Debates over climate change are filled with dire estimates of its cost. This many trillions of dollars of damage, that large a share of gross domestic product destroyed, so-and-so many lives lost, etc. Where do such figures come from? Mostly from laughably bad economics.
Prominent recent studies that forecast the cost of human-caused climate change rely on statistical analyses of the effects of temperature variation. These correlation-based, temperature-impact studies start with present-day relationships between temperatures and outcomes such as mortality or economic growth. They extrapolate from those relationships a proportionally larger response to long-term projected climate warming and assign dollar values to the very large impacts that appear to emerge. Properly understood, temperature studies do not offer useful predictions of the future costs of projected human-caused climate change.
Vermonters can confidently reject nuclear, coal, gas and wind from the comfort of their warm and well-lit homes because shirking responsibility for their energy supply has few consequences. They can draw electricity from a regional power grid and import energy-intensive goods by exhaust-belching truck. Their 75%-renewable goal presumes the availability of someone else’s nonrenewable plants to keep the lights on when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining. Those plants will be operating affordably only if other states remain committed to a conventional grid.
Good news is hard to find at this year's United Nations climate conference in Bonn, Germany. Diplomats from nearly 200 countries have gathered to review progress made on the 'historic' Paris climate accords, signed two years ago. But as the champagne-fueled self-congratulation of Paris recedes into memory, the agreement's underlying fraud is becoming obvious.
Thirty-nine percent of Americans give at least 50-50 odds that 'global warming will cause humans to become extinct,' according to a poll released last week by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. This extreme view, unsupported by mainstream climate science, is more widely held than the belief that climate change either is 'caused mostly by natural changes in the environment' rather than human activity (30 percent), or else 'isn’t happening' at all (6 percent).
Part 2 of my discussion with John Cook and Peter Jacobs, co-authors of the '97% consensus' climate study, about the state of climate communication and the meaning of the term 'climate denial.'
If climate catastrophism really rests on a fear of civilizational stagnation, that rather limits its applicability. I’d happily concede that the human condition after decades without progress will be quite poor and that we should avoid such a fate at all costs. (Climate policy, of course, is not the way to tackle that particular problem.)
John Cook and Peter Jacobs, co-authors of the '97% consensus' climate study, invite me to join their podcast and discuss how different meanings of 'scientific consensus' affect the climate debate.
Lukewarmism is an effort to provide much needed perspective and context on the climate debate. Importantly, it is a corrective to the outlandish claims of catastrophe, made by environmental activists, that bear no relationship to mainstream research — they can hardly complain that others are taking the time to point this out. If we want the public to interpret correctly the implications of climate change, the correct interpretation should be given a vigorous defense. Insisting that policy deliberations begin from an appropriate policy definition does not worsen the quality of those deliberations and is not 'running interference.'
Why would the United States remain party to such an agreement? We shouldn’t have accepted its terms in the first place, and in an important sense, we didn’t. The U.S. Constitution requires the Senate to approve any treaty by a two-thirds supermajority, in part to prevent a president from making rash, politically motivated promises on the international stage that lack consensus support back home. Obama, knowing he did not have the Senate’s consent, chose to push ahead anyway. If reversing that mistake enrages some foreign diplomats, they have only themselves and their former negotiating partners in the Obama administration to blame.
The giveaway for the Paris charade is the refusal to set baselines. If nations are to hold one another accountable for progress on greenhouse-gas emissions, surely they must agree on a starting point from which to progress. Yet the framework for Paris pointedly omitted this requirement. Countries could calculate their own baselines however they chose, or provide none at all. Now, the pledges have themselves become baselines, and each country receives applause or condemnation in inverse proportion to its seriousness.
Instead, the debate devolved into the kind one otherwise hears about the UN Human Rights Council, a forum no one mistakes for a serious effort to advance human rights. If other countries are going to sit around discussing the climate, shouldn’t we at least attend? This is what Millennials might call the 'FOMO' (Fear of Missing Out) defense.
S&H’s claim of consensus requires them to combine disparate answers. For instance, they describe an 89 percent 'consensus' from adding together the responses that the negative economic effect of climate change has already begun (41 percent), will begin by 2025 (22 percent), or will begin by 2050 (26 percent). This is like asking people whether they prefer apples, bananas, oranges, or pears and then reporting a 90 percent 'consensus' for 'apples, bananas, or oranges.'
