Its at The Conversation and a retweet near you, no doubt. By Lawrence Torcello, who – doubtless to my loss rather than his discredit – I’ve never heard of, and Michael E Mann, who needs no introduction. LT is a philosopher, and I guess that’s the peg to hang this one off, since we start with stuff like:

It is possible, then, that we’ll benefit in the long run from having to deal with human-caused global warming, by being forced to mature politically and ethically.

stop1 This sounds to me like the rather familiar idea: we’ll use GW as leverage to get the other things we want: a more sustainable lifestyle, or in this case ethical maturity. I’m fairly sure I didn’t ever commit myself to this in public, though I think I thought such quietly; but I no longer think its a good idea to make this linkage. Because it doesn’t work. The other way round I could believe: more mature politics and ethics could well solve many of our problems, including GW. The authors notice that we’re not getting very far:

As of yet, however, the world has largely failed to move beyond moral, political, and economic parochialism.

Yup, that’s so. How are we going to get there, then?

Our continued failure will supplant the promise of sustainability with a legacy of collapse.

By frightening people with scare-stories, it seems. Will our society collapse, specifically because of GW rather than ebola, IS, whatever? Not obviously. I wouldn’t rule it out, and were I being honest I wouldn’t claim any great expertise at being able to assess collapse probability, but I still think it moderately dubious that we’ll collapse due to GW. I’d give a higher probability to it all falling over because some bozo in the Kremlin pushes brinkmanship too far.

The philosophy

Hume, Kant and then Rawls (who I don’t like) and even Singer leads us, apparently, to

Any politically just and morally accountable framing of climate policy must involve consistently weighing the actions of affluent industrialized nations against their impacts on the least advantaged.

at which point I find Viz’s Modern Parents called irresistibly to mind. You won’t like this (and neither do I really, because firstly its somewhat unfair and secondly because I can’t find the one where they play “ethical monopoly”) but

modern_parents_by_mattyrm-d467l01

Anyway, the point is that people have tried in the past using the “we should be ethical” argument and it doesn’t work. In practice. All this stuff is preaching to the choir: doubtless very satisfying and perhaps the choir need to be cheered up every now and again, but its not doing much for taking the fight to the enemy (nor is this post, of course, because the enemy take care not to read here; and anyway, we’re all agreed that thinking of this in terms of Good Guys and Bad Guys really isn’t very helpful, aren’t we). In the unlikely event of anyone reading The Conversation who doesn’t already accept the arguments, I doubt they’d find this at all persuasive.

So far, the wealthiest nations of the world have exploited the benefits of fossil fuel extraction while securing a future of increased suffering for the planet’s least fortunate… Entire island cultures may be scattered and their traditional ways of life destroyed.

card Industrial / capitalist / Western civilisation has already destroyed the traditional ways of life of just about every culture its touched, including its own. For example, just recently, it destroyed the traditional habit of living in utter poverty for large numbers of Chinese peasants (but don’t worry, Russkies, soon you’ll be free of Western imperialism: Putin is bringing traditional serfdom back to you). If you’re a tourist interested in looking at poor people or a gap-toothed village elder, then that’s probably a bad thing. If you’re an ex-Chinese-peasant, its probably a good thing. Unless you were one of the ones moved to make way for the new stuff; and possibly not even then. Anyway, the point is the “traditional ways of life” card isn’t a trump either.

Does our behaviour lead to increased suffering for the planet’s least fortunate, either in the present, the near future or on the 100 year timescale? And “increased” with respect to what? Their previous state, or what they might have had had conditions been optimal? The answer to the second option is obvious so I’ll assume the former. In which case: no, fossil fuel use certainly hasn’t made life worse for the majority or people, or the majority of the poor, or the former poor, in the present. Will it in the future? Possibly, but quite possibly not. Writing an article that just assumes such things are true and makes no attempt to demonstrate it is, again, just preaching to the choir.

