Entries Tagged as 'global warming'

Don’t Expect Results at a Climate Conference

December 9th, 2011 at 3:56 pm 9 Comments

Another biennial international climate negotiation jamboree wraps up today.

What does the world have to show for it? Durban shouldn’t turn out to be the belly flop that Copenhagen was in 2009. Other than that, not much. See you in two years and all that.

Even a few greens are wondering if trekking to these multi-national climate hoo-hahs is worth it. A Pace University blogger mused this week that one round-trip air ticket from the East Coast to Durban would result in greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 8 tons of carbon dioxide—equivalent, he noted with apologies for the pointy jab at his colleagues who made the trip—to cruising about for a year at the helm of a very large SUV.

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How the GOP Should Explain Climate Change

December 7th, 2011 at 2:00 pm 89 Comments

The GOP nomination race has proven to be a hostile environment for concerns about, medicine or even an acceptance of the reality of, anthropogenic global warming.

Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney have made statements that they don’t know what’s causing climate change, in contradiction of earlier statements indicating that they did know. Jon Huntsman now has expressed doubts about the validity and clarity of the science involved. The other candidates have been broadly dismissive of the issue.

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Why We Should Still be Sweating Global Warming

October 6th, 2011 at 12:30 pm 136 Comments

Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and writer about energy, has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal stating “Five Truths About Climate Change.” Some of his assertions are to the effect that there’s not that much that can be done to restrain carbon emissions. That’s a debatable stance, and I will address it. Then I will go on to his fifth “truth,” which has to do with the science of climate change.

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GOP Climate Stance Could Have Been Different

August 4th, 2011 at 3:16 pm 19 Comments

Citing an essay by D.R. Tucker, online Peter Sinclair asks: What if American conservatives had followed their British counterparts and not allowed partisan animus against Al Gore to distract them from the scientific evidence on climate change?

Imagine if Reagan had delivered speeches similar to Margaret Thatcher’s 1989 and 1990 speeches on combating climate change, troche suggesting that this was a cause beyond the threshold of partisan politics, pharm and that the threat of a warming planet imperiled conservatives and progressives equally. What if Reagan had heeded Dr. James Hansen’s June 1988 call for action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and encouraged members of his party to seek alternate energy routes?

Would conservatives have dismissed “Ronaldus Magnus” as a crank, or would they have listened to his words?

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Humans Are Making it Hotter

August 2nd, 2011 at 12:34 am 42 Comments

Partisanship in Washington has been extreme lately. So has the weather. Might there be a connection? It certainly looks that way.

Let’s talk about heat. As anyone living in Washington—or in about three-fourths of the nation for that matter—has surely noticed, this summer has been unusually hot. In fact, July’s heat was unrivaled in 140 years of Washington, D.C. weather record-keeping.

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Can Conservatives and Scientists Get Along?

August 2nd, 2011 at 12:24 am 42 Comments

Last week, pilule Chris Mooney, cialis sale science blogger and author of The Republican War on Science, asked David Frum to come on the “Point of Inquiry” podcast to discuss conservatives and science, and David was kind enough to ask that I be included in the conversation. The interview can now be found online here.

The discussion was wide-ranging, dealing with topics including global warming, evolution, vaccines, nuclear power, light bulbs, John Edwards, postmodernism and more. Mooney, who describes his own political views as liberal, showed an interest in discussing not just conservatism’s foibles regarding science but what blind spots the leftward side of the political spectrum may have on such matters.

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Free Trade Isn’t A Cure-All

June 10th, 2011 at 10:48 am 5 Comments

The American economy has entered a period of turmoil unlike any it has seen in decades.

The solutions, to me at least, do not seem radically easy or clear, but the first step in finding a solution is to clarify our language in talking/thinking about the problem. If we are serious about finding ways of addressing some of the serious structural problems of the economy, we must be willing to offer a thoroughgoing analysis of the whole economic order.

The trends of “globalization” have had a huge impact on the American economy in the past 20 years. Yet I think there have been some confusions in our contemporary discussions of globalization, so here are a few (mildly polemical) challenges to contemporary assumptions, focusing on trade and manufacturing policies.

The decline of manufacturing is not like the decline of agriculture. The shrinking manufacturing sector is often mistakenly analogized to the drastic drop in the number of Americans working in agriculture from 1870 to 1950. The current trade deficit, driven by manufactured goods, disproves that analogy. The story of the Industrial Revolution in America is not the replacement of agriculture by manufacturing but the incorporation of agriculture into a new, broader economy. Throughout industrialization, Americans still produced enough food to feed themselves and those in other nations.

For the most part, we still do produce enough food to do so. The number of Americans working in agriculture has declined drastically, but, due to increases in productivity, the output has only increased. While it is true that productivity has increased in manufacturing and that automation has cut down on the number of needed factory jobs (the US still does produce a lot), such an increase in efficiency does not tell the whole story of the decline of American industry: if it did, we would still be producing huge quantities of shoes, computers, tools, and countless other items. The fact that factories are closing down while our trade deficit has skyrocketed over the past 20 years is a sign of how different the fates of manufacturing and agriculture have been.

