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RSS icon Comments on Three Contrarian Ideas About Global Warming

1

I my opinion, placing a tax on all burning of carbon will be the only way to efficiently reduce consumption. You will know how much carbon went into your food and gas if you have to pay more for it. With other conservation strategies, they are often only symbolic, or have unintended consequences.

Posted by Josh | August 7, 2007 8:37 AM
2

The other bad assumption in the Times thing (beside the all-beef diet) is that drivers eat less than walkers. If the obesity stats are any indication, the drivers eat as much - they just get fatter.


Stuff like this is a prime example of why Murdoch is so evil, btw. (The Times is his current standard carrier.) The idea is not so much to put forward a coherent conservative argument, the idea is to devalue the very idea of coherence or rationality. It's all crazy -> it's all entertainment -> you're all loser slaves (well they don't tell you that last bit :-)

@1 And yes a substantial carbon tax could make this all simpler.

Posted by sigh | August 7, 2007 8:50 AM
3

Because those peas will just freeze themselves, right?

Posted by Fnarf | August 7, 2007 9:20 AM
4

Agreeing with josh @1. With a carbon tax, all these questions like drive-vs.-bike-vs.-walk, locally-grown-vs.-imported, car-vs.-plane-vs.-train work themselves out because the carbon cost gets reflected in the actual cost. Likewise, with a carbon tax the whole question of alternative fuels and alternative energy sources works itself out because all these sources have to compete on an equal footing in terms of cost and avoiding emissions.

The magical power of a carbon tax is that it leverages the power of markets. This is why economists and Al Gore and even some conservatives are enamored of a carbon tax. OK, so economists and Al Gore and some conservatives are not exactly the sexiest people alive, but a good idea's got to start somewhere.

Oh, I'm leaving out one critical element of a carbon tax. It has to be revenue neutral, i.e. no tax increase on the whole. To do this, Gore and the economists say you offset the tax increase with a cut in payroll taxes, or even abolishing payroll taxes. You encourage labor and discourage pollution. And when you do this, not only do you help fight global warming and peak oil and stop hemorrhaging money to countries like Saudi Arabia, but you help the whole economy and help create jobs.

Posted by cressona | August 7, 2007 9:21 AM
5

Please ask the new Science guy why we don't invest more money in nuclear fusion technology. Isn't it the ONLY potential technology which a) could potentially supply 100% of power needs and b) does not produce carbon dioxide?

Posted by David | August 7, 2007 9:27 AM
6

Meh. It’s the usual bullshit: any suggested change that will make someone’s life more difficult in the near term (or reduce profits or increase costs or whatever) is scrutinized and criticized and any failure, real or imagined, is publicized and given the weight of some authority. Offer people a ¢5 apple, nobody’s going to ask where it came from or what the long term costs are. Tell them you’re thinking about raising the price to ¢10 for some reason relating to policy or the environment or public health, they’ll pick the proposal part down to its molecular level and accept any information – no matter how obviously incorrect it may be – that will indicate that keeping apples at ¢5 apiece is better than raising the price.

It’s like here in Western Washington – we live on some of the most fertile farmland on the continent, but we’ve spent the last 20 years filling our nice flat farmable river valleys with tract housing. There are a million reasons why the food production value of that land may someday outweigh the dubious housing value – not to mention the flooding that building in those valleys causes. The damage to commercial fishing and shellfish cultivation alone is probably almost enough to offset the profits of the real estate developers. But any proposal to slow the development down – let alone stop it – is nitpicked to pieces by the media, the developers and their lapdogs in the state congress.

Posted by Judah | August 7, 2007 9:34 AM
7

A revenue-neutral carbon tax is one of those ideas that make so much sense, you figure it doesn't stand a chance of happening in today's America. This reminds me of a recent column by New York Times op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof about “The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies" by economist Bryan Caplan, which he calls "the best political book this year."

Mr. Caplan identifies four areas, all related to economics, of “systematic error” — where voters routinely prefer policies that are contrary to their interests.

The first is a suspicion of market outcomes and a desire to control markets. The most efficient way to address climate change would be a carbon tax that would build on the market mechanism, but that’s barely on the national agenda.

I think there's another fundamental problem here. In American democracy today, there's almost a reverse Darwinism going on where the worse an idea is, the better chance it has of becoming law or at least of gaining political traction. Look at all these patently awful ideas:
* The Iraq war
* The Medicare prescription drug benefit.
* Social Security privatization.

What did they all have in common? They all had some powerful special interest to champion them because that special interest has something to gain. This is one reason carbon credit trading is further along politically than a carbon tax. There are utilities and other companies that stand to gain if they can jigger the carbon market in their favor. Of course, the big political advantage of emissions trading is that it tries to appear painless, even though the only way it can be effective if it is not.

Posted by cressona | August 7, 2007 9:38 AM
8

So... its a smaller carbon foot print to snack on a McD's burger value meal while driving, then munch on a locally produced roast beef sandwich, Tim's bbq chips and a Jones pop while driving? Huh.