Well, I could go on, but doubtless you’ve got my drift by now, and either agree or… haven’t bothered read this far. Actually, I’ll finish with

We have long understood how to curb global warming through carbon pricing agreements.

because its illustrative of all the rest. Yes, we do know that carbon taxes are best. And yet, we don’t have them. So, it would be a good idea to address the question of why we don’t have them. But the article doesn’t do that. Because… well, because any such discussion will quickly get bogged down in the tedium and minutiae of politics and, horrors, economics. And the linked article in the quote is about how its would be great to have a nice simple carbon tax without any loopholes… oh, except for a couple of loopholes for our friends. Sigh.

The (climate) Science

Following my usual policy, I didn’t bother comment on any bits that I either agreed with, or didn’t think particularly implausible. ATTP looks at the 2-oC-by-2040 stuff and finds it plausible, if you’re interested.

Update: etc.

I know, I know, you’re thinking “why does he only go after the soft targets?” So, OK, how about What can we do about climate change? by Greg Laden. Once again, I don’t get far before I’m stopped by:

We could spend years working out what the best three or four things we can do might be, and try to implement them. But there will be political opposition from the right, because the right is inexplicably opposed to any action that smells like environmentalism or something that Al Gore might suggest.

Well, maybe. But its also facile and easy, because it suggests that you’d be doing better if only the other side wasn’t Evil. But actually vast swathes of the Dork Side aren’t Evil. Some of them are scientificially misinformed, but many of them just don’t like “our” economic policies. And when “our” policies include things as stupid as the ETS you should at least try to understand their viewpoint.

Refs

* Update on BC’s Effective and Popular Carbon Tax (h/t r in the comments).
* Timmy offers a solution to the planning problems solar panels sometimes have.
* The Amazing Ignorance of #EndFossilFuelSubsidies – Timmy
* Contrary To Reports, Rich Countries Do Not Subsidise Fossil Fuels By $88 Billion A Year – Timmy

Comments

  1. #1 Howard
    2014/10/21

    Dr. Connolley:

    We don’t have carbon taxes because there is no political will nor popular support to adopt carbon taxes. People don’t believe in promises of “tax-neutrality”. People in wealthy Western democracies are all consumers of carbon, therefore “we” know “we” will pay. Also, given that energy and transport are prime carbon producers, the low and middle classes will pay a higher proportion of income to the carbon tax, which may make it *regressive*. Unless a climate tsunami occurs, there is no driving force for the people to buy into a tax scheme.

    The question then becomes, what can be done that will spur de-carbonization of energy and transport?

    Your scolding of the scolders is a start. Guilt-trip and fear-mongering marketing actually has a negative impact on winning the folks over. What is needed is a strategy that makes people feel good about their lives now and promises even better things to come. A “carbon-free morning in america”. This requires feeding pride, vanity, greed, gluttony and lust. In short, it requires republican conservative approval.

    We go to politics with the public we have, not the public we wish we had.

  2. #2 Scatter
    2014/10/21

    Howard, a tax and dividend approach is both neutral and progressive. It hasn’t been strongly promoted though (Hansen being a notable exception). I suspect it would be received quite warmly by many if it were. Instead the preferred approach appears to be income tax reductions which sounds like it has a lot more potential to be regressive.

  3. #3 Thomas Fuller
    Shanghai, China
    2014/10/22

    This post is both good and needed.

    As I’ve written elsewhere, man was the first domesticated animal. The effect on man of this domestication has been similar to that on other domesticates–a quadrupling of average life span, increased size and weight, marked decrease in aggression, etc.

    Continued economic development is just spreading the joy of domestication to corners where it had not previously reached. It should remain a top priority for us even in the face of climate change.

    Climate change can be better dealt with by citizens who are not fighting for survival, who do not need to burn coal in their kitchen stoves the way millions of poor Chinese do, etc. etc.

    The number one stated concern for Chinese people today (and stated every chance they get) is pollution. Clean air, clean water, clean land. They are not environmentally backwards or unconscious. They’re poor. Fix that and they will join you all on the road to Climate Jerusalem, if that indeed remains the goal.

  4. #4 Craig Thomas
    2014/10/22

    Howard, Australia’s last government, which introduced a Carbon Tax, also presided over the lowest cost-of-living increases in 25 years.

    If people “don’t believe in promises of tax-neutrality” it is because they have been fed misinformation from evil people who are doing their best to stand in the way of progress.

