Archive for the ‘Global Warming’ Tag

Good, Bad, or Worse Then Nothing

The case against the American Power Act from Gar Lipow:

1) Bills only getter better when they don’t make things worse from the beginning:

All the cases I can find of weak reforms that grew stronger over time avoided one flaw that is prominent in Kerry-Lieberman. No matter how weak they were, they contained no features that made parts of the problems they were trying to solve worse. The 1957 Civil Rights act did not increase Jim Crow in limited areas to buy off racist Senators. The original Social Security act did not repeal any existing pensions, nor weaken any existing protections for workers or old people.

And APA makes things worse:

The nominal target has already been more than halfway met just by emissions reductions from the current recession and existing “command & control” legislation. Most of the remaining target could be met by offsets, legal counterfeit do-it-yourself emission permits. So at best the bill would produce few, if any, real cuts – nowhere near the reduction claimed in the nominal cap. Worse, many types of offsets could end increasing emissions even before they served as permission to continue burning coal.

For example, we may see ethanol (which has higher greenhouse gas emissions per mile than gasoline) credited as a carbon offset. Or we may see types of forestry which might release centuries of banked carbon from trees and soil credited as carbon reductions. The protection of offset additionality is phrased in stern generalities with specifics left to regulators. So we don’t really know what would or would not be allowed. In an age of regulatory capture, that is not good news.

Even worse, the KL bill repeals the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases. The usual reply from KL supporters: “That old thing? We weren’t using it anyway. And that broom is missing a few too many bristles to sweep clean.” That misses two points. However weak or strong that authority is, it is the only leverage to get climate legislation through a 60-vote Senate. Pass weak legislation that eliminates the EPA, and what will you use as leverage to strengthen it? Especially after you start seeing big agriculture and forestry garnering massive profits from the counterfeit permit industry (otherwise know as offsets). And while EPA authority does not include the ability to reduce emissions in as optimum a path a we would like, the EPA certainly has authority to reduce emissions by more than the KL bill does.

I’d suggest the issue EPA reductions vs. KL really hinges on how far into the future you’re talking about. Since KL is so weak in terms of what counts as an emission reduction and how little reductions we get in the next ten years even modestly successful reductions created by EPA regulation, would result in a lower emissions path by 2020. But going further the dynamics would probably start to shift in favor of APA.

I say probably because the offset market could expand enough to nullify even the harder limits and the EPA path doesn’t involve cutting off any additional programs. Most people think the offset market couldn’t get that big/ineffective and in political environment where it did EPA regulation would have similar problems.

It’s hard to see either path making a strong case for improving the future, passing a bad bill would reduce the urgency for action, but another failed bill hurts the cause. The scenario I most want to avoid is a wide acceptance within the environmental community of a bad bill that doesn’t pass, laying the ground work for an even worse bill in the future.

-Chris

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Climate Legislation Remix

Dave Roberts asks about comprehensive climate legislation:

Is there a way to avoid this train wreck?

No. No possible way. And it’s been that way for a while.

There’s a lot of variables, but the problems go deeper then even the 60 vote “requirement” in the Senate. With strong leadership and a 50 vote requirement you could maybe, maybe get a policy with a carbon cap, but not one free of pro-dirty energy subsidies and weak renewable support.

We’ll conceivable get sectoral reform bills before 2012, you’ll possibly see dirty energy subsidies defeated or delayed, but nothing comprehensive and I wouldn’t bet on the final version of what does pass to all that great either.

-Chris

Climate Change and the Melting Arctic

Climate Change and the Melting Arctic Ice-Briefing Center for National Policy on Feb 2nd.

Rising temperatures are causing the arctic ice cap to melt which will in turn change the geopolitical structure of the arctic. I’ve written before about the holistic effects that climate change will have on the planet and this is another perfect example.

According to Dr. Scott Borgenson from the Council on Foreign Relations, there just so happens to be a lot resources under the ice cap which presents arctic nations and non-arctic nations a good reason to expand their territory into the North.

This intent to exploit resources presents a possible security problem among the arctic nations. New questions arise as to who controls the new sea passages. Much of the problem is trying to figure out how to incorporate the new geopolitical structure into existing law.

