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GHG emission mitigation solutions - a challenge for the Right?

Posted on 22 August 2011 by scaddenp

This article is an enlargement on a comment I made here on the "Are you are genuine skeptic or a climate denier" thread. It concerns the thorny issue of right-wing political values and climate change, but rather than discuss the politics, I am interested in possible solutions to GHG mitigation that don't offend the political Right.

In particuar, I've been thinking pretty hard about the question of mitigation policies for libertarians. Scratch a skeptic and you tend to find a right-wing/conservative. Furthermore, I struggled to find  libertarians that are not somewhere on the not-happening/not-us/not-bad spectrum. The conundrum faced was discussed here by Grypo along with some solutions from libertarian thinkers which didn't find favour with commentators. While I guess that it's possible that right-wing genes somehow provide a better understanding of climate physics than climate scientists have, it seems more likely to me that a clash with political ideology inhibits a proper evaluation of scientific evidence. Some of this might be simply a conservative resentment of a changing world, but I am hypothesising that for many (most?), the first inkling of global warming comes from hearing about an unacceptable proposed solution. If it is better to mitigate GHG emissions rather than adapt to rapid climate change (which certainly appears to be the case), then we need effective proposals that don't offend these values.

I am taking right-libertarian political theory in a nutshell to be:

  • The right to individual liberty of action providing it does not infringe on the rights of other rights-respecting citizens.
  • Individual responsibility for the consequences of these actions.
  • Government is as minimal as possible with roles of protection from external aggression, maintenence of legal system to enforce contracts, and such police as needed to protect citizens from rights violation by theft, fraud or force.

The solutions to climate change most acceptable to this group are ones that also promote the libertarian agenda. Suggestions I have heard so far include insurance companies regulating safety and privatization of roads with appropriate cost. Unfortunately, these mostly dont seem to be very effective solutions - they depend on somehow getting alternative energy costs below coal without raising coal price to be effective. But what if you can't? The problem is that the costs of producing power from coal don't include external and future costs, but there is no easy mechanism that I can think of for adding in uncertain future costs. What does right wing political theory do in these cases?

"Cap and trade" attempts to add these cost to carbon emissions, but it is an anathema to the Right for which it is designed to appease (even though cap and trade was originally an invention of free market conservatives). It is quite rightly pointed out that these schemes are complex and costly to administer with abundant opportunities for cheating, even with Big Government oversight. Pigovian taxes (much like Hansen's "fee and dividend" scheme) are another possibility but these also don't seem to find much favour.

Another popular proposal is to leave it to market to solve the problem with more energy-efficient products. This also fails the test of effectiveness. There is only so much that be gained from improving efficiency and market forces have already pushed many technologies (like planes) to close to their theoretical limits. In the USA, less than one quarter of energy use is residential anyway, and only about one third of that drives gadgets. Transportation, industry, and commerce are roughly equal consumers of the rest. Focusing on personal energy use will not effect major saving except in transport.

Killing subsidies on fossil fuels should be a no-brainer - in fact killing all industry subsidies and returning the savings as reduced taxes should be more than acceptable, since subsidies imply coercive support of government-favoured industries. Libertarian think-tanks like Heartland and Cato Institute should be waving this banner, but I suspect that subsidy removal would cut deeply into the pockets of important donors to these institutions. A bigger sticking point, however, is likely to be that subsidy removal is proposed by a Democrat president.

Government action is portrayed as theft of the rights of fossil fuel-rich property holders, but is their situation any different from asbestos-containing property holders? Our knowledge of the ill effects to the public has improved in both cases (and both cases, met with industry denial).

As far as I can see, libertarian theory struggles with issues where the free action of many individuals results in a violation of the rights of another. Examples would be passive smoking, pollution control, and yes, climate change. How can a citizen with say, a lung condition, sue those who choose to smoke in public, or not buy emissions-control for their vehicles? No one individual is at fault, and no mechanism exists for rights protection that I can see. It is interesting to see libertarians responding with denial of the adverse health effects caused by passive smoking, too.

Government action is permitted by the Right in the case of external aggression, so it seems self-preservation values override those of liberty. This I think explains the ghoulish preoccupation by AGW-activists with ice-melt and extreme weather. They are trying to trigger a self-preservation response. But suppose your country won't suffer too badly under the effects of climate change, and the really bad stuff happens elsewhere? Does rights-respecting only apply to citizens of your country? Your state even? If not, then how is this rights-conflict arbitrated? Do libertarians truly think that one group of people are free to create a problem while others should pay the cost of adaption?

In an ideal world, it should be possible for a person to choose to take no mitigating action in belief that science is wrong, provided that person is also willing to take their share of the responsibility for liabilities for adaption and compensation. However, I cant think of any mechanism by which this could work for a multi-generational problem like climate change. People object to paying for the "sins of their fathers" (though the same people appear to be quite happy to pass the costs to another generation).

This is a tough problem. We are born with a desire to do what we like and an instinct for self-preservation, whereas respecting others' rights and taking responsibility are learned behaviours. I would really like Right-wing supporters, and libertarians in particular, to face up to the problems above with some workable solutions instead of denying such problems exist. Solutions that would get whole-hearted support are needed, and for that I think values other than liberty/preservation need to be invoked.

