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On Missing from the State of the Union: A Carbon Price

The focus of the SOTU speech was on the middle class. Obama's main proposal was to increase taxes on the 1% to pay for tax cuts and other benefits for the middle class. 

A carbon tax would mainly burden the middle class, working class, and poor. It is, in short, regressive. Exactly opposite of Obama's policy. Hence, it was not mentioned and is not being advocated.

What about proposals for refunds or dividends? The large majority of the public has little trust in government. Hence the public does not trust the government to give back money it would take with a carbon tax. (Understandably so, given past experience.) In practice, a carbon tax would raise prices of all goods and services in addition to the direct cost of the fuel consumers purchase. Refund schemes do not seem to provide compensation for those higher costs. So, again, carbon taxes are regressive.


January 26, 2015    View Comment    

On A Bipartisan Group Of Senators Is Pushing For Distributed Wind: Here's Why It Matters

I'm not sure even that explains it, Bob. The article here argues for distributed wind power. My impression is that grid-connected wind farms are the main interest in Iowa:

However, it appears that the Distributed Wind Energy Association also counts "utility wind turbines installed in distributed applications":

So maybe Grassley figures this is a way for Iowa farmers to harvest some additional federal subsidies. But that still doesn't explain why he is the only GOP senator interested in signing on.

January 5, 2015    View Comment    

On A Bipartisan Group Of Senators Is Pushing For Distributed Wind: Here's Why It Matters

Bipartisan? Oh, please. The letter was signed by six Democrats and only one Republican, Iowa's Chuck Grassley. The latter's voting record is well to the left of most GOP senators.

In case anyone missed the news, the GOP will have the majority and control of the Senate starting January 6.

In sum, not only is the case for distributed wind weak as Wilson and others point out here, the letter is politically meaningless. No tangible effect should be expected.

January 4, 2015    View Comment    

On India, Climate, and the Coal Conundrum

Good point, Nathan. 

This table indicates that nuclear power also has a notably lower carbon footprint (lifecycle) than photovoltaics:

The Berkeley paper did not address the potential for Compact Fusion Reactors like those being developed by Lockheed Martin, U. of Washington, and others. It seems that those would require even less heavy structures than advanced fission reactors, since there is no melt-down issue and much less hazardous waste to manage.

December 26, 2014    View Comment    

On India, Climate, and the Coal Conundrum

Bob, I agree that development and raising the standard of living are needed and desirable. Normally, as I said above, development would lead to a demographic transition to lower fertility. That hasn't happened in some countries though, as The Economist and others have observed. There may be multiple reasons but a notable one is the status of women -- which hinges on, among other things, access to birth control, education, and economic opportunity. Some (appropriately, I would say) view those as ethical or fairness issues to be considered too.

When you evoke notions like "we constructed our empire.," I part ways. I don't know who you think "we" is but it doesn't include me and many/most people in the US and other developed countries don't think it includes them. That leads to "reparations" thinking which politically is a dead end.

Development and raising the standard of living are no less desirable in Europe or Japan or N. America than anywhere else in the world. Making "climate protection" into a zero-sum game, which requires making some people poorer so others can get richer is un-sellable policy. 

December 26, 2014    View Comment    

On India, Climate, and the Coal Conundrum

Bob, you may disagree with that view. But the fact is that it holds considerable sway.


Meanwhile, the fertility issue is far more about Africa than about India. And that is where fertility rates in a number of countries are also about 7:

In any case, politics is driven by how people actually think and behave, not by how they should.

December 26, 2014    View Comment    

On India, Climate, and the Coal Conundrum

Schalk, here is what the source you point to says about that:

Biocapacity varies each year with ecosystem management, agricultural practices (such as fertilizer use and irrigation), ecosystem degradation, and weather, and population size. Footprint varies with consumption and production efficiency. 

That implies a lot of variability from year to year: kind of a squishy metric.

Looking at other countries rated on that site, D.R. Congo, Brazil, and Russia have much greater biocapacity than their supposed "ecological footprint." The Netherlands, Israel, and Singapore are quite the reverse. Hardly surprising: Big, sprawling, poor countries don't exceed their indigenous carrying capacity, while small, compact, prosperous ones do.