These new insecurities are spurring arctic nations to militarize their northern borders. According to Dr. Robert Huebert of the University of Calgary, “We’re in an arctic arms race, we’re just not aware of it.” His pessimistic presentation was filled with military language with the intention of warning everyone that there is potential for conflict. Every country is preparing for the worst case scenario despite the lack of clear intentions of aggression by any country.

Perception was the key word in this discussion. Perception of threat is moving nations to an arctic arms race and the perception of great resource wealth is moving nations to want to expand their borders. We think that 30% of all conventional natural gas and 13% of the world’s oil is under the arctic ice.

None of the other panelists were nearly as alarmed as Dr. Robert Huebert. However, the general consensus was that we need to keep an eye on the situation and cooperate with other arctic nations before this whole thing blows into another Cold War.

-Jason

Name and Shame: Climate Edition

We need more of this kind of thing

I suppose it’s a bit of an odd theory of change, but we really need more social commendation related to opposing measures to address climate change. There is a whole class of people leading the world to what might well be the worst catastrophe in human history and most people just shrug and agree to disagree.

A highly optimistic scenario for climate change is merely the displacement of millions and stifling human progress for decades and pessimistic scenarios include phrases like ‘mass die-offs’.

It’s not a matter of idiosyncratic preference if you oppose addressing climate change, it’s a morally abhorrent position and the basis of opposition is typically empirically false information.

-Chris

Via Climate Progress the list:

Warren Buffett, Rupert Murdoch, Jack Gerard, Rex Tillerson, Sen. Mary Landrieu, The Swift Boat smearer, Inhofe, David Ratcliffe, Dick Gephardt (!), George Will, Tom Donohue, Don Blankenship, Fred Singer, Sen. John McCain (!), Rep. Joe Barton, Charles and David Koch.

Progress on Deforestation

From NRDC Climate Center Director Dan Lashof:

I just watched Hillary Clinton make a bold announcement that should give a lift to the stalled talks in Copenhagen. The administration’s commitment to contribute to a $100 billion global fund to curb deforestation and help the world’s’ most vulnerable countries adapt to impacts of global warming that can no longer be avoided is a major step. But Secretary Clinton made it clear that this step will only be taken if there is an operational agreement that includes transparency on the emission reductions being made by all major emitters.

Right now industrialized countries provide $60 billion in fossil fuel subsidies annually. Just redirecting those subsidies could go a long way toward the funding target as we seek a pathway to a low carbon clean energy future

Preventing deforestation is one of the highest impact climate change responses the world can pursue. Definitely something to keep an eye on.

-Chris

National Green Free Month

Great opinion piece by CCAN Executive Director Mike Tidwell. (Hat Tip-To Matthew Yglesias) There’s lots of great points:

December should be national Green-Free Month. Instead of continuing our faddish and counterproductive emphasis on small, voluntary actions, we should follow the example of Americans during past moral crises and work toward large-scale change.

in the 1960s, civil rights activists didn’t ask bigoted Southern governors and sheriffs to consider “10 Ways to Go Integrated” at their convenience.

So what’s the problem? There’s lots of blame to go around, but the distraction of the “go green” movement has played a significant role. Taking their cues from the popular media and cautious politicians, many Americans have come to believe that they are personally to blame for global warming and that they must fix it, one by one, at home

and the best line of the whole thing:

Don’t spend an hour changing your light bulbs. Don’t take a day to caulk your windows. Instead, pick up a phone, open a laptop, or travel to a U.S. Senate office near you and turn the tables: “What are the 10 green statutes you’re working on to save the planet, Senator?

Of course the final line of thought is the motivating principle behind Carrots and Sticks. Tidwell is absolutely right, in fact he could have been more strident. Political advocacy, much more then anything else, is what is needed right now, but the whole world is lining up to Greenwash everything from toothpaste to luxury items.

It’s pretty easy to see why people prefer the consumer based and more passive action. Most citizen activists I’ve talked to about Congressional meetings have reported an emotionally negative experience. Most offices are evasive, non-responsive and will think of every reason you could imagine that they aren’t the really the decision makers on this issue. One of our activists told me after a hill meeting that they thought the Congressional staffer that meet with us would have a successful career because they were able to “talk for the entire meeting but not say anything”. That staffer was promoted less then six months later.

All the incentives are lined up against high impact activism, but it’s what we need. We need not only more direct advocacy, but more leaders like Mike Tidwell reminding us to focus on what’s important.