So here is the challenge:

If you were convinced (this is a hypothetical question) that it was cheaper to mitigate GHG emissions than to adapt to rapid warming, what effective methods of doing this are compatible with your political values?

My definition of "effective" would be something equivalent to phasing out coal-fired generation over a period of 30-50 years but I am open to alternatives. Anything that would hold CO2 below 450ppm really.

If a skeptic cannot this (or the answer is "none, I'd rather pay the cost"), then it is hard to accept that their skepticism is truly based on a dispassionate appraisal of the scientific evidence.

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Comments 101 to 150 out of 164:

  1. Sphaerica, I see you are not to blame. The moderator deleted my last post which would have explained everything. ( -Snip- )
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    Response:

    [DB] Moderation complaints snipped.  Your last comment was deleted by the moderator due to inflammatory remarks.

    In the spirit of transparency, it is duly noted that EtR also furnished up this link:

    http://www.bts.gov/publications/national_transportation_statistics/html/table_04_23.html

    as the source for his claim.  Let the reader make of it what they will.

  2. EtR - as stated in the article, efficiency gains by themselves are incapable of making much difference - slowing the rate of increase at best. Look at breakdown of where energy is used, look at maximum possible efficiency gain and see what total you can get. I can highly recommend MacKay's "sustainably energy without the hot air" as a starting point. I think constraints on fuel supply will reduce FF use in transport sector, but coal is the real issue. There enough coal left in the world to really damage the climate. You need to propose policies that will end coal use.
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  3. OK. I used to be an advocate of wind, but experience with a wind farm has shown the realiability of wind at peak power need does not fit the bill. Soloar is much the same. When I think of solutions, I think of solutions that are reliable, will provide electricity on demand. I also look at cost. With wind, you have to have another generation system as backup. This is duplication of costs, and not an effective utilization of precious resources. The same applies for solar, altho to a less extent. I do feel there are areas of the world that solar would work well with little redundancy. When I say economics, I think of mankind as a whole. There are millions of people who have not enough food, no work, limitied ability to expand economically. Lifespan is short, life is hard. By using current tech, reliable tech, we will have enough resources to expand eocnomicially for the good of all mankind. As far as fossil fuel consumption for transportation, the swing to more economical cars is evident in the sales of said cars. They should all be diesel as well as that internal combustion engine is much more efficent than a comparable gas engine, and hence, produces less co2 and pollution per gallon of energy consumed. At this time, I can see no practicle alternatives to large horsepower requirements being met with elec or such. If someone knows of one, I am all ears. Innovation is also something that comes over time. Right now I am trying to get a grad student to do an economic analysis of using wind generated elec to produce h, and then to produce nitrogen for crops. This would be better than using ch4, but at this time I do not know the economics of this. To me, as an idea, this is well suited for wind as the generation requirement does not have to be 24/7. It is taking wind, producing a produce that is currently produced from natural gas, and producing it from water, wind, etc with no detrimental environmental effects. Might sound crazy, but it might work as well as N, which is required for crops, is getting extemelty expensive. Tired, as I am harvesting. Thanks for reading.
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  4. Camburn, sorry for hammering the point, but I am perfectly convinced that there are technological solutions of all sort. The problem is a political solution to get the change to happen. Sometime in the next 30 years, constraints on oil production are going to give sufficient price signal to change that. However, at the moment, the price of power from coal reflects only production cost (which are subsidized to boot) and there is a lot of coal left. If a government wants an end to coal, how would it change that? Don't say "support nuclear" - what support for nuclear that is compatible with your political values, would cause nuclear stations to be built instead of coal ones?
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  5. Scaddenp, What technological solutions do you feel are available, or could be made available in the next decade to reduce the consumption of either coal or oil? Political posturing aside, which technologies have the potential to be implemented?
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  6. Great article idea. I think this may have been mentioned before, but I bet getting rid of fossil fuel subsidies would be palatable to all political stripes, in the USA at least. Other than that small effort, the conservative/libertarian minds at the highest levels of government have had decades to think about the answer to this policy question. If they haven't come up with anything but attacks on the science yet, it is unlikely they will ever come up with a solution. Business as usual along with repealing environmental and utility regulations seems to be their solution. Apparently, the market can solve the global warming issue if we just wait and see it perform its magic. This may conflict a bit with the point of the article, but I feel like the radicals among the conservative/libertarians ought to be ignored in the policy debate. They had their chance already. Outreach to the uninformed middle ground folks and moderate conservatives ought to be top priority. If an information campaign were successful, many of the moderates will see the kooky nature of conservative climate science denial. With enough people firmly established in the science and its implications for our society/economy, denialism will be increasingly viewed in the public eye as fringe. I say converting hardcore deniers directly is probably not as efficient as outnumbering them. A three prong campaign to inform the reasonable middle ground, keep the disinformation in check, and move forward with solutions such as an equitable carbon tax seems to be the best overall strategy to me.
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  7. EtR - that would be off-topic for this thread, but obviously nuclear, renewables, electrication of transport would be majors with a host of minors. However, if you wished to discuss this, go here.
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  8. I should also add, that I dont back any particular solution. I have every confidence that market would find good solutions if building new coal generation was banned. However, no technological solution is going anywhere while coal is cheaper (are you happy with subsidies?). I am not seeing right-wing skeptics stepping up to the plate to answer this one. Does this mean they simply cant, so resort to denial instead?
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  9. scaddenp: Denial of what? I do not want government involved. That stiffles innovation/creativiety etc. Imagine if Thomas Edison was funded by government? Instead, he had great ideas, was funded by private monies, and GE came about. Government is good for building roads, bridges etc. Government is not innovative at all. Otter 17: What subsidies are you talking about regarding FF?
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  10. "Denial that GHG is a problem". As stated in article, if you dont have solution for GHG mitigation that is compatible with your political values, then it's hard to believe skepticism about climate change is based on appraisal of science. Okay, then without getting the government involved, how would you get replacing coal when coal is cheaper? The various government strategies proposed (ban new coal stations, pigovian taxes, cap and trade) all focus on this. What is your non-government strategy? As to subsidies here for global, here for USA. Wouldnt you rather have that money back in tax breaks?
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  11. Camburn "Government is not innovative at all." You are communicating to us through the internet - which is itself a product of government research. Read up on ARPAnet.
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  12. Fair enough Stephen, but I am not suggesting government do the innovation - just provide the conditions where the market will. Coal subsidy removal is just a start.
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  13. Libertarian think-tanks like Heartland and Cato Institute should be waving this banner, but I suspect that subsidy removal would cut deeply into the pockets of important donors to these institutions.

