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OpenMarket: Climate

  • Are the RICO 20 Guilty of Racketeering?

    October 15, 2015 12:42 PM

    Controversy continues to swirl around the September 1 letter from 20 climate scientists to President Barack Obama, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and White House science adviser John Holdren requesting a RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) investigation of “the fossil fuel industry and their supporters.” The scientists allege that the aforementioned interests “knowingly deceived the American people about the risks of climate change, in order to forestall America's response to climate change.” In May, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) called for a RICO investigation of “fossil fuel companies and their allies.” The scientists “strongly endorse” Sen. Whitehouse’s proposal.

    What boggles the mind is not that 20 climate scientists would attempt to stifle debate, drive the market out of the marketplace of ideas, and punish those who do not worship at the altar of “consensus.” There’s no shortage of “progressive” intolerance in these times. Using RICO to silence opponents is fairly tame compared to environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s demand that fossil-fuel executives be tried for treason (the usual punishment for which is death).

    What’s noteworthy about the RICO 20 is the scientists’ lack of self-awareness—their inability to judge themselves by criteria they invoke to condemn others. They have no clue how easily they can be hoist on their own petard.

    What is it, exactly, that fossil-fuel interests conspire to hide from Congress and the public, according to the RICO 20?

    The stability of the Earth’s climate over the past ten thousand years contributed to the growth of agriculture and therefore, a thriving human civilization. We are now at high risk of seriously destabilizing the Earth’s climate and irreparably harming people around the world, especially the world’s poorest people.

    Well, the “stability of the Earth’s climate over the past 10,000 years” is not all it’s cracked up to be. The planet has been through three cycles of cooling and warming in the past 2,600 years, and experienced a major cooling event 8,200 years ago (see pp. xiv-xv of this book). In addition, substantial evidence indicates that humanity suffered in cold periods and prospered in warm periods. But let that pass. 

    The core issue in the global warming debate is not whether climate change risks exist but how much is really known about them (EPA’s climate change impacts report, for example, is rife with flimflam) and whether the usual set of “climate solutions” would actually make the world a better place or would instead be a cure worse than the alleged disease.  

    The RICO 20—and indeed all educated climate campaigners—have to know several key facts they never mention in their advocacy campaigns:

    (1) Affordable, reliable, scalable carbon-based energy has made, and continues to make, indispensable contributions to human health and well-being. Over the past 250 years, global average life expectancy more than doubled, global per capita GDP increased nearly eightfold, and global population increased more than sevenfold. Those positive trends, which are the best overall indicators of human health and welfare, are strongly correlated with rising carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuels. Fossil energy-supported economic development has vastly improved the health, welfare, and sustainability of the human species.

  • Reasons for Global Warming Skepticism

    October 6, 2015 12:01 PM

    Democrats have developed a cottage industry in ridiculing and condemning Republicans as Luddites. How can any “reasonable” person deny that increased greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere pose a global threat? Certainly dramatic shifts in average global temperatures will have dramatic consequences within a century for many nations?

    But, of course, few skeptics base their arguments on science alone. Critics oppose policies that would restrict current fossil fuel use on a global basis, noting the positive link between energy use and growth and the drastic consequences restricting supplies would pose, especially to already energy-starved regions of the world. Critics suggest a risk/risk approach to the climate change issue: consider the consequences of restricting fossil fuels today versus the consequences of continuing current energy use (with its attendant growth and innovation gains), while relying on those wealth and knowledge gains to make possible adaptations, if needed, at lower costs and pain.

    I outlined that approach long ago (see “The Role of Opportunity Costs in the Global Warming Debate” from the 1997 book Costs of Kyoto). Rational analysis always faces those three options: act now to minimize the threat, act now to reduce the impacts of the threat, and delay while knowledge and wealth increase. Note that most of us delay employment while we acquire greater life skills—do Democrats critique that choice for young people?

    Republicans, noting how past “crises” have been botched by a rush to act, rather than thinking, view the putative risks of climate change as but one of the many risks. The uncertainties of science, economics, and politics—all relevant if a rational, effective policy is to exist—should suggest to critics (some of them running for president), that rather than damaging our economy, as is happening in Germany and other European nations, we should aggressively seek to remove the regulatory and tax distortions that are slowing entrepreneurial growth.

  • Pope Francis Cools It on Climate Change Rhetoric

    September 24, 2015 12:17 PM

    Pope Francis in his speeches at the White House on Wednesday morning and to a joint session of Congress on Thursday morning toned down his rhetoric on climate change and modern industrial civilization. Way down.