Science indicates that climate change is happening but says little about how well civilization will deal with it. In my recent article, I argue that those I term climate catastrophists -- observers who regard climate change as an unprecedented, existential threat—badly underestimate humanity’s capacity to cope with change and thus overreact to the problem. Michael Mann’s response does not so much refute this argument as disregard it.
Crying 'consensus' to defend absolutist assertions, climate activists are charging well beyond the threshold of what mainstream science can support. When they turn back toward the ledge to shout “denial” at anyone who has not leapt with them, the word no longer means what they think it does.
Activists, so eager to bar the gates to the public square and keep their opponents out, have instead locked themselves in. If everyone agrees with the 97 percent consensus, and that consensus does not dictate any particular policy outcome, they have nothing else to say. Perhaps this is for the best.
Perhaps the greatest mistake made by those who overinflate the risk of climate change is to forget that our society has a tremendous capacity to adapt and innovate. But it would also be a major mistake to forget that public policy can either foster or hinder that process. If President Trump dislikes his predecessor's approach to adaptation he should put forward an alternative. Ignoring the problem entirely is one of the few things he can do that really would make it worse.
The logic of catastrophism seems to run backward: from the conclusion that significant human influence on the climate must portend unprecedented danger to the search for facts to support that narrative. But forecasts on these scales of time and magnitude exceed common experience and thus defy intuition, which facilitates misinterpretation and frustrates self-correction. Placing the problem in proper perspective requires appreciating the long-term costs in the context of the distant future when they will arise, distinguishing costs spread over long time periods from those borne all at once and, finally, applying separate analyses to expected outcomes and worst case scenarios. Catastrophists get these things wrong.
In the marketplace of ideas, the carbon tax behaves increasingly like a government-run utility. It doesn’t care about competition. It ignores complaint with impunity. Its business model depends on the strength of its political connections, not the quality of its product. Elder statesmen often sit on the boards of such entities. Rarely do they achieve positive change.
The unmooring of climate change from any conventional policy framework has been rhetorical rather than reasoned. It requires justification — otherwise, the obsessive and apocalyptic politics built atop it cannot be supported. Yes, climate change is a problem. But what kind of problem?
While Trump embarrasses himself and the country by calling climate change a 'hoax,' his climate policies mirror those outlined by his more conventional GOP primary opponents in 2016 and by GOP nominee Mitt Romney in 2012. Hyperbolic warnings about Trump that emphasize climate are not really about Trump at all -- they are about Democrats losing to Republicans. Paul Krugman reflected the morning after the election on 'the immense damage Trump will surely do, to climate above all.' The Atlantic's Peter Beinart listed climate change as the first 'enormous danger' posed by Trump that might justify the Electoral College in overriding the election's outcome and choosing Clinton. They should save their extreme rhetoric about Trump for the facets of Trump that are in fact extreme.
It’s time for a fresh look at U.S. energy and environmental policy. An agenda that maximizes the potential of America’s natural resources while striking a better balance between industry and environmental protection could unleash substantial economic growth and job creation at no cost to taxpayers. Here are four steps that Congress and the new Trump administration can take.
Roberts, amusingly, suggests the solution of incorporating surveys of “expert opinion” to inform “better, more representative modeling.” In other words, if substantive research in the field is not confirming people’s feelings about climate change, it is the research rather than the feelings that should change. And what better way to accomplish that goal than by simply using the feelings instead of analysis as the input? Inevitably, a “robust” new literature will emerge, teeming with models reverse-engineered to confirm pre-existing premonitions of doom. When it does, spare a thought for the earlier models created in pursuit of useful knowledge, whose verdicts were not nearly so dismal.
There is a consensus among climate scientists that human activity is contributing to climate change. However, claims that rising temperatures pose an existential threat to the human race or modern civilization are not well supported by climate science or economics; to the contrary, they are every bit as far from the mainstream as claims that climate change is not occurring or that it will be beneficial. Analyses consistently show that the costs of climate change are real but manageable. For instance, the prosperity that the world might achieve in 2100 without climate change may instead be delayed until 2102.
A Trump presidency offers many reasonable reasons to worry. But the fear that he will kill the planet, or even poor Zach, is at least one anxiety we can dispel.