    Sorry, I've been very busy, but I will read all the comments and respond. First, here's CATO in 2001: http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa-390es.html and CATO this year: http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=13071 Seems to me like your suspicions are not correct.

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  14. scaddenp, Lloyd, Tom, others: great thread. I think AnotherBee made a great start to answering scaddenp's (modified) challenge: "If I were convinced that CO2 emissions were to cause major problems, what political solutions would I propose" I disagree, scaddenp, that coal is cheaper due to subsidies. It also happens to be cheap: think $20 shovel and home-made coal stove. One way I would rephrase the challenge is: how would we get Hansen's carbon tax suggestion embraced by the American middle class (note, not right or left). First I would say don't borrow and spend, but save because America has gone way beyond her means (although I know that won't make me very popular). Second, encourage small scale, low energy manufacturing since after consumption, most fuel is wasted driving to pointless service and paperwork jobs. May also need to revamp and subsidize education to put more job seekers into the knowledge industry. AnotherBee's idea of appealing to self-sufficiency should resonate with middle class who, in some part, seem to embrace the idea that they can do a better job of running their lives than the government. Libertarians should also be enticed by reducing government, but also by devolving responsibility to local governments. When things are done locally they tend to be less carbon intensive. Loosen the zoning laws to allow proper passive solar construction. Same solution for allowing more local commerce and a local economy. The flea market / farmers market that I go to every Sunday is 100 times better than Walmart.
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  15. Eric (skeptic). Delighted to see you on the thread. First off - I doff my hat to Cato. I didnt think they had it in them but it certainly allays my feats that they were simply a political ploy to support Koch. Coal is cheap - but subsidies dont help and clearly arent necessary. The crux of the problem for getting off coal is a way to make other options cheaper. Subsidy removal is just a start. What else? Your comment about the Hansen carbon tax idea suggests you would be in favour of pigovian taxes. Our government has a Fiscal Responsibility Act, which basically requires a government to balance the books in the medium term. Has any US government done this since 1900? Sounds a good idea, but dont see how it would reduce carbon emissions. most fuel is wasted driving to pointless service and paperwork jobs. I frankly do not believe this to by true. Please show some figures to back this assertion or withdraw it. After manufacture, transport is the most expensive. US Energy use can be found here. More electricity from coal goes to residential and commercial where it is spent largely on heating/cooling and lighting. You really think the only barrier to alternative energy and localized manufacture is zoning laws? I find that surprising to say the least. How else would you encourage local small-scale, low energy manufacturing? (I do actually like this idea but I think rising fuel prices will do this more effectively than anything else). I understand most US citizens live in urban environment, and it seems 36% of total housing is flat/apartments. Their self-sufficiency options are somewhat limited I would think, but you know your country better than me.
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  16. Another Bee. Interesting comment. Some thoughts. Some thoughts and possible approaches:- The other problem with micro-generation is that it is expensive. There are real economies of scale in energy conversion. Does a zeal for independence from government and foreign power extend to paying higher prices? "In general, the Right has a philosophical dislike for state subsidies." I would have thought so, but you wouldn't think so looking at the actions of the right when in power. Subsidy involves the governments picking winners. I have no problem with subsidies on health and education but I think they are almost always bad when applied to industry apart from supporting research.
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  17. Further thought on US energy use - coal powered electricity doesnt support much industry, but then it appears that is because most manufacturing and industry happens in Asia using coal there. The ideals of consumerism creating a vibrant economy with abundant jobs (eg as in Landon's "Ending the Depression Through Planned Obsolescence") are doing wonders for creating wealth there. Got a plan for changing that?
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  18. For further resource on US energy use, the Wikipedia article has useful data and diagram too.
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  19. In case I am sounding hyper-critical, then let me explain my wish for effective solutions. Firstly, it's no good to say "I support " without explaining the political action to make that solution happen. Second, effective is hard. A Kyoto-type solution would require reducing GHG emissions by at least 25%. However, an equitable distribution (same emissions per capita for whole world) of GHG emissions would require reducing US emissions eventually from around 200khw/p/d of FF energy to around 60. (MacKay's "Sustainable Energy without the hot air" has figures for other countries). This does not take into account energy imported embodied in goods. If you demanded historical equity, then emissions would need to drop to around zero. Figuring out how to do that means looking at exactly how FF is used currently and proposing a means to change that. MacKay's book is good resource for physical limits to efficiency. Rising fuel prices are likely to deal to transport FF but at the expense of greater demand for electricity. This cannot come from coal. Ending the building of any more coal-fired generation is fundimental.
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  20. Suggested reading: "Why Business-as-Usual Coal Consumption Could Mean Dramatic Changes" by Emily Grubert, Guest Blog, Scientific America, Aug 23, 2011 To access the article, click here.
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  21. I proposed a very effective solution. However, because of the resistance of numerous groups that only want wind/solar/thermal to be used for energy, it may not be possible. Such a simple solution met with so much resistance. Mindless....and by doing so it makes any problem with co2 seem irrelevant.