-Chris

The Story of Cap and Trade- An Overview

Our Climate Intern Jason Chen wrote an overview of Annie Leonard’s new video, “The Story of Cap and Trade”. As reminder the blog posting are not meant to reflect the positions of Carrots and Sticks, rather they provide a forum to discuss the issues. -Chris

The Story of Stuff Project recently came out with another video, this time about the cap and trade system. Annie Leonard presents a strong case against what she considers to be a pseudo-solution.

Three main criticisms are presented in the video.

The first “devil in the details” as she calls it, are the free permits that would be given away to industrial polluters. Under the proposed system, industrial polluters will get the majority of these permits for free. “The more they pollute, the more they get.” They tried this “cap and giveaway” system in Europe and it didn’t work, but what did happen was that “polluters made billions of dollars in extra profits.” According to Annie Leonard, these permits should be sold and the profit should be invested in a clean energy economy and/or given to the citizenry to help pay for increase energy prices.

Another point that is brought up in the video is paying back our ecological debt. I think this is a critical aspect of solving the problem of climate change because it’s not only about survival, it’s about responsibility. We in the industrial nations have lived a comfortable life and in doing so, have released most of the CO2. As a result, people who live in developing countries are suffering from our actions. Any reasonable person can recognize this as being unjust. Therefore, I agree with Annie Leonard that any real solution should also help the people who are suffering the most from climate change.

Devil number two is offsetting. Offset permits are created when a company reduces carbon. They, in turn, can sell this offset permit to another company who wants to buy it. In theory, one activity offsets the other, but it’s not as simple as it sounds. For example, it’s very difficult to prove that real carbon emissions are being reduced. Companies that want offset permits can just claim that they cut down on future expansion plans.

Devil number three is distraction. Annie Leonard believes that there are real solutions out there, but are not focused on because we’re distracted by the whole cap and trade system. The Clean Air Act recognizes carbon as a pollutant and therefore can be capped by the EPA, but the cap and trade law proposed in 2009 “guts the Clean Air Act, leaving it to the market to fix the problem.” Thus, if a cap and trade system makes it more difficult for the government to make strong laws, then it is a distraction.

In conclusion, Annie Leonard believes that solid caps, strong laws, citizen action and carbon fees are what is needed to solve the problem. -Jason

Senate GOP on Climate Change: The Greater the Challenge the Slower the Response

Returning to the subject of yesterday’s Senate Climate hearing, I wanted to note the slightly surreal tone of the debate regarding uncertainty. The public testimony and Q&A shifted from typical explanations of what has been studied and reported by the CBO and others, to an almost philosophical discussion of man’s ability to know reality or in this case the reality of the cost climate legislation. I half expected them to start talking about “known unknowns”.

The GOP Senators loved hearing the experts admit there is a lot of uncertainty, but what does that uncertainty actually mean? If Climate legislation is cheaper then expected then the transition to a carbon free economy is easy. If climate legislation is more expensive than expected then the transition will be harder, but does that really constitute a reason for inaction? I’d argue the difficulty of the transition makes it only the more important to start sooner.

The first area you’d want to look at it why the climate change legislation would be more costly. The only likely reason for significantly higher cost is that science would find there simply are not discoverable energy technologies to replace fossil fuels no matter how much the market creates incentives to create them. If this was the case climate change legislation would be more costly and alter the cost benefit analysis.

However, it wouldn’t likely change the cost benefit analysis enough to make ignoring climate change the best path, nor would it mean to we could continue the status quo even if there was no climate change. Once you honestly evaluate the cost of inaction, it’s hard to imagine the costs would be higher. Further, there are limited fossil fuels available and if they are really impossible to replace as a power source it would be better to gradually phase them out then just proceed to use as if they’ll never run out risking economic catastrophe and continuing to ship money out the country while our competitors invest for the future.

The proper point of comparison is the cost of climate legislation starting today compared to the cost climate legislation waiting even longer when we’ve continued to increase our fossil fuel consumption even higher then it is today. In that comparison you’ll find that higher costs in today’s climate legislation will only be meet by even higher costs if we delay moving towards less fossil fuels, greater efficiency, alternative energy sources, and conservation.

It’s not a question if we should act on climate, it’s question of how much longer we pretend we have any choice in the matter.

-Chris