India, for instance, can now take enormous credit for HFC emissions supposedly forgone at almost no cost, instead of taking difficult (and real) action on carbon-dioxide emissions. Even better for India, the agreement includes 'climate finance' from developed nations to mitigate whatever costs it does incur. Who is paying, and how much? That decision will have to wait until next year. But the diet is going to start right after that. And when it does, what a 'landmark? moment it will be.
If an insurance salesman promises his policy is not-too-expensive but tells you nothing concrete about the benefits, walk away quickly. If Ip wants us to believe 'you'll be glad action was taken,' he would need to show (a) how much climate change would cost if not mitigated, and (b) how much mitigation his policy achieves. He doesn't, because he can't.
Nuclear power consumption actually declined between 2008 and 2015. (It grew during the Bush administration.) Wind and solar power consumption increased by only 1.6 quadrillion BTUs, or less than 2 percent of the total American energy mix. (Its growth rate was higher during the Bush administration, albeit from a much lower base.) Natural gas consumption, meanwhile, increased by 4.5 quadrillion BTUs--three times the increase for nuclear, wind, and solar combined. All told, natural gas has reduced carbon-dioxide emissions ten times faster than solar power has.
Unfortunately, not everyone was in on the joke. Determined to display 'leadership,? President Obama made the classic mistake of the kid who hears everyone is going skinny-dipping, strips naked, plunges into the water, and then turns to find his dry and still-modest peers laughing from the shore as they run off with his clothes. While everyone else both literally and figuratively mailed in their commitments, the president pledged a dramatic reduction in U.S. emissions.
President Obama's policies for tackling climate change would impose heavy costs borne disproportionately by lower-income U.S. households. His Clean Power Plan (CPP) and proposal for a $10.25-per-barrel oil tax are the equivalent of a $25?$30-per-ton carbon tax, which would cost America's poorest families tens of billions of dollars per year.
The only problem is that British Columbia's carbon tax did not reduce emissions. True, emissions declined upon implementation of the tax in 2008. But something else happened in 2008 ? a global recession that sent GDP (and, with it, energy use) declining in British Columbia and around the world. Emissions then grew in 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014.
Goalposts move all the time, but rarely are they disassembled and carted away, leaving the teams to circle aimlessly while the crowd roars and the commentators prattle on as if nothing had changed. That's what happened at the just-concluded Paris climate talks, which managed to produce an agreement but also marked the collapse of a 25-year effort to catalyze collective global action on climate change.
Kerry argued the deal had to be weak because anything stronger would require congressional approval and Congress would not approve. In other words, President Obama lacked popular support to pursue a climate deal, so he had to do a deal even worse than the one for which there was no support. How absurd.
If successfully spurring robust international action is the sine qua non of this nation's climate policy, and that is failing, then we have non. Yet proponents continue to argue that new regulations, subsidies, and mandates are ends unto themselves--that even if the mitigation of carbon-dioxide emissions will not itself produce meaningful benefits, we should regulate anyway because the impositions on the nation's energy sector will be good for the economy. This argument defies both common sense and empirical evidence. Climate policy that does not help the climate is not good policy.
If the West believed combatting climate change merits hobbling poorer countries against their will, it could coerce emissions cuts with threats of embargo or military force. Obviously, that should not and will not happen. But without it, dramatic cuts depend on as-yet-unidentified technological breakthroughs that a developing economy might prefer to fossil fuels.
To understand how the world's pledges can amount to essentially nothing, look at what developing countries--who will account for four-fifths of emissions this century--have offered. China committed its emissions will peak 'around 2030.? OK, but the federal government's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory suggested four years ago that China was already on pace to do just that.
The climate negotiators have no clothes. If making that observation and refusing to go along causes some embarrassment, those parading around naked have only themselves to blame.
My primary message to the committee is this: international climate negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) no longer bear a substantial relationship to the goal of sharply reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Rather, the only likely achievement of the upcoming Paris conference (COP21) is a commitment by developed nations including the United States to transfer large sums of wealth to poorer nations.
U.S. greenhouse gas emissions have fallen significantly since their peak in 2007--more than in any other country. The biggest cause is America's fracking-led natural gas boom: solar power is responsible for 1 percent of the decline in U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions; natural gas is responsible for nearly 20 percent.