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  22. Camburn "...because of the resistance of numerous groups that only want wind/solar/thermal to be used for energy..." I'm not a group, not even a member of a group, but my 'resistance' may be very similar to others. I see fast, anywhere & everywhere rollout of renewables as the 'low-hanging fruit' of getting emissions down as quickly and as cheaply as possible. If we do it as fast as possible, that's an incentive for entrepreneurs to get in on the act and help drive costs down even faster with their own innovations. Like others I believe that it's possible to go entirely renewable across the world. But I also think it's worth keeping nuclear development going at the same time - to slot into the system in countries/areas where renewables are difficult to build or it's way too expensive to transmit renewable power generated elsewhere. (And it's worth keeping the peace at home with a man obsessed by the wondrous possibilities of salt-cooled thorium reactors.)
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  23. 121, Camburn,
    I proposed a very effective solution. ... met with so much resistance. Mindless....and by doing so it makes any problem with co2 seem irrelevant.
    This is false. First, you didn't propose an effective solution, you proposed one single technological option -- Thorium reactors. That this one, single solution can't possibly work all by itself doesn't seem to matter to you. But beyond this, you were asked for further aspects of this... how do you implement this? The government does it and raises taxes to cover it? You just suggest it be done? How does this translate into vehicles? What do you do about the nuclear waste? Is the technology absolutely proven? Or is more research (and therefore delay) required? Your last statement... which basically amounts to the feeling that since people don't agree with you, it therefore means their concern about CO2 is disingenuous... is insulting and offensive. Or did I misunderstand what you meant by that?
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  24. Camburn - no you didnt propose a solution. You mentioned one of the technologies that could be a solution, but you failed repeated requests to explain the political side of the equation that would result in nuclear being built instead of coal. "I would support" doesnt cut it. I would support a crimeless society too but first you actually have to explain how you get there. Stations are not built because someone in government thinks its a good idea. You have to explain how you break the barriers that currently restrict nuclear. If you were elected tomorrow, how would you do it? I cant take your idea seriously till you say that and address some of the questions that you have ignored in earlier posts.
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  25. scaddenp: I did propose a solution. There is money available to build nuclear/thorium reactors. The hold up is the regulatory process. Ok....if I were elected President tomorrow: 1. I would streamline the regulatory process immediately. That is all it would take. There would be immediate lawsuits, but by the time they got through court the plants would be built. I would get a law passed that the 1st organization to develop a useable battery for transportation that had a range of 400 miles in a functional 5 passenger vehicle would recieve a 10 billion dollar reward. Takes care of most of the problem of co2 emissions in the USA with little government involvement but tremendous rewards for all.
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  26. Camburn#125: "if I were elected President tomorrow:" In case you hadn't noticed, the President of the United States doesn't have the power to act unilaterally. Our government is dominated by entrenched corporate interests who have figured out that having congressmen (and women) in their pockets is the key. In the current debacle, the desired result of these corporate interests seems to be paralysis. And that includes this supposed thorium reactor panacea: When an existing industry such as nuclear power generation exists, dominated by only 1-2 manufacturers of equipment (such as GE) and a small number of very large, very entrenched producers, the utilities themselves, there is enormous resistance and active hostility to change. New technologies are not seen by the existing industry as opportunities. They are only threats. The immediate profit-maximizing “rational” action is to invest not in the new technology, but to in government lobbying efforts to block the development of the new technology. Since nuclear power is an established, well-regulated industry with big bucks behind it, it’s well positioned to stop the new technology, at least in the U.S. So your 'solution' would get bogged down in the legislative process, rewritten by lobbyists and die a slow death-by-committee.
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  27. Camburn: You have not replied to my question here about how many throium power plants have actually been built. BP has previously told us that no thorium power plants exist anywhere. At 63 you claim "By not agreeing to known tech". Since you have not produced evidence of a single thorium power plant in existence you obviously do not care about "known tech". It would take at least 15 years to prove the thorium technology, presuming that it actually works. It is quite possible that it will not work. This is not a solution that we can start to work on today with any hope of reducing CO2 in the next two decades. The local power company where I live has proposed a nuclear plant. It is only economically viable because of huge government loans and the fact that they are already billing for the nuclear power even though we will not receive any power for at least 10 years. How is it economic if they have to bill ten years in advance of finishing the plant?
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  28. 125, Camburn,
    I would streamline the regulatory process immediately. That is all it would take.
    The naivety demonstrated by this comment boggles the mind. Remove all regulation and the free market will solve all problems, instantly and painlessly? What a wonderful path to utopia. It has, after all, worked so often before in the course of human history. How could the rest of us be so blind?