    Here are the Pope’s key remarks on climate change at the White House:

    Mr. President, I find it encouraging that you are proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution. Accepting the urgency, it seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation. When it comes to the care of our “common home”, we are living at a critical moment of history. We still have time to make the changes needed to bring about “a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change” (Laudato Si’, 13). Such change demands on our part a serious and responsible recognition not only of the kind of world we may be leaving to our children, but also to the millions of people living under a system which has overlooked them.

    I don’t think many people are going to get excited about the Pope’s tepid support of President Obama’s energy-rationing agenda.

  • Free Market Perspective on Pope Francis's Forthcoming Speech to Congress

    September 18, 2015 4:10 PM

    On Thursday of next week, Pope Francis will address a joint session of the U.S. Congress. He will be the first Pope in history to do so.

    As reported in ClimateWire (subscription required), Thomas Reese, a commentator for National Catholic Reporter, opines that the Pope is coming as both pastor to American Catholics and as a prophet who seeks to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Another commentator described the Pope’s mission as “speaking truth to power.”

    We won’t know what Francis has to say until he says it, but he is widely expected to reiterate themes from his recent Encyclical, which calls for “changes in lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat [global] warming,” and for drastic greenhouse gas emission reductions based on the assessment that fossil-fueled economic growth is “unsustainable” and “can only precipitate catastrophes.”

    If so, then Francis also unwittingly comes to comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted, because few are as comfortable as the elites leading the international climate agenda, and few so afflicted as the billions of people in developing countries who lack access to affordable, reliable, carbon-based energy.

    Speaking truth to power is noble, but to actually do it one must know what the truth is. On climate and energy, there are many fundamentals Francis does not seem to grasp.

    One is simply that anthropogenic global warming is not per se a crisis or planetary emergency. What matters is how much warming there will be and with what impacts. Big, scary warming predictions come from climate models that increasingly overshoot observed warming.

  • Clean Energy Incentive Program: Why It Makes EPA's Power Plant Rule Even More Unlawful

    August 25, 2015 6:24 PM

    EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP), which imposes carbon dioxide (CO2) emission rate targets and tonnage caps on state electric power sectors, is unlawful in at least half a dozen ways.

    To mention just one flaw, Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, the CPP’s putative statutory basis, authorizes EPA to regulate “particular” “stationary sources,” not the wider marketplace, networked industry, or sector of which a source happens to be a part. Yet the CPP will compel states to revise their laws and regulations on electric dispatch policy, fuel mix policy, and demand-management policy.

    EPA’s final CPP contains a key initiative not mentioned in the draft rule: the Clean Energy Incentive Program (CEIP). EPA added the CEIP to jumpstart investment in wind and solar power, assuring environmental groups and renewable energy interests the CPP won’t trigger a ‘dash to gas’ as it suppresses electric power generation from coal. In other words, the CEIP’s job is to make sure the Clean Power Plan rigs the marketplace against all fossil-fuel generation. 

    The CEIP is an early action credit program. By “early,” EPA means the CEIP authorizes states to award regulatory credits for new renewable power provided before the CPP compliance period (2022-2030). EPA will, in addition, award up to 300 million tons worth of extra credits to ‘early actors’ on a matching basis.

    You might suppose EPA would explain the legal authority for a policy change potentially affecting hundreds of companies’ bottom lines. Yet neither the final CPP, the CEIP fact sheet, nor EPA’s proposed federal implementation plan discusses the CEIP’s statutory basis.

  • Is President Obama's Energy Wish Coming True?

    August 18, 2015 8:19 AM

    In a January 17, 2008, interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, then-Senator Obama said that “electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket” under his plan to fight global warming. He also said that under his plan, “if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can; it’s just that it will bankrupt them.” 

    His latter wish seems to becoming a reality. Bristol-based coal producer Alpha Natural filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection earlier this month. It follows many other coal companies, such as Walter Energy Inc., Patriot Coal Corp., and James River Coal Co., in filing for bankruptcy.

    For fossil fuels, this may be just the beginning. The Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan is said to “accomplish little in the way of making any significant change in global emissions while simultaneously crippling the oil and gas industry and floating more ‘green energy’ plans which weren’t pulling their own weight.”  

  • Party Bias in EPA's Power Plant Rule?

    August 12, 2015 10:17 AM

    What’s the main difference between EPA’s final rule to regulate carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from state electric-power sectors—the so-called Clean Power Plan (CPP), released August 3—and the draft rule, published in June 2014?

    “The media have focused on modest tweaks to non-binding national goals—emissions are now expected to drop 32 percent by 2030, versus 30 percent in the draft, and coal is expected to provide 27 percent of our power instead of 31 percent—but those aren’t the changes that matter,” argues Politico reporter Michael Grunwald.