If civilization hangs in the balance, then the developing world must somehow be coerced into emissions reductions. For instance, if coal plants are truly 'factories of death,' shouldn't a Coalition of the Willing bomb any plant that a country dares try to build? Archbishop Desmond Tutu has equated the 'immoral system[s]' of Apartheid and fossil-fuel consumption. If he's right, shouldn't an embargo, at least, be in the offing?
Fundamental economic and political challenges suggest that there is no plausible path to an agreement premised on collective action or compensation: developing nations that must bear the brunt of emissions reductions in any successful scenario cannot achieve those reductions while pursuing rapid economic growth; developed nations cannot sufficiently compensate developing ones for forgoing such growth. Evidence from recent negotiations, as well as preparations for the next round of talks, reinforces this conclusion.
The China problem is that 'cap-and-trade? matters for the cap, not the trade. Pundits are celebrating the proposed trading system, even though China made no new commitments to capping emissions, and its pre-existing commitments are essentially worthless.
The real plan, simply put, is to pay for other countries to reduce their emissions through an unprecedented transfer of wealth from the developed world to the developing world. This plan emerged from the international climate negotiations in Copenhagen in 2009, at which then-Secretary Clinton pledged the United States would help create a Green Climate Fund of at least $100 billion in annual aid ? a commitment comparable in scale to all existing development aid from OECD countries.
Of course, under the popular rules of the climate debate, anyone downplaying climate risks is a 'denier,' while anyone overstating them is a 'passionate leader.' But even among those charging down that uneven playing field, de Blasio stands out for allowing his rhetorical momentum to carry him past the goal line, through the fence, under the bleachers--and off into the woods.
If a U.S. carbon tax depends on global impacts, and the only global impact comes not from the tax but from a different policy (wealth transfers) that has not been defended, the benefits are hard to see.
A good policy does not repeatedly hide in the alternative. When the carbon-tax shells finally stop moving, one turns them over to find a sharply regressive tax likely to harm the economy while failing to meaningfully reduce emissions or insure against catastrophe, poorly suited to the important goals of spurring innovation and protecting public health, and deeply unpopular and inconsistent with basic principles of policymaking.
To opponents of action, the encyclical restates arguments heard before. To supporters, it poses uncomfortable questions about tradeoffs they prefer to hide from view.
There are political points to score with a carbon tax, and profits to capture, too. But these won't benefit society; they will come at its expense.
There is no reason to limit this mode of thinking to energy policy. The bureaucrats could build an economic model claiming to identify externalities in any market and insist that theirs is the one, true price. From this perspective, market prices are artificial and inefficient, while administrative reports know what prices should be. Any elected official who dares to deviate from a report's conclusions simply by choosing not to take new government action on behalf of the bureaucratic agenda shall be branded a distorter of markets.
Time magazine reported that focusing on the health effects of climate change, particularly on children, 'produces the most emotionally compelling response.' But that makes it no less illogical -- only more manipulative. Air quality and children's asthma are not reasons to #ActOnClimate, and the claim only adds to the bad information and confusion characterizing the climate issue.
Claims of 'revenue neutrality' make a carbon tax sound like a free lunch, even though it imposes costs on the economy very similar to those that accompany cap-and-trade plans or command-and-control regulation.
Flimsy arguments for emissions reductions have become mainstream because they stand unopposed. Conservatives have allowed the debate to be framed as a binary choice between 'climate activism' and 'climate skepticism,' and they have associated themselves with the latter -- a position that becomes less and less tenable as more and more scientific evidence accumulates. This has been a serious mistake.
Good policy emphasizes basic and applied research at the pre-commercial stages, perhaps up to the point of demonstration projects. Such government funding is worthwhile across a range of industries because returns from early-stage research are often too speculative and long-term to attract private investment, and because the knowledge created by breakthroughs is spread widely instead of being captured by the inventor. It is doubly worthwhile in the context of climate change, where the societal benefits of success would far exceed the private gains.
If carbon emissions actually had a quantifiable, linear, ton-by-ton cost then the Sophisticated Objection would make no sense because the value of action at home could be measured independent of what action was or was not taken abroad. If we gain the same benefit every time we reduce emissions by another ton, why would we care what China does? But of course, as Sunstein acknowledges by taking the Objection seriously in the first place, this is not how climate change works.