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  29. Hi scaddenp, my assertion about wasting fuel driving to "pointless" jobs needs an amendment. Most local jobs tend to be services and retail which are low paying (and often not carbon friendly like Walmart). But they are an easy fit, just apply with minimal skills and get the job. The better paying jobs are less local mostly because they are concentrated in "high tech" or manufacturing areas (zoning, tax incentives, planned industrial parks, etc). Also the higher paying jobs are less of an immediate fit to someone out of work, there are almost never openings in the area in which one lives due to the sporadic nature of those openings and specialized skills that are needed for each opening. The specific answers to your points about energy use in various sectors are that retail and offices are 37% of commercial and the rest seems hard to reduce (education, health, and others they don't list). The only way to reduce industry use (refining, chemical, paper, metal, other) is reducing the end uses of those products which includes transportation (i.e. some transportation is being counted as part of industry). As for transportation, 59% is cars and light trucks. My friend will be driving his light truck 50 miles each way to his new high-paying job (has the truck for home remodeling work and can't afford a new vehicle). The numbers of SUVs and light trucks in office parking lots is quite amazing. When I look at it I think that retail gasoline should be doubled in price, but I know there are other consequences that need to be addressed first. We may disagree on what you consider "effective". I was reading your head post question and looking for ways to make drastic energy reduction politically effective. In later comments you refer to a reduction of 200kWh/p/d to 60. It seems to me that there are ways to make even that drastic a cut politically effective, but it requires looking carefully at the motivations for the current wastes of energy and targeting those specifically. My flea and farmers market example may seem a bit superficial but the local governments are always trying to shut them down since they eat into tax revenue. One of my main proposals for politically effective solutions is eliminating arbitrary limits to efficiency. I have two good passive solar books and they both show how it possible to become nearly fossil fuel independent for heating and cooling almost anywhere in the U.S. Unfortunately many inefficient suburban dwellings have already been built. But many local zoning laws will require dwellings to face the street whether that is efficient or not. Many municipalities will extend their utilities as far as they can to try to pump up revenue whether it is efficient or not. The local governments are also in cahoots with large developers who will clear cut areas to squeeze in homes creating more tax revenue. They will also generally discourage small businesses in favor of the large retailers. Then our choices are limited to driving 10 miles to a strip mall to buy stuff trucked from some terminal and shipped there from China. We need to manufacture more the way we used to here which will be hard but not impossible. Textiles can still be profitably made in the U.S. (mostly speciality products). Electronics are harder, the entire supply chain is much cheaper in China. But general purpose electronics can be made there to be greatly enhanced here like my Mighty Mule gate opener (among countless examples). Local zoning is often in the way, I have plenty of stories of local authorities preventing or trying to prevent manufacturing facilities from opening up. There are really no limits to efficiency, only our self-imposed limits based on outdated code and customs and promoted by vested interests. It is easy to propose eliminating subsidies, nobody is going to argue with that. It is much more difficult to propose eliminating the hidden subsidies for inefficiency that supposedly limit our FF cutting options (e.g. transport or residential can only be reduced by some percentage above which is impossible). What is impossible is leaving the current consumption, employment and leisure systems the way they are and expect to get political support for the raising of FF prices to achieve the 200 to 60 reduction. Politically, that won't happen.
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  30. Camburn, that is preposterous. "Streamline???". What does that mean? Removing regulations? Which ones? Everything I have read about nuclear industry in the USA is that without government direct investment (ie to provide fuel for bomb industry), it is starved of investors. Try here for instance. Just googling "why doesnt US invest in nuclear" and I all I find is invest issues, not regulations. Please be specific.
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  31. I will note that there have indeed been functional (albeit not commercial) thorium reactors built and operated: for example the Molten-salt reactor experiment. India is hard at work on thorium cycle reactors, as is China. CANDU reactors are capable of running on thorium, although I don't know if any have done so. However, there have been no electricity producing thorium reactors up to this point in time, AFAIK. This makes thorium a promising, but not current, technology.
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  32. Camburn @ 109 "What subsidies are you talking about regarding FF?" There was a bit of a political buzz for a while in the USA about repealing oil subsidies. http://thinkprogress.org/yglesias/2010/02/01/196008/obama-vs-dirty-energy-subsidies/ http://thinkprogress.org/romm/2011/05/22/208130/why-oil-companies-dont-need-tax-subsidies/ Essentially, what the wind industry wants is a level playing field. Here is a pretty good factsheet summary of the subsidy playing field. http://www.awea.org/_cs_upload/blog/5400_1.pdf Really, the fossil fuel subsidies aren't incredibly large. Repealing those subsidies and improving the renewable subsidies would probably not be the magic bullet.
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  33. Eric, I defined "effective" in second to last paragraph of the article. I tightened up the definition to get rid of suggestions that you can do much good with simple efficiency gains. Efficiency alone (defining efficiency as doing same but with less energy) cannot produce the required reduction and here is why. Firstly, people wherever they are need heating/cooling/lighting, all subject to carnot efficiency limits. Moving people around in the job economy doesn't change that unless you are moving a significant number of people from inside to outside. Moving goods is quite efficient - accounting for only about 20% of liquid FF. If you eliminated that completely its only about 10kwh/p/d. Moving people is the problem as you said. It is the cheapness of transport and economies of scale that cause centralizing of industry. Likewise, people will drive to malls with free parking because the economies of scale making prices cheaper and requires less walking. It's economics, not