turned into yet another crudely politicized issue. Global warming isn’t a simplistic morality tale in which the good environmentalist movement fights the evil forces of Big Oil. Our world is far more complex, and every “solution” for global warming creates tradeoffs, many of which would fundamentally impact our way of life in unpredictable ways. Even some of his suggestions, like a gas tax, are hardly easy pills to swallow — we complain bitterly about the plight of the “working poor” in this country — are we willing to burden them even more in order to slightly reduce our collective carbon footprints.

Good policy involves a logical and rational look at the consequences of any given policy — and when we have a group of people whose tendency towards oversimplification and fear-mongering in control of policy, bad things happen. The climate change debate needs careful study, not hair-shirt politics — unfortunately, there almost none of the former and all too much of the latter.