Cherry Picking Data From Abritrary Intervals

Much of it spearheaded by climate expert blue jean hating, right wing pundit George Will, there’s been a growing trend by conservatives cherry pick climate change data to make silly rhetorical points. Former commenter Jim Manzi makes one here (which as it turns out, isn’t even true.) As you can see, there’s quite a bit of statistical noise, but the trend is unmistakable.

Anyway, comments like Will’s from the other day (“If you’re 29, there has been no global warming for your entire adult life.”), got me thinking about just how absurd it is to even use the measurements like a single decade, let alone a year. Obviously, the duration of human history has shown us to take a pretty self-centered view of things, but there’s really no basis to expect that trends in global climate change would maintain linear slope through arbitrary (if regular) intervals that we invented. Of course, a “year” isn’t exactly arbitrary in the sense that its period is intuitive, but why would it make any sense for global warming to adhere to a short-term,  anthropocentric measurement?

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Thomas Friedman’s Good Column

I’ve got to admit I’ve been looking for something major to disagree with about the thrust of this Thomas Friedman column, but I’m having a lot of trouble. Friedman argues the best thing that Americans can do for the Iranian opposition is reduce consumption of foreign oil. Without the oil revenues on which the Iranian regime relies, social unrest will continue to foment until it can be contained no longer and without the considerable leverage oil profits provide, Iran will be forced into bargaining from lower ground on other issues like the nuclear program. The only part where I think Friedman deviates a bit is when he offers this as a possible policy response:

Mr. Obama has already started some excellent energy-saving initiatives. But we need more. Imposing an immediate “Freedom Tax” of $1 a gallon on gasoline — with rebates to the poor and elderly — would be a triple positive: It would stimulate more investment in renewable energy now; it would stimulate more consumer demand for the energy-efficient vehicles that the reborn General Motors and Chrysler are supposed to make; and, it would reduce our oil imports in a way that would surely affect the global price and weaken every petro-dictator.

An interesting idea, but similarly, a Waxman-Markey bill that isn’t considerably watered down would have a similar effect and also have the benefit of correctly situating the oil problem within the broader context of staving catastrophic climate change. I’m generally not a huge fan of the “energy security” argument for preventing climate change as it sort of misses the point, but I suppose the results of any such legislation matter more than how they are sold. As such, it seems now would be a good time to call out the bombastic Right on their bellicose rhetoric towards Iran and try and build support for climate legislation with teeth while the opportunity exists.

Thoughts on Cap And Trade

Over on the FH Public Affairs blog, Silvio has a post with four reasons why cap-and-trade legislation won’t pass this year. Frankly, I was surprised to hear Obama ask for legislation in 2009 — though who knows if that was just an abdication of responsibility — because I think the politics are especially tricky for Rust Belt Democrats. Which is to say, if cap and trade legislation fails, it will not be because of the following things:

Cap and trade hasn’t worked to date Two functioning systems exist in the European Union and in the Northeast U.S. and Canada. Another, in the Northwest U.S. and Canada, is in the works. The EU’s system is the most mature, includes 21 countries, and commenced auctions in 2005. However, the system has not worked as promised, primarily because of an over-allocation of credits to induce participation. The Northeast system, or RGGI, includes 10 states and began functioning in 2008. It has held two successful auctions and raised roughly $140 million dollars. This is no small sum, but only equals a price of $3 per credit – far below the $50 estimate economists consider necessary. On the West Coast, the nascent WCI left many details to individual states, is hampered by vocal business opposition groups, and has not yet held an auction.

First, while there’s no question the EU stumbled out of the gates, things are improving, and credits are currently selling for $17 per ton and had been up to $38 per ton as of the Summer 2008. In addition, the EU scheme is auctioning well below 100 percent of the permits (they are now planning to ratchet up to 60 percent) which not only reduces revenue while less effectually curbing emissions, but also results in de facto price hikes for consumers regardless of how the permit was obtained. In other words, the problems with the EU scheme stem from correctable problems with the policy as implemented. Suggesting that cap and trade won’t work in the US because it hasn’t worked in Europe is like saying the shotgun spread isn’t a viable NFL offense because it didn’t work for the local JV squad. Finally, I’m not sure how being “hampered…by local business groups” is reflective of a policy’s worthiness.

America is suffering economically The central tenet of cap-and-trade is that pollution becomes expensive, and polluters are forced to clean up. Again, great in theory, but businesses pass cost onto consumers and the cost of generating electricity will spike – estimates place annual cost increases between seven and thirty-four percent. Homeowners are already struggling with energy costs, and stories abound of businesses closing their doors because they can’t pay utility bills. With the national economy already in serious recession, I can’t imagine a national groundswell of support for a proposal that would raise costs. Obama’s new budget assumes major revenue from the market, but exact estimates are fuzzy. Past Congressional estimates projected revenue of at least $50 billion per year by 2020. This could help offset consumer costs, but what happens until then? And are those estimates realistic, given the EU and RGGI markets?