A simple, and quixotic solution then to that standard of inequity would be for the big, poor countries to annex the small prosperous ones -- or vice versa. That is not going to happen. But in fact, trade accomplishes the same result: carrying capacity gets shared.

But that is sort of beside the point. Appeals to equity are not going to lead to political resolution, because different countries, cultures, people, etc. have differing notions of what is equitable. And there usually is a bias that their own sense of equity, aligned with their self-interest, is right while others are wrong. Arguing about equity is more of a symptom of gridlock than a solution.

An encouraging aspect of the description of biocapacity above is that it implies much opportunity for innovation. And innovation, again, rather than political negotiation is how effective solutions are are most likely to be created.

December 26, 2014    View Comment    

On Valuing Solar Energy: Two Models to Use

Advocates of renewable energy often invoke "internalizing externalities" to justify high costs and the unreliable nature of intermittent sources. This report demonstrates what I have often pointed out: Internalizing externalities is a subjective exercise that is easier in theory than it is in practice.

What is notable about both methods for valuing solar described here is that neither is provably correct. Rather they reflect independent, idiosyncratic value judgments. In that sense, they are arbitrary, as are any methods that attempt to incorporate values external to the market.

December 22, 2014    View Comment    

On Beyond Electrification: Why Fuels Matter for Energy Access

Wilson makes the key point here. Energy poverty is poverty. Reducing poverty requires modern energy infrastructure: substantial, reliable, dispatchable power.

As the article and some of the comments note, there are some renewable, relatively low-cost options to provide cleaner energy for cooking and such. But those do not meet the broader needs for economic development.

December 10, 2014    View Comment    

On While Critics Debate Energiewende, Germany is Gaining a Global Advantage

Schalk, re the McKinsey report you noted, I found the graphics not so obvious. However, if Google's English translation of the page is anywhere near accurate, it seems that McKinsey concluded that many of the goals were unrealistic and that progress since 2012 had been, if anything, negative.

October 15, 2014    View Comment    

On Should the Climate Movement Turn Down the Radicalism?

Pause to look at this argument from the other side of the table: Should conservatives reach out to climate activists to get them to see the error of their ways?

Here is an example of what that argument might look like:


And this is a good indicator of how Stenhouse's argument sounds to those he aspires to 'engage':


Where there is such an engagement, as in this example, this is where it may lead:

Finally, there is chronic confusion in forums such as this one, hinging on the word "we." Those who commonly weild it presume, erroneously, that their views are popular, even universal -- as opposed to those of a maleficent or benighted minority of "they." To the extent that "we" is used to refer to members of TEC, it masks the actual diversity of viewpoints present in the group. When "we" is brandished to suggest that the speaker's views and interests are the same as those of the majority of the US electorate, or even the entire world population, it denies the realities of political plurality and polarization.

October 14, 2014    View Comment    

On Did the "People's Climate" March Leave Conservatives on the Sidelines?

Bob, as Sen. Pat Moynihan often said, you are entitled to your own opinions but not your own facts. Money spent to recommend or oppose candidates is not the same as money donated to candidates -- the error you made.

Yes, money is spent on politics and campaigns. The First Amendment prohibits government from regulating political speech. (Rightly so.) Don't like it? Amend the Constitution.

The UK has no constitution. It strictly regulates political speech during elections, which makes for much quieter campaigns. It also has an Official Secrets Act which empowers the government to throw you in prison for saying something the government wants to keep hidden. It's the sort of thing that impelled Americans to rebel against British rule, declare independence, and compose a constitution with a bill of rights to limit government power to interfere with individual liberty.

Iran's "democracy" is even more efficient. It's Supreme Leader can decide who can and cannot be a candidate, what parties are legitimate or banned, what can be said or not, what kind of clothes people can wear, or just about anything else. Those who dare to protest risk being shot in the street.

The U.S. constitution includes provision for revising it if you can get enough people to agree to a change. If that's what you want, you are free to try. But be careful before you empower the government to silence speech; it may decide to shut you up. See Thomas More:


October 11, 2014    View Comment