a local government conspiracy. I also find your comments of local government being in cahoots with developers for dense housing and service extensions bazaar. Services cost. Dense housing is good use of land and far more efficient for delivery of services. Our local government hate extending services and since the properties pay for it, you find offgrid installations happening where it is cheaper to go off grid rather than connect to services. Revenue must match service cost. Surely your local government is not dividend-paying companies that are trying to increase revenue to make a profit? Inefficient cars and houses are a problem but surely it isn't the libertarian way to require minimum fuel economy standard and "passivhaus"-type standards that other more left-leaning countries demand? However, I would also point out that increasing transport efficiency to 100% would save you only 52kwh/p/d. Eliminating all space-heating costs for houses would save another 7kwh/p/d. What's your alternative to local zoning? I'll bet it isn't putting up with pig farm or 10 storey factory on your back fence. Fight each and every development through the courts to arbitrate of respective rights of each land owner? "There are really no limits to efficiency". Yes, there really are. Physics is not an arbitrary limit. All this effort on efficiency is about avoiding the actual effective way to reduce GHG emissions - changing the source of energy. I quite agree that you cant have the same society with a reduction from 200 to 60 by efficiency alone. You can though if change the price equation so it makes sense to invest in whatever is next-cheapest option for energy generation other than FF. The left can do with simple ban on new FF generation, no taxes, no admin cost. However, the right hates that so what is your way? You are extremely concerned about rights of people holding shares in coal. How come you aren't also concerned about the rights of those affected by GHG emission? This is the core of issue.
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  34. scaddenp I am not "extremely" concerned about fossil fuel rights holders. In your hypothetical (CO2 warming is an immediate threat0 I am not concerned at all. I am concerned in my worldview of science and politics of a cavalier dismissal of property rights. What I am truly extremely concerned about in your hypothetical is that you would not gain the political traction needed for drastic action without the changes in commercial, industrial and residential incentives I've outlined. It really is a government problem, not a government conspiracy. The local governments approve anything that gives them more tax revenue and that's where the problem starts. It continues with government-run or regulated centralized services which are notoriously inefficient. I'll explain what would work so you can see the difference. If my HOA were responsible for all CO2 efficiency we could get a big start on the 200 to 60 reduction. The one thing that would be difficult would be jobs and commute. We'd need to immediately invest in residential efficiency and build a small scale power plant (luckily we are right beside a large river which would only need some partial damming). We have some great small farmers who sell near our major intersection. For the rest of the year we would need our local chickens and canning. Right now there a couple families that I know of with enough to meet their needs. We maintain 8 miles of roads for about 50k / year. Some nearby HOAs have community water for far less money than the municipal water closer to the city (their total road and water bill is much less than the city water bill alone). Money spent is good proxy for energy efficiency. Allow me a crude characterization of your proposal: crank up carbon taxes and see what happens. What happens is economic armageddon, and the political likelihood of that policy is zero. If you add the Hansen rebate you will pick up a fait amount of support but that won't dislodge the vested interests. Those are not just corporate as you seem to assume but government. Then if we add the federal boondoggles that politicians want for their interests, the political support for the overall goal gets fractured. I believe my proposal is bottom up. A Hansen tax would also result in bottom up changes that I would support. But the transition is difficult especially politically, probably impossible.
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  35. Well Eric, I am concerned about your "cavalier dismissal of property rights" of those property holders affected by AGW (eg by flooding, drought, sealevel rise etc.) At the core of libertarian thought is that citizens are rights-respecting and yet you have not answered on the question of how to resolve the rights conflict. Not on climate, not on things like air pollution or passive smoking in the earlier thread. I assume that you are similarly horrified by the government interventions on asbestos? I simply don't understand your local government issues. For local government, their only concern is provision of services so surely straightforward translation of revenue to services. Here anyway, all local body elections come down to the tension between what services people want versus what they are willing to pay for. I gather you have different views on the service level to the majority of voters but then the cornerstone of democracy is the tolerance by the minority of the mandate of the majority. Back on topic - nice comments about your "HOA" (Home owners association??? - rare entities here) but do they translate to rest of country? Even so, with eliminating heating and all your cars (really want that?) you are still not even at the half way mark of reduction required. Only the hydro plant could get your further. It seems absurd to trying to turn lifestyle upside down to gain energy reductions because you cant accept any elimination of coal on principle. "crank up carbon taxes and see what happens" is not my proposal. My proposal is ban new coal generation outright (gives coal property owners a long time to change) which is much more straightforward and cheap to administer but I can imagine somewhat too leftest for the US. You have described what you dont want in carbon tax but still seem open to a pigovian tax like Hansen's. If a tax is revenue neutral, how can you suppose this would be economic armageddon? - that is unsubstantiated alarmism. Anyway, what I am asking is what effective policy, for whole country, you would support under my hypothetical case? While you struggle to find something effective within your political values, then I continue struggle to believe your skepticism is anything but politically motivated.
