Global Warming Fight!

This may sound flip, but the entertainment value of the global warming debate is just off the charts for policy wonks like me.

Case in point: this week, NASA scientist James Hansen (and friends) published a research paper that claimed all the recent heat waves and droughts were caused by (drum roll please) human-induced climate change! Now Dr. Hansen is a big media hero for supposedly standing up to the science deniers in the George W. Bush Administration, so his research conclusions were reprinted – without question or dissent – in about a gazillion media outlets. Here’s a sample from the Washington Post. It’s obvious by the press treatment of Dr. Hansen that it’s in the public’s best interest to sit down, shut up, and listen to what we’re being told by our betters.

Here’s the gist of Hansen’s findings:

It follows that we can state, with a high degree of confidence, that extreme anomalies such as those in Texas and Oklahoma in 2011 and Moscow in 2010 were a consequence of global warming because their likelihood in the absence of global warming was exceedingly small.

Apparently, some fellow named Cliff Mass didn’t get the memo about Hansen’s omniscience. You see, Cliff Mass disagrees, disputing Hansen and his team’s findings thusly:

Their conclusions are demonstrably false and their characterization of the science and statistics are deceptive at best.

Wow! It’s a donnybrook!

Mass’s blog post is actually pretty entertaining to read. I suppose to be fair I should encourage you to go read that WaPo article I link to above so you get both sides of the picture. Frankly I think Americans have been force-fed global climate change news for about a decade now, and it might do everyone some good to read a dissenting view now and again, even if you think the dissenters are nuts.

Our position at Free the Commons!, as you all know from following this blog with religious-like zeal, is that the entire global warming argument misses the point! We need to turn the debate back to pollutants and emissions and what we should and should not be doing as adults in a civilized society that have some responsibility to future generations. Instead, we’re fighting over the latest weather report and whether or not Al Gore has any street cred when he builds himself a million room mansion in Tennessee and calls himself and environmentalist. Guys like Hansen – a public servant who’s enriching and empowering himself while stomping on anyone who dares challenge his views – are in my opinion responsible for the ugliness of the public debate surrounding this issue.

Many good, decent people care passionately and honestly about global warming. But for others, the global warming debate has become a proxy to fight economic systems and social arrangements with which they do not approve. The fight has become so public and so nasty that there’s evidence people are beginning to tune it out completely. To this end, I think people like Dr. Hansen (and others) have done a tremendous disservice to the environment.

Hat tip: Powerline

The EPA Tackles Carbon Dioxide Emissions

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today moved forward with a campaign pledge of President Obama’s and proposed new emission standards that would effectively end the era of cheap coal power in the United States. The proposed rule would tighten emission standards on carbon dioxide to a limit that would be nearly impossible for coal plants to meet unless they are fitted with expensive carbon control equipment. Here’s a story on the EPA’s proposal.

Three points I would like to make from an economic perspective about the proposed rule: (1) any rule that increases the cost of electricity, a basic household staple, is regressive. The impact of these costs will be felt most severely by the lowest income earners; (2) higher electricity costs will in turn lead to higher cost of goods as electricity is a cost of production for nearly every good produced. This rule is inflationary, which itself is regressive; (3) the rule addresses an issue of negative externalities from carbon use because a greater share of the costs of coal will now be borne by the private parties involved in the transaction. In other words, rather than society paying for the costs associated with the negative externalities of coal pollution – health care costs come to mind – while we all eat up incredibly inexpensive coal power, this EPA rule moves us toward a cost structure where the consumers of coal power bare a greater burden of the costs as the new coal plants will be more expensive to operate (and I predict that soon existing plants will be brought under these same standards), and these expenses will be passed along in your utility bills.

For my two cents, if we are going to control carbon dioxide emissions, this is the way to go about it. I view cap and trade as a game to enrich politicians, NGOs and corporations, and Pigovian taxes – a tax levied on any activity that generates negative externalities – as simply letting corporations pay their way out of responsibility for cleaning up the externality (pollution in this case).  I prefer the EPA’s proposed method over these first two as it the most direct, the most certain, and the least likely to create additional market distortions.