We do not live in an era of free trade (or: cheap imports do not equal free trade.) Some of those who criticize the reigning trade hegemony counterpose “fair trade” to the dominant “free trade.” This criticism is mis-aimed. We may not have “fair trade,” but we certainly don’t have “free trade,” either.

The current global trade order is not free trade but actually a species of neo-mercantilism. Many developed nations have opened up their economies to an influx of goods from poorer, often autocratic, mercantilist countries. Most importantly for the case of “free trade,” there is often a great disparity in openness between trading partners. These disparities are especially stark for the United States. U.S. policymakers have in a variety of ways unilaterally opened up the American market while allowing other countries to stack the deck against U.S.0 businesses and workers.

We are told that this flood of imports is “free trade” when, in fact, numerous barriers are put up against American products.

Consider our relationship with the People’s Republic of China, our second-largest trading partner. It would be a stretch to declare that this relationship is “free trade.” The PRC manipulates its currency as a de facto tariff against U.S. goods — and piles further outright tariffs on US goods. The price of entry into the Chinese market is often, in part, a joint-venture agreement, in which a foreign company provides intellectual property and other advanced technologies while local Chinese contacts supply workers and land for factories.

Mandating that businesses open up factories in a nation in order to have access to it is not exactly classical free trade.

These agreements are very often deleterious to U.S. workers and U.S. companies. The office-supply manufacturer Fellowes, for example, opened up a joint-venture manufacturing facility in the PRC. For a few years, this factory led to some considerable profits for Fellowes.

In  2010, this stream of profit came to a sudden end, when Fellowes’s Chinese partner moved to take possession of the facility:

The dramatic moment was in early August, 2010, when Zhou, under the aegis of Shinri, blocked the gates of the joint venture facility with security guards and trucks, preventing people from going in and goods going out, effectively shutting down production. Shinri expelled and confined the managers, moved funds from the joint venture to a Shinri-controlled bank account, sent packing the 1,600 joint venture employees, and at night, drove a truck into the facility and stole Fellowes-owned injection molding tools, some of them weighing several tons.

Fellowes’s former partner now has taken possession of millions of dollars of equipment and technological know-how—all without paying a cent (or a yuan) for it. The Chinese government appears to be giving cover to what many would consider theft. Fellowes is but one of many companies that have had their investments and technologies confiscated by the politically connected of the PRC. Without a basic respect for property rights, there can be no capitalistic free trade.

Trade policy does not happen in a vacuum. In part to cope with the throes of industrialization, the United States passed various worker and consumer protections in the twentieth century: regulations for environmental protections, worker safety, wages, and other areas. When the U.S. economy was bounded by tariffs, these regulations helped ensure that an increase in industrial production went along with an increase in the standards of society. However, in our new era of neo-mercantilist globalism, the role of these standards has become considerably more troubled for U.S. workers.

Consider the case of environmental standards.

As the decades have gone on, our environmental standards have become increasingly invasive and onerous. Government more and more regulates chemical usage, energy sources, waste disposal, land use, and other aspects of environmental production that affect industrial policy. The presumed beneficiary of these regulations is the public at large through the protection of the environment. Our laws tell companies that, if you manufacture in the U.S.A., you must face numerous obligations and pay increased costs due to all these regulations. Our trade policies, however, tell those very same companies that, if they manufacture their products abroad, they need not worry about any U.S. environmental or worker regulations.

One might wonder how the environment is helped when U.S. policies incentivize heavy industry leaving a country with some environmental regulations (such as the U.S.A. or many European countries) and going to a country with far fewer (such as the PRC or India).

I recognize that economic prosperity is often correlated with an increase in environmental protections, so a wealthier India may eventually introduce further environmental protections. But there seems to be an often radical disproportion between how politicians talk about environmental policies and what our trade policies actually encourage. The debate over “global warming” reveals this disproportion at the height of its absurdity.

In the name of “global warming,” the federal government has banned the classical incandescent lightbulb in order to cut down on carbon emissions; meanwhile, through trade policies, it has encouraged a gross increase in carbon emissions through encouraging manufacturing to move to nations with radically less efficient and more polluting forms of industrial production.

“Global warming” advocates often stress that the world is at a tipping point for carbon emissions and forecast the deaths of potentially hundreds of millions of people if carbon patterns do not change right now. Many of these same advocates, however, seem to see no problem with the continued destruction of American manufacturing.

A “cap-and-trade” scheme or carbon tax, without any attention to broader global industrial questions, would do little for American employment or lower carbon emissions. If environmentalism is more than NIMBYism and self-righteousness, we need to consider the effects of our current trade policies upon domestic policies.

To acknowledge (or to wonder about) the limits of neo-mercantilist globalism is not to embrace isolationism; on the contrary, this kind of critique opens up further ways of engaging with the broader community of nations. It would be foolish to turn our economic or political backs on the world, and a tariff war would very likely create more problems than it would solve.

But it would equally foolish to allow our thinking to be frozen by hazy myths and knee-jerk assumptions.