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  36. Scaddenp, HOA's are not all that common here either, and there are better and worse ones. But I mainly wanted a concrete example of lower costs meaning lower energy usage. Reading my previous comment, economic "armageddon" is over the top. The crux of the economic problem is that frictional unemployment is usually resolved in our country at least by personal transportation (along with moving outright, we are a very mobile country). I think that the immediate unemployment from the economic changes would be very large, but take a lot longer to resolve without the personal transportation options we now enjoy. I think there are a fair number of comments of mine on other threads here that show my skepticism to be scientific, not for protection of coal interests specifically or property rights in general. But taking your hypothetical as true, I would not only ban coal power plants, but would tax the coal based purely on CO2 released (as compared to natural gas which I would tax at roughly 50% and oil somewhere in between). I would use the Hansen 100% rebate system so people could pay their electric bills. Apart from electricity, my ideas above still apply which boils down to the fact that people are going to have to step up and exert local control to obtain the necessary efficiencies. The politics to pursuade people to do that is not completely clear, but reducing the central government would be a good start. A big reason I chose to live in a rural HOA is the control and efficiency. We have right-of-way access to all properties where central services make sense, but don't apply it where it doesn't. Contrast that to where I work in Arlington VA, countless examples of stupid stuff from the "solar-powered" trash can in the shade in front of my building to the street being dug up yet again to lay fiber to synchronize traffic lights (wireless seems to be a mystery to them), with the ulterior motive of connecting surveillance systems.
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  37. Some facts about "Green" Arlington, VA: the $4200 in per capita spending is proportional to energy waste. Taxes statewide are $4300 meaning that Arlington's waste is being paid for by the rest of Virginia. Parking is between $10 and $20 / day, the roads are in poor condition, traffic is pretty bad, yet the Arlington bus system is poorly utilized. Statewide education is $1600 per capita, Arlington is $2100 (almost $20k per pupil) which is bad enough, but the other $2100 per capita spending contains lots of waste meaning energy waste. On the plus side, they try very hard: http://www.arlingtonva.us/departments/environmentalservices/EnvironmentalServicesMain.aspx Some of what they do is exemplary such as promoting (passive and active) solar homes. They have a long way to go however if they expect anything like a 200 to 60 drop in kWH/p/d
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  38. Eric, firstly an apology. I actually regard you as the most honest skeptic here - you have an honourable record. I'll admit that my comment at the end was a dishonest goad aimed at getting a proper response from you. If I didnt value your opinion, then I wouldn't have been so interested in provoking it. You are also the only skeptic here to really address the political issues rather than just saying they support a technology without saying they would make the change. I was just hoping you might have different ideas based on the rights conflict. I would agree that reducing transportation full stop is a big way to improve efficiency (in my country 44% of GHG are from transport so bigger deal here), but if you can power that transport from non-FF source, then you arent under pressure to rearrange society. Unless world stays in really deep recession through 2012-13, watch the petrol price. "They have a long way to go however if they expect anything like a 200 to 60 drop in kWH/p/d". Cant be done on energy efficiency/reduction without really major social change. This is energy consumption at level of China, Chile, Latvia. Much easier to change source.
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  39. Scaddenp, I for one appreciate your efforts to elicit solutions to the political and philosophical questions. Far too often there is a presumption that those can be ignored. In your hypothetical we require state and federal support for lots of things like basic research, retraining for low power industry, adjustments for regions with transition difficulties, etc. Contrary to some, I don't see a more general federal role except for something as simple as possible, like the Hansen tax. It should take 5 minutes to figure out and pass the Hansen tax, instead there would be 5 months of wrangling producing a compromise that would not be pretty. But for the source changes you describe, the federal government has to be involved. The Hansen tax seems to be the least likely to get turned into a plate of sausage and beans. It also gives people the resources to becomes self sufficient It takes away incentives for "showcase" solar projects that don't work but do drive up prices. Silicon for solar does not have economies of scale as far as I can see. What does have economies of scale is large FF and nuclear power plants (perhaps unfortunate but it is a fact). Here's a quote attributed to Eclectic Magazine: "There are three kinds of people in the world, the wills, the won'ts, and the can'ts. The first accomplish everything; the second oppose everything, the third fail in everything" Most people are in the first category, but politicians are often in the third and push voters into the second. But high electric rates and a rebate offer certain opportunities for people. A smart grid offers others since preferential sources will be much cheaper. But local control and local entrepreneurship would put a very large number of people in the first category and away from the whims of the federal level politicians.
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  40. Eric (skeptic) - "Silicon for solar does not have economies of scale as far as I can see. What does have economies of scale is large FF and nuclear power plants (perhaps unfortunate but it is a fact)." From what I understand, Eric, the economy of scale for solar power (PV at least) is in the production of the solar panels. A number of commentaries on the recent Solyndra bankruptcy (here, for example) noted that they just couldn't reach the production numbers required for their panel prices to be competitive. I can't find the reference right now, but they had recently dropped production levels, and saw their panel prices double to ~$3.80/watt - when $2.00/watt was their break-even price. Low production numbers for solar panels just aren't economically viable. Meanwhile, Chinese panels (slightly less efficient than Solyndra, but...) were coming in at a price of $1.20/watt. Solyndra just got out-priced.
