Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Global Warming Not About Science?

I was watching a snippet from Blogging Heads, and the UK's Minister for Europe noted that he was surprised to learn that some Americans thought 'climate change' was a pretext for a liberal agenda. I guess the idea never occurred to him because as Al Gore noted, the science is over.

He noted that the upside of Global Warming is there are tons of 'green collar' jobs to be had! And he has a point. If we don't let companies burn fossil fuels like coal or gas, and don't build any more nuclear plants, all of us will have full time jobs collecting biomass for fuel as they do in Africa, or washing our clothes in the river, or walking to work. The smell of dung can really add a little zest to your smoked ribs.

Living in Minnesota, we could use a couple more degrees. Indeed, cold spells are generally worse for mammalian life than heat spells, but that's no mind. The reason why some of us think there's a pretext here is we have heard many similar warnings about the acid rain, Carter's malaise speech about the 70's energy crisis, the ozone hole, deforestation, and then when the metrics don't continue their trend and life goes on, they find a new boogie man. There's always a greater good, whether it's not discussing the gulag when coming back from the Soviet Union, exaggerating the risk of heterosexual AIDS, downplaying the corruption by the latest African kleptocrat, or promoting the "4 food groups", many, if not most 'big ideas' are merely pretexts for people wanting to push various selfish agendas.

A coal plant was up for construction in Minnesota, and it seems like it will not be built because the environmentalists convinced the judge, that private business could not build this plant, because the energy provided 'could' be produced by energy efficiencies and/or wind. I found this amusing as currently there are thousands of windfarms scattered around 27 states, all heavily subsidized, and they generate--when the wind is blowing--only the output of about two 750-megawatt gas-fired plants. Furthermore, most of the cost estimates for wind power are generated by those with a direct interest in wind technology, including the governmental units that would regulate, and thus control, this new technology. As most of the cost of wind is the capital cost, and these costs are generally private, and they are currently heavily subsidized by a network of agencies, as well as state, federal, county and city governments, who knows their cost i within a factor of ten? But just mention 'climate change' and the judge thinks you've properly referenced your assertion. If an energy company that gets paid to deliver energy and wants to make profits, decides it wants to build a coal plant to generate the energy, my guess is that it is because coal is the cheapest practical way to deliver the energy even after the subsidies.

Ethanol was co-opted by the agriculture industry, and now we have a permanent new entitlement that is adding pollutants to what remains of our water table, and raising food prices. The basic liberal plan is to reduce our ability to provide energy so that it is rationed, and thus take the myriad decisions of individuals and put them back into the hands of the government, who will dictate that we all move into 'sustainable lifestyles': living in city high rises, eating Soylent Green.

So yes, I think 'climate change' is primarily driven by liberal activists who wish to give the government more power (and because power is zero-sum, implicitly less to individuals), and the corporate sycophants who think playing the game is the best way to stay in power. I'm not saying climate change is indefensible, I just think it's sufficiently unproven that it shouldn't even be a determinant, let alone the main determinant in making capital decisions like building energy plants (tech note: 'climate change' refers to costs related to climate change and its myriad effects, not the costs of soot and smoke on lungs and crops). For example, estimates of the potential carbon tax can range from $10 to $100 per ton, so if one chooses $100, basically nothing will be built. Further, if one can merely assert that 'energy efficiency' pays for itself and obviates a new oil well or coal plant, and lots of people assume it is true because it helps fight climate change. Pretext allows people to veto all sorts of development, all they do is mention the phrase 'global warming'.

A politician should understand that about half of what we say, isn't what we mean. But then again, I shouldn't take him at his word.


Anonymous said...

By the 1960s, the water in this country was very polluted. Example: Lake fires in Cleveland. There was a real risk to humans, and real risks to economic development, from the water pollution. They passed some legislation and put some teeth in it, and the water improved.

Ditto on air pollution from automobiles. Particularly in LA.

So this stuff can have real effects on human health. Changes can be made that reverse it.

But the fighting about it shouldn't be by politicians. Or about left-right. It should be between the scientists.
I know a lot of scientists. They think most people (including other scientists) are idiots. They are, to say the least, skeptical of conventional wisdom. Many of them might be democrats, but they aren't liberal poodles: they don't drink the Kool-aid. I say: let the crotchety, irritable, scientists fight about it and I'll take my lead from them.

AHWest said...

Anon, you totally miss the point.

What I find terribly amusing is that in the last month I've heard the media always mention about new American oil drilling that "there will be no effect for 10 years or longer". By this standard, no good idea should be done if it doesn't bring an instantaneous return.

Yet various multi-billion dollar "green" regulations are proposed, with an indeterminate payoff and indeterminate time horizon, and does anyone in the media or politics say "but there would be no effect in the next ten years"?

Eric Falkenstein said...

Well, I've never seen a bacteria, but I have looked at putrid water under a microscope, it's like a zoo from Dr. Seuss.

Anonymous said...

ahwest: were you saying anon missed the point because ...
1) Eric's point was that the media is part of the vast global warming conspiracy?
2) Eric's point was that we should only do things that have instant returns? (another reason not to do stem cells)?

It's really not clear what point you are saying anon missed.

Anonymous said...

bringing up the ethanol straw man strengthens your argument terribly. why don't you mention solar thermal and what unsubsidized companies like google and others are already doing with?

what p of catastrophic consequences would make the global warming counter argument less defensible, would you say? (the haldron collider turned on its head i guess)

Anonymous said...

Did you know that the Saudi's secretly funneled funds to the anti-nuke movement in the 70's and early 80's? It was the best investment they ever made.

This isn't some bizarre conspiracy talk. Google it and see what you find.

AHWest said...

Eric didn't say science is a leftist conspiracy. That would be conceding that the conclusions proposed by the global warming activists are fully backed by science.

Anonymous said...

It's true that problems get solved seeming by themselves, but it is because of human intervention, not because they were not actually problems in the first place. This applies to acid rain, deforestation, and the ozone layer.

I think you are better off admitting that climate change is caused by humans, and instead fighting the insanity of zero discount rates and the rejection of cost-benefit analysis.

Eric Falkenstein said...

I'm a big fan of cost benefit analysis. What are the costs of producing a ton of CO2? What are the benefits?

J said...

Excellent note. I hope you will keep sharing your thoughts with us, even when no one forbids it. BTW, biofuel crops do not pollute the water table aka phreatic surface, which is the level at which the ground water pressure is equal to atmospheric pressure (Wiki). What you wanted to say but didnt find the word for it was groundwater or aquifer. Is buying Credit Suisse shares a good idea?

Anonymous said...

Government intervention affects the market. Human intervention affects the environment. Is this so hard to for your Phd trained mind to understand?

Eric Falkenstein said...

liberal elitist: Good point. I don't think liberals mean to do evil, there are very few sadists. I reworded it to say they want more government power, which they think is all for the good, but more government power means less individual power by necessity. It's an unintended consequence, not an objective.