    What does matter? The changes to states’ legally-binding emission-reduction targets, which have “serious political implications.” The final rule is more aggressively anti-coal than the draft rule:

    The original draft took it easiest on states with the heaviest reliance on dirty fossil fuels – states that nevertheless complained the most about Obama’s supposedly draconian plan. The final rule cracks down much harder on those states, while taking it much easier on states that are already moving toward cleaner sources of electricity.

    Check out this excellent chart compiled by my colleague Alex Guillen. North Dakota would have been required to cut emissions just 10.6 percent to comply with the draft rule, the least of any state; it will have to cut emissions 44.9 percent to comply with the final rule, the most of any state except for similarly fossil-fueled Montana and South Dakota. Coal-rich Wyoming, Kentucky, West Virginia and Indiana were also among the biggest losers in the revised plan. Meanwhile, the states that are already greening their grid – led by Washington, Oregon and New York – were the biggest winners in the final rule.

    Is there also a partisan thrust to this pattern? The title of Grunwald’s article calls the CPP a “whack at red states.” The article itself, however, does not use the terms “Red State” and “Blue State.”

    So let’s look at how the draft and final rule targets compare in states won by Mitt Romney (“Red”) and those won by President Obama (“Blue”) in the 2012 presidential election.

  • EPA's Proposed and Final "Clean Power" Plan: Which Is Worse?

    August 4, 2015 6:46 PM

    “Climate Rule Worse than We Thought,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) warned today in an email alert about EPA’s so-called Clean Power Plan (CPP). He explains:

    The final rule cuts coal, which today provides about 39 percent of the country’s electricity, even more than the administration proposed in June 2014. The rule also relies heavily on renewables, which only provide five percent of energy today despite significant investments. And it eliminates the move to natural gas that created thousands of jobs across the country. This all means electricity bills will go up, and jobs will be lost.

  • A Primer on Expected EPA Climate Rules

    July 31, 2015 12:41 PM

    In 2010, during the 111th Congress, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid shelved a cap-and-trade bill because too many Democrats opposed the bill during caucus meetings. And during his 2012 reelection campaign, President Obama conspicuously dodged speaking about climate change. Despite the failure of climate policy within his own party in the Senate, and after neglecting the issue altogether in 2012, President Obama in the summer of 2013 unveiled a far-reaching executive strategy for addressing global warming, known as the Climate Action Plan.

  • Joel Kotkin's Analysis of Pope Francis's Encyclical

    July 6, 2015 11:58 AM

    Joel Kotkin has written an outstanding analysis posted on the Daily Beast of Pope Francis’s encyclical, Laudato Si’. I would quibble with certain details. For example, I think Francis is more influenced by Liberation Theology than by Argentina’s Peronist economy. And Kotkin’s historical account of the “Middle Ages” is based on outdated scholarship. But he is absolutely correct that the encyclical allies the Pope with radical Greens who hate capitalism and favor de-industrialization.

    Here are several excerpts from Kotkin’s insightful article:

    What makes the Pope’s position so important—after all, the world is rejecting his views on such things as gay marriage and abortion—is how it jibes with the world view of some of the secular world’s best-funded, influential, and powerful forces. In contrast to both Socialist and capitalist thought, both the Pope and the greens are suspicious about economic growth itself, and seem to regard material progress as aggression against the health of the planet.

    Another flash point between papal concerns and those of their new best friends lies in addressing poverty. The Pope is correct in identifying inequality and poverty as major concerns, but it’s hard to say how green strategies—particularly when they make energy, housing, and industry far more expensive—actually alleviate the plight of the poor or the middle class. Ultimately the green platform seeks not to increase living standards as we currently understand them (particularly in high income countries) but to purposely lower them. This can be seen in the calls for “de-development,” a phrase employed by President Obama’s science advisor John Holdren for all “overdeveloped” advanced countries, in part to discourage developing countries from following a similar path.    

    Given the reluctance of still poor countries to further impoverish themselves, the burden of the Catholic-green alliance will necessarily fall on the middle and working classes. As we can already see in California (the state with the most draconian environment laws), long-term economic growth has been tepid, despite the occasional tech and property bubbles. At the same time, the state suffers not only among the highest unemployment rates in the country, but the highest level of poverty, when cost of living is addressed, and has become home to one-third of the nation’s welfare recipients.

    This confluence of private interest, public power and the clerical class is suggestive of a new feudal epoch. Bankrolled by inherited money, including from the oil-rich Rockefellers as well as Silicon Valley, the green alliance has already shown remarkable marketing savvy and media power to promote its agenda. Now that their approach is officially also the ideology of the world’s largest and most important church, discussion of climate change has become both secular and religious dogma at the same time. 


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