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  41. KR, that makes sense. What I was thinking of was the processed silicon that companies like Solyndra needed to buy. But now it looks like I could soon be wrong: http://www.solarpoweradelaide.net/the-end-of-the-silicon-shortage.html and that would be a very good thing.
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  42. An article by former Rep Bob Inglis suggesting "accountable pricing": http://www.businessweek.com/news/2011-10-02/conservative-means-standing-with-science-on-climate-bob-inglis.html It makes political and scientific sense to attach a price for externalities to a fuel because then that narrows the arguments to how quickly to ramp up the price and how to reduce other taxes or rebate the emission tax (also note the not-to-subtle change from carbon tax to emission tax).
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  43. Just a quick followup on Bob Inglis: he lost to the Tea Party in a primary last year and the baby went out with the bathwater. Although it's going to be difficult to turn the Tea Party back to the path of science, it's not impossible.
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  44. Eric, that is great article. However, the worry about pricing externals is doing it efficiently and what to do about external prices that are very uncertain. I doubt any system is perfect though and insisting on perfection would mean doing nothing. I hope conservatives get behind Inglis - he is telling it like it is.
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  45. The right to individual liberty of action providing it does not infringe on the rights of other rights-respecting citizens. This is a fairly accurate description of the central ethos. Unfortunately, it rarely seems examined by those who self-identify as libertarian. For instance: If a person has a right to run a business, isn't this right compromised by another business engaging in predatory pricing? Preventing that requires acknowledging that free markets aren't the pinnacle of human endeavour. As another example, polluting clearly violates the ethos, yet I sure don't hear about many libertarian environmentalists.
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  46. I rather sadly suspect that many (but by no means all) self-described libertarians are mostly concerned with their perceived rights and liberty, than the conflicting rights of their other citizens. If you have found your business or personal housing activities constrained by regulations, then it is easy to hear the drumbeat of libertarianism.
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  47. Tristan and scaddenp, you may be right about the "average" libertarian, but the probability distribution of libertarians includes those who care very much about the environment (and probably some on the other end of the spectrum). One common libertarian idea is that free markets are the best way to allocate scarce resources (a little less lofty than your pinnacle description Tristan). The basic idea is that the price signal is the most effective communication between producers and consumers. Other comm links have been tried and work in narrow areas (e.g. government deciding what roads to build), but not in others. I and other libertarian leaners expect that the energy market would be best served with a market signal. The question is how to alter or adjust the market signal to account for global warming externalities. The problem I would have with most cap and trade systems is that someone (probably in government) has to decide on the environmental value of various offsets using model predictions which is quite different from the more traditional role of government to measure pollution after the fact and levy fines. That is why I much prefer Hansen's proposal of taxing fossil fuels at the source and rebating the money to the people. But that has problems too, someone has to decide on the fossil fuel component of imports. For example, were they built in a coal-powered factory or a natural gas powered factory at 1/2 the CO2 cost? These problems are not insurmountable since for the most part they are measurements, not model outputs, but they will require a fairly extensive measurement infrastructure. Alternatively we can just heavily tax products from China, but that will engender a lot of political horse trading. Free markets can add a lot of value even in the face of high tariffs but we have to be careful not to create black markets.
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  48. I mentioned government-built roads as a contrast to goods and services modulated by a free market. I just saw this article http://english.caixin.cn/2011-10-31/100319471.html that shows how even that relatively simple allocation of resources to demand can be flawed. Not trying to suggest there is only state control or free markets and nothing in between. For contrast to the article about China, here is a CATO article http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=5837 in which they mention the Dulles Greenway, a private toll road not to far from me. Subsidies directly from the road were used to prompt relatively dense development along it, now serviced by Loudon county's privately run bus line.
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  49. garythompson - and others - "Until you can prove that over a span of say 30 years that the OLR has decreased in the wavelengths that CO2 abosorbs (15um or 700 cm-1) then the AGW theory isn't proven." This is discussed (and shown to be the case - OLR changes just where expected for greenhouse gases) on the How do we know CO2 is causing warming thread. The "Search" function is your friend. Moderators - I also (searching on "OLR") found an unfinished SkS page discussing this skeptic argument.
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    Response:

    [DB] KR, much of what Gary Thompson is putting up here is rebunkable material that was debunked over a year ago.  JC made an American Thinker article that Gary had written the object of this rebuttal.

  50. DB - I had not been aware of that exchange, thank you. It appears that was an active discussion, with many valid points raised, and a number of which that garythompson had not answered. garythompson - I strongly suggest you post on the relevant thread discussing your position: most readers on this site check the "Comments" link for recent posts, meaning many threads become active (again) when someone has an item to discuss.
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