Living a personally, physically healthy, locally-focused lifestyle seems to have a real enviromental impact for the rest of the nation, if not world. huh?


The article all but implies that the world would be really fucked if Americans all decided to collectively start leading healthier and fitter lifestyles.

Posted by Phenics | August 7, 2007 9:59 AM
9

#1 is a pink herring for anyone but the anorexic. The vast majority of Americans overeat and have a caloric excess to tap.

But if you do the math you get something like this: if you were to subsist on an all beef diet, then a 2 mile walk (1 mile there and back to a store) would burn about 200 calories. Making that up would mean eating about 100g of beef. That beef would translate into about 3.6kg of of CO2. A 2 mile drive at 20 mpg translates into .9kg of CO2. (Total carbon equivalents).

What this shows is that subsisting on an all beef diet is worse for the environment than driving a car.

IF HOWEVER you were to fuel yourself by eating Walker's Cheese and Onion Crisps, you're carbon equivalent is about 75g or roughly 1/10 of the carbon output for driving. (And this is still a heavily processed food, but even so it's a lot better than driving).

http://www.walkerscarbonfootprint.co.uk/walkers_carbon_footprint.html

Posted by kinaidos | August 7, 2007 10:06 AM
10

Carbon tax might help, BUT ... when you engage the power of markets, you face the realities of elasticity of demand.

It's clear that consumers are not sufficiently price-sensitive in the short run to control the AGHG via carbon taxes.

It's debatable whether consumers are sufficiently price-sensitive in the long run.

It is clear that the burden of meaningful carbon taxes would be highly disproportionate -- devastating some individuals, businesses, communities, cultures, while only inconveniencing others.

It's also clear that the economic dislocations of an adequate carbon tax solution would be so severe as to render revenue neutrality or non-neutrality a relatively insignificant concern.

Adequate solutions might combine carbon taxes, hard caps (and trade), tech change, cultural and architectural change, and regulatory change, with unavoidable sacrifices in current quality of life.

Posted by RonK, Seattle | August 7, 2007 10:12 AM
11

RonK:

It is clear that the burden of meaningful carbon taxes would be highly disproportionate -- devastating some individuals, businesses, communities, cultures, while only inconveniencing others.

It's also clear that the economic dislocations of an adequate carbon tax solution would be so severe as to render revenue neutrality or non-neutrality a relatively insignificant concern.


Devastating? RonK, this is an impressive job of fearmongering, almost as impressive as that that clever attack of yours on Obama where you pretended to be a former Obama supporter. Now please point to some sources to back this up. Also just explain in common-sense terms how an "adequate" carbon tax would cause so much "economic dislocation" that it doesn't matter if it's revenue neutral. On the face of it, this doesn't make sense.

The reality is that any real solution to global warming and our energy problems is going to have to produce some pain and some economic dislocation. We didn't win World War II by going on with business as usual. The trick is to push some substantial change at the same time you mitigate it and make it gradual.

Posted by cressona | August 7, 2007 10:29 AM
12
Please ask the new Science guy why we don't invest more money in nuclear fusion technology. Isn't it the ONLY potential technology which a) could potentially supply 100% of power needs and b) does not produce carbon dioxide?

First of all, nuclear energy does produce carbon because the fuel has to be mined, refined, and shipped, and most of the tools required to complete those tasks run on fossil fuels or produce carbon through other processes.

Second of all, nuclear energy produces fabulously toxic waste that remains toxic at minuscule concentrations and cannot be mitigated by compounding or chemical processing. Existing storage methods for nuclear waste are totally inadequate to the toxicity of the waste and, contrary to popular opinion, even places like France and Britain that use the more efficient fast breeder reactors still produce unacceptable quantities of waste that they have no viable long-term tools to dispose of.

Third, in addition to being a hazard on general principles, the waste produced by nuclear energy is a security threat because it can be used to create so-called "dirty bombs". Which means that, in addition to a massive storage infrastructure, nuclear waste requires a massive security infrastructure to keep it out of the hands of anyone who would attempt to use it as a weapon. And that security apparatus must remain in place for hundreds and possibly thousands of years.

Fourth, much of the carbon pollution produced by humans these days is produced by the developing world and China. We do not want to do anything that would encourage those governments to invest in or attempt to acquire nuclear energy technology, because every nuclear reactor is a potential plutonium factory and plutonium, in addition to being the most toxic substance in the world on its own, can be used to make really small atomic bombs.

And kind of on and on like that.

It's a bad idea, we shouldn't be doing it at all and we certainly shouldn't be doing any more of it.

Posted by Judah | August 7, 2007 10:38 AM
13

People always have excuses for not doing the right thing.

Always.

Posted by Will in Seattle | August 7, 2007 10:42 AM
14

Will: not if the right thing is easy, free and fun.