This is one of the obvious benefits of easing in to the plan. It’s highly unlikely that any legislation would be enacted before 2011 or 2012, which would give time for the economy to recover and businesses to prepare for the cap. What’s more, this point reflects a general tendency to think of carbon emissions emanating primarily from power producers. This simply isn’t the case. For example, experts cite beef production as a source of roughly 11 percent of all US carbon emissions. Moreover, there are countless ways of reducing carbon footprint without inflating your total cost: take public transportation, carpool, use less air-conditioning, try a space heater, etc.

Other major economies must participate Most economists predict cap-and-trade implementation will hamper business and GDP to some degree. In this reality, unless other major economies implement similar systems, America faces a competitive economic disadvantage. Canada recently signaled they will follow suit, but China’s support has been tepid at best. China has made great strides in renewable power generation, but recently surpassed the U.S. in carbon emissions and opens roughly one coal-fired plant per day. The Kyoto Treaty showed what happens when all major players don’t agree to the same terms – the system does not work. To that end, it’s no surprise Secretary of State Clinton’s first overseas trip included climate talks with China. Put simply, as the other dominant world economy, China needs to play ball.

Leaving aside for the moment that we’re already lagging behind the EU, the US produces 22 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, and that the our per capita carbon emissions are roughly 8 times those of China’s, I’m not really sure why this is relevant. First, from a perspective of optics, the US prides itself on being a world leader. Typically, this is invoked as a reason to invade other countries, but there’s really no reason why it can’t apply to preventing calamitous environmental break down. This brings me to my second and final point: reversing climate change isn’t about holding hands, pleasing constituiences, or fairness. It’s about maximizing the survavability of our planet.  Climate change is real and if we don’t quickly, the economic (not to mention human) consequences stemming from environmental catastrophe will be far worse than anything resulting from cap and trade. Anyone who has bothered to look at the evidence knows this, which is why Silvio’s point here is really the only thing that matters.

The bill may not make it through Congress Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have stated they will pass a cap-and-trade bill this year, but they still need the votes. The recent economic stimulus bill showed just how close the Senate is – 60 votes were required for passage and Obama needed three Republican votes. This week, the “Gang of 16,” a group of Midwestern and industrial state Democrats, signaled they may not support the system unless concessions are made for their state’s coal- and manufacturing-dependant economies. If Democratic votes peel away because of constituenties at home, potential Republican votes will become even harder to secure. On an issue the GOP has typically opposed, this may be an impossible task.

This is a political problem, not a policy problem.

Man of the People

Amid the general lame duckery and public invisibility, it’s sometimes easy to forget that George Bush really doesn’t seem to care about the consequences of a dogmatic loyalty to industry. Note, this is all from the same article…

WASHINGTON — The Labor Department is racing to complete a new rule, strenuously opposed by President-elect Barack Obama, that would make it much harder for the government to regulate toxic substances and hazardous chemicals to which workers are exposed on the job.[…]

[…]One rule would make it easier to build power plants near national parks and wilderness areas. Another would reduce the role of federal wildlife scientists in deciding whether dams, highways and other projects pose a threat to endangered species.[…]

[…]One rule would allow coal companies to dump rock and dirt from mountaintop mining operations into nearby streams and valleys.[…]

And this is to say nothing of the Bush Administration’s urging mayors oppose the EPA’s draft proposal for regulating carbon emissions.

Things That Will Needlessly Anger Conservatives

The White House will go green:

President-elect Barack Obama says he wants to make the White House “green.” In an interview with Barbara Walters, Obama said he plans to sit down with the chief usher for the presidential mansion and do an evaluation of its energy efficiency.

He says part of what he wants to do is show the American people that it’s not that hard to go green.

Obama has been pretty serious about his commitment to enacting legislation to curb global warming, so it would be daft to understand this as some sort of “greenwashing,” but it does demonstrate that silly political gesturing is here to stay. I mean, It’s hard not be reminded of the campaign retrospective in Newsweek where Obama, in frustration prepping for inane debate questions, vents, “…we can’t solve global warming because I fucking changed light bulbs in my house.”

In other words, the general optimality of the decision notwithstanding, correcting climate change doesn’t mean making enormously wasteful mansions less wasteful; it means seriously cutting back carbon emissions vis-a-vis energy consumption, industry, transportation, and flatulence.

Chinese Pragmatism

No, not that Axl Rose project without any of the real G ‘N’ R members, but that ancient Chinese philosophy that’s led to enormous economic growth recently and less recently, a really big wall. Unlike the relatively eco-friendly development of the Great Wall however, industrial development can take a higher toll.

Here’s the lede:

BEIJING — A noxious cocktail of soot, smog and toxic chemicals is blotting out the sun, fouling the lungs of millions of people and altering weather patterns in large parts of Asia, according to a report released Thursday by the United Nations.

Yikes. I can personally vouch for the existence of so-called “atmospheric brown clouds”, which in addition to their fecundity for scatological humor, prohibit seeing the sun on an otherwise “sunny” day.