The theory of free trade does have much of value to it. Under the right conditions, trade between nations does lead to a rising tide for all boats. There have also been many benefits to the current neo-mercantilist order, though some of the implicit tensions of this order have risen to the surface during the last few years of economic turmoil.

Yet, living within this order, the United States must find ways to renew its competitive edge and successfully compete with mercantilist powers. It might also, with its allies, consider how best to revise this order so that it better advances the ideals of freedom and prosperity.

Originally published at A Certain Enthusiasm.

GOP Votes Against Climate Change Reality

March 15th, 2011 at 4:45 pm 70 Comments

Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee have just voted to deny reality. In particular, they voted against an amendment offered by ranking Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman that stated the following:

Congress accepts the scientific finding of the Environmental Protection Agency that ‘warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level.’

This amendment, failing on a party-line vote of 21-30 on March 15, was one of three amendments proposed by Democrats in a wrangle over Republican-backed legislation that would block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases.

The other two amendments affirmed that human-caused emissions are causing climate change, and that such climate changes poses threats to human health and welfare. Both of these too failed on party-line votes. Of course, worrying about whether climate change is anthropogenic or harmful makes little sense if you don’t believe climate change is occurring at all.

However, the position that climate change isn’t occurring is utterly untenable. The positions that it isn’t anthropogenic or harmful aren’t much better, but at least on those you could find small minorities of scientists who agree with you.

But outright denial that warming is taking place is a position that has virtually no support among scientists anywhere. It’s a position that puts one at odds not just with the scientific mainstream but also with those “climate skeptic” scientists who argue that solar fluctuations or other natural phenomena are causing climate change, or that human-caused climate change is happening but may not be so harmful.

And of course, one might acknowledge that global warming is real, anthropogenic and harmful, and still not think a particular policy proposal to mitigate it would be effective or affordable. There can be reasonable debate about what should be done about climate change. But the Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee have opted for something else: a pathetic denial of reality.

Some Truths More Inconvenient than Others?

David Frum September 29th, 2009 at 11:17 am 67 Comments

Here is Paul Krugman this past weekend:

In a rational world, then, the looming climate disaster would be our dominant political and policy concern. But it manifestly isn’t. Why not?

Part of the answer is that it’s hard to keep peoples’ attention focused. Weather fluctuates — New Yorkers may recall the heat wave that pushed the thermometer above 90 in April — and even at a global level, this is enough to cause substantial year-to-year wobbles in average temperature. As a result, any year with record heat is normally followed by a number of cooler years: According to Britain’s Met Office, 1998 was the hottest year so far, although NASA — which arguably has better data — says it was 2005. And it’s all too easy to reach the false conclusion that the danger is past.

But the larger reason we’re ignoring climate change is that Al Gore was right: This truth is just too inconvenient. Responding to climate change with the vigor that the threat deserves would not, contrary to legend, be devastating for the economy as a whole. But it would shuffle the economic deck, hurting some powerful vested interests even as it created new economic opportunities. And the industries of the past have armies of lobbyists in place right now; the industries of the future don’t.

Nor is it just a matter of vested interests. It’s also a matter of vested ideas. For three decades the dominant political ideology in America has extolled private enterprise and denigrated government, but climate change is a problem that can only be addressed through government action. And rather than concede the limits of their philosophy, many on the right have chosen to deny that the problem exists.

Let’s test whose ideas are vested here. It ought to be unignorably obvious that the only near-term way to generate sufficient electricity while reducing the use of coal is nuclear power.

And yet… Krugman does ignore that particular inconvenient truth in this column and in so many others. In a 2006 exchange with readers, the Times columnist did have this to say:

William R. Mosby, Salt Lake City: Does nuclear energy have a part to play in mitigating global warming in the long term? Assuming it produces sufficient net energy and that fuel recycling/waste partitioning is used, nuclear energy could be one part of a non-CO2-emitting energy mix that would be sustainable for as long as a few thousand years, using the depleted uranium already in storage in the U.S. A great deal of research has already been done on the type of reactor and fuel recycling facility required to do this — the Integral Fast Reactor — but was canceled for political reasons in 1994.

However, those who see an urgent need to do something about global warming generally don’t talk about nuclear energy as a prominent part of the solution. Do they think that nuclear energy would be a bigger problem than global warming?

Paul Krugman: I was at a reception for Al Gore after a screening of his movie, and he was asked that very question. I thought his answer was very good. He said that yes, nuclear should be part of the mix, but it can’t be the main answer. And there are problems with nuclear we need to resolve: not just disposal of radioactive waste, but vulnerability to terrorist attack. In fact, as nuclear power becomes more common around the world, the possible misuse for weapons, terrorist or otherwise, will be a big problem. So unless there are some breakthroughs, nuclear power is only a piece, and maybe not a big one, of the solution.

But why can’t nuclear be the main answer? After all – there isn’t any other answer! Conservation can be incentivized through higher prices, yes. Solar and wind can contribute in some specialized niches. But remember, half of America’s electricity is generated by burning coal.  Only nuclear power is sufficiently cheap and scalable to replace so massive a power source. If your version of environmentalism cannot accept that truth, please kindly refrain from lecturing others about the blinding effects of ideology!