Posted by Judah | August 7, 2007 10:53 AM
15

The comment in #5 was about nuclear FUSION, not nuclear fission, which is the source of current nuclear power. So-called "cold fusion" would be great, and probably carbon neutral, but it is not currently possible. Maybe a huge amount of research could result in a paradigm-shifting way of making energy, like fusion or cost-effective solar power, but it is hard to say.

Posted by josh | August 7, 2007 11:05 AM
16

I do agree, by and large, with RonK @10 on the following:

Adequate solutions might combine carbon taxes, hard caps (and trade), tech change, cultural and architectural change, and regulatory change, with unavoidable sacrifices in current quality of life.

When he was testifying before Congress a few months ago on global warming, Al Gore was asked whether we should go with a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system. Gore's answer was that we'll probably need to go with a mix of both.

I also think to make a smoother transition to cleaner energy, there's going to have to be a carrot as well as a stick -- the stick being carbon taxes and the utility cost increases that would come with a real cap-and-trade system. The carrot I'm talking about would be government investment in cleaner technologies. The problem is that government investment usually gets corrupted, as I note @7. Federal subsidies for corn ethanol is the perfect case in point.

Posted by cressona | August 7, 2007 11:13 AM
17

We can't even get an equitable income tax in this state. What planet do you live on in which a carbon tax is even remotely non-ludicrous?

Posted by NapoleonXIV | August 7, 2007 11:54 AM
18

Oh, fun, a looney-tooney stalker! (Further off topic, have you seen the latest Clinton/Obama Gallups?)

There's no shortage of serious analysis re elasticity of carbon demand and economic impact for serious planeteers, who already know where to find it. Just holdin' up my wonky realist end of the conversation.

Speaking of the non-obvious, did you realize that growing plant matter and burying it (which we know how to do efficiently) while simultaneously digging up coal and burning it (likewise) gives better results than trying to turn plant matter into substitute fuels (at least for the intermediate term with current/emergent technologies)? Counterintitive, but true!

Posted by RonK, Seattle | August 7, 2007 12:12 PM
19

I'm waiting to see Carbon-Debtors' Prisons, for those who can't afford to pay the Carbon Tax Man.

Or will he just suffocate those who cannot pay on the spot?

Posted by NapoleonXIV | August 7, 2007 12:15 PM
20

Nuclear fusion- when they get it to work- will be an environmentalists wet dream. Fuse two H2 molecules into one slightly lighter He molecule, the excess mass being converted into energy at the rate of E=mc2. No pollution of any kind.

At scale, you can use a little bit of the resulting energy to split water into H2 and O2, use the H2, and then release the O2 into the air.

At 10% efficiency, you only need to consume 7.31e6 kg of Hydrogen or 66e6 kg of water (a cube 100m on a side) each year to equal all the power currently generated on earth. (At that rate, we would run out of water in 200 billion years.)

You would however pump 7.26e6 kg of Helium into the air, and that would add up faster than you would deplete the oceans: in merely 3.7 million years you would double the amount of He in the atmosphere. Hopefully in the intervening years technology would be found to sequester the He.

The catch is that we really don't know how to do fusion right now. And it's not like "we don't know how to make a fuel efficient car"; we *really* don't know how to do fusion. It will take *several* fundamental breakthroughs in physics before fusion (hot, warm, or cold) becomes a reality. 10 years? 50 years? 100 years? Who knows.

But if we can just keep ourselves from flash-frying the planet while we wait, we might just have a long term chance.

Posted by Big Sven | August 8, 2007 1:51 AM
21

Whoops, the cube would be 380m on a side. But all the other numbers are right.

Posted by Big Sven | August 8, 2007 1:54 AM
22

Nuclear fusion- when they get it to work- will be an environmentalists wet dream. Fuse two H2 molecules into one slightly lighter He molecule, the excess mass being converted into energy at the rate of E=mc2. No pollution of any kind.

At scale, you can use a little bit of the resulting energy to split water into H2 and O2, use the H2, and then release the O2 into the air.

At 10% efficiency, you only need to consume 7.31e6 kg of Hydrogen or 66e6 kg of water (a cube 380m on a side) each year to equal all the power currently generated on earth. (At that rate, we would run out of water in 200 billion years.)

You would however pump 7.26e6 kg of Helium into the air, and that would add up faster than you would deplete the oceans: in merely 3.7 million years you would double the amount of He in the atmosphere. Hopefully in the intervening years technology would be found to sequester the He.

The catch is that we really don't know how to do fusion right now. And it's not like "we don't know how to make a fuel efficient car"; we *really* don't know how to do fusion. It will take *several* fundamental breakthroughs in physics before fusion (hot, warm, or cold) becomes a reality. 10 years? 50 years? 100 years? Who knows.

But if we can just keep ourselves from flash-frying the planet while we wait, we might just have a long term chance.

Posted by Big Sven | August 8, 2007 2:16 AM
23

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24

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