Comments by Mark Jaccard Subscribe

On European Fuel Regulations and Canadian Hypocrisy: My Trip to Europe with Jim Hansen

You conclude by saying "The concept of unburnable fossil fuels contradicts the concept of sustainable fossil fuels." Really?

The book's point was that we might be able to use fossil fuels for a long time, but we cannot burn them and release the carbon into the atmosphere. In other words, fossil fuels can be part of a global energy system that is moving toward a sustainable trajectory if it is not disrupting the climate - and not disrupting local ecosystems unduly as well. So I don't get your logic problem. You should have said "The concept of burnable fossil fuels contradicts the concept of sustainable fossil fuels." And then we would both agree.

To be clear about the book, though, it says that in addressing the climate change threat (reducing carbon pollution and other GHGs rapidly) we should not rule out "a priori" that some regions of the planet might continue to use fossil fuels as long as they did not emit carbon polllution into the atmosphere. This is the main thesis of the book. So you disagree with this thesis? Meaning that you believe we should rule it out "a priori" - in effect telling all fossil fuel endowed regions that their economies must soon be annihilated in order to address climate change?

If this is your position, I don't believe it is backed up by the technological evidence. It might not even be supported by economic evidence (for some regions of the world). And I think it is bad strategy in addressing a problem that humans and our decision making processes are not well-designed to succeed with. The odds are already bad. Why make them worse?



October 1, 2013    View Comment    

On The Doublespeak of the Dirty Carbon Economy

Sounds like the position of these authors is pretty close to mine. As I said: "If you keep growing the biomass you need (and sustain soil productivity) then the carbon is basically cycling in a closed loop." Sounds like they would accept that.

Obviously, with this qualification, I am not saying that all biofuel today is equal. I believe that the IPCC will say something similar in its next assessment.

From a policy perspective, we have two options to prevent a perverse outcome: (1) put a tax on all CO2 emissions (regardless of source) and then give a credit (negative tax) for carbon absorbed in plant growth on sustainable biofuel plantations, or (2) put a tax on CO2 from sources that are not cycling in a sustainable closed loop, but not on those that are. I am indifferent between these.


August 18, 2013    View Comment    

On The Doublespeak of the Dirty Carbon Economy

So, the IPCC is wrong and you are right. Strange, then, that for thousands of years the human global energy system was almost entirely driven by biomass burning and yet atmospheric CO2 was fairly stable. If you keep growing the biomass you need (and sustain soil productivity) then the carbon is basically cycling in a closed loop.

I agree with you, though, if your point is simply that we cannot run the entire human energy system on biofuels. I did not say that. But very solid surveys of the leading research (see Global Energy Assessment) indicate that we could partly power transport by biofuels - imagine a global vehicle fleet, for example, that was mostly plug-in hybrids that were 90% reliant on zero-emission electricity and 10% reliant on biofuels from closed loop production. In so doing, this also solved the inconvenience problem associated with recharging pure electric vehicles when needing them for longer periods of use.


August 17, 2013    View Comment    

On British Columbia's Carbon Tax After Five Years

Not really interested in countering hyperbole. I'll do it just this once. You say "every attempt to make cap-and-trade work has failed". I suggest you read some environmental economics textbooks. In my decades of teaching this subject, I went through countless examples where cap-and-trade played a not insignificant role in environmental improvement.

I am not a huge fan of any particular compulsory environmental policy. I do have considerable confidence, based on the evidence of over two decades, that without compulsory policy that puts a price on emissions and/or regulates technologies and fuels, we will not significantly decrease emissions over the coming decades in developed and then developing countries. Fighting over "which" compulsory policy seems silly when we are unable to get "any" compulsory policy. I repeat myself in saying that this is like fighting over the best way to steer the Titanic when what we should be doing is turn the ship with whatever mechanism is available to us.

August 2, 2013    View Comment    

On British Columbia's Carbon Tax After Five Years


You can contact him at NERA I presume. I see him every year at Energy Modeling Forum meetings at Stanford or DC.

I am not following your story about modeling policies versus real world happenings. I, like all modelers I know, don't believe we have perfect foresight. But we critique each other based on performance over time and subjecting ourselves to rigorous critique by independent, anonymous experts - as part of the peer-review publishing process. You hane an alternative, better approach?

Statistics on carbon in fuels - and hence in emissions - is no different whether we are using carbon tax, cap-and-trade or regulations, so I fail to see your next point.

No, David's analysis is pretty close to other people modeling the California policies, both within and outside of the state. These policies in combination are having a bigger percentage reduction effect than BC's carbon tax. Of course, the issue is stringency, so this is a false discussion anyway. A more stringent carbon tax will do more than a less stringent cap-and-trade, and vice versa.

Public opinion in BC has not flipped flopped in the surveys I have seen. It was slightly positive to the carbon tax when first announced, then went slightly negative as oil prices rose in 2008, then went slightly positive again. But I note that most opinion polls are designed by people who want a certain outcome. My PhD student recently surveyed 400 British Columbians on carbon tax and other policies. What was interesting was that the carbon tax had about something like 40% of people strongly opposed. In contrast, our zero-emission electricity regulation, which stopped two coal plants and a natural gas plant that were about to be built in 2007-2008, has had a much bigger effect on emissions than the carbon tax and yet has only 1% of people were opposed to it. (More than 95% had no idea it existed.) Even without surveys like we do, astute politicians can sense this. And I think this helps explain why not a single North American jurisdiction has copied the BC carbon tax. Maybe one day. Like you, I hope so. But meanwhile, I am ready to support whatever compulsory policy we can get a politician to implement. Most likely we will get nothing. Let's not make bad odds even worse by insisting on a particular policy.



August 2, 2013    View Comment    

On British Columbia's Carbon Tax After Five Years

Is cap-and-trade inherently flawed? I don't think so. I think it can be done badly. I think carbon tax can be done badly. It all depends how it plays out politically. I tend to be not so picky since the default for over two decades of political intentions is no policy or ineffective policy (voluntary measures, subsidies, moral injunction). Also, someone asked about regulations. My friend David Montgomery of NERA modeled California's climate policies a couple of years ago and showed that with its various regulations (RPS, VES, LCFS, effciency regs, etc) it would achieve about 90% of the reductions to meet is 2020 target - without doing a carbon tax or the cap-and-trade it most recently implemented. Would an economist be able to show that this mash of regulations were economically inefficient? Sure. But if this is all we could get done politically, then the default again is no policy or completely ineffective policy. Arguing against these policies is like arguing against immediately turning the Titanic away from the iceberg because the steering system is non-optimal.

July 31, 2013    View Comment