    South Australia is close to 40% wind-powered, and guess what? Power prices there are now in freefall thanks to all the free electricity being generated by the State’s extensive wind farms. Lower electricity prices is something people well understand, and for South Australians, the dividends arrived within a decade of making the investment.

  5. #5 renewableguy
    Frankfort Illinois
    2014/10/22

    It takes a commitment by leadership. BC leadership is there and it is working.

    http://www.skepticalscience.com/BCCarbonTax2.html

    Update on BC’s Effective and Popular Carbon Tax

    Posted on 25 July 2013 by Andy Skuce

    Stewart Elgie and Jessica McClay of the University of Ottawa have a peer-reviewed article in press in a special issue of the journal Canadian Public Policy. The article is summarized in the report BC’s Carbon Tax shift after five years: Results. An environmental (and economic) success story. The report can be downloaded here and is summarized here.

    The results are similar to a previous report that I wrote about in the article BC’s revenue-neutral carbon tax experiment, four years on: It’s working, but updated, with one more year of data. The new data show that the carbon tax is working even better than reported previously.

  6. #6 Russell
    2014/10/22

    And where exactly would we be if , armed with the latest publications of Fourier & Tyndall , ethically mature and bien pensant Victorians had prevailed upon D’Israeli , Lincoln, and the Emperor of China to put the kibosh on combustion engines in the interest of generations yet unborn ?

  7. […] Source: Limiting global warming to 2°C: the philosophy and the science? [Stoat] […]

  8. #9 Dunc
    2014/10/22

    Will our society collapse, specifically because of GW rather than ebola, IS, whatever? Not obviously. I wouldn’t rule it out, and were I being honest I wouldn’t claim any great expertise at being able to assess collapse probability, but I still think it moderately dubious that we’ll collapse due to GW.

    The collapse of mature, complex societies is pretty much never specifically attributable to any single factor – it’s always the result of the interactions of a number of disparate factors. The more additional stress factors there are, the more likely it becomes that they’ll either interact in particularly unfortunate ways, or simply become overwhelming due to their cumulative effects. Will society collapse “specifically because of GW”? No, of course not. The question should be, “Is GW a significant additional risk factor for collapse, with the potential to adversely interact with a number of other known risk factors?” I’d argue the answer is “Yes”.

    [Fair point. But take it further: migrating away from fossil fuel use is also a stress. None of this is a one-way no-brainer type of thing. Is the stress of GW greater than the stress of restricting CO2? Its question that requires thought -W]

  9. #10 Paul S
    2014/10/22

    migrating away from fossil fuel use is also a stress.

    We’ll have to do that regardless of GW, so if we don’t take steps to minimise GW now shortages/increased cost of energy will be an additional stress factor when GW is biting hardest.

  10. #11 rational troll
    2014/10/22

    I don’t know, maybe you’re too pessimistic. If CC were to at some point really make us collectively sit up and pay attention, I think it may well cause us to make better policy decisions. I think we’ve seen it before, the asbestos shit storm comes to mind, which did much to push along industry regulation and safety. I don’t necessarily think well all end up living in solar powered igloos, eating moss and fungi grown between our toes, but we might start thinking smarter about how we live, and about what we destroy, maybe… anyway, I just don’t think it’s so out there

  11. #12 rational troll
    2014/10/22

    “securing a future of increased suffering for the planet’s least fortunate… Entire island cultures may be scattered and their traditional ways of life destroyed.”

    Yep, the last part is ridiculous hyperbole, but the way I read the first sentence is that if we do start to experience negative consequences, then it’s the developing areas of the world who’ll cop the worst of it. Will I be affected? Probably not so much, I’m the little pig who has built his house out of bricks, and put out a shit load of carbon doing so. It’s the little pig whose house is built out of straw who will bear the brunt of any future disasters.

    [Quite likely correct. What I dislike though is the way of saying this. Its not guilt-tripping; it is failing to engage with the big problem which is that experience teaches us that our culture doesn’t care, measured as the response of the wholesale entity, whatever individuals may think -W]

  12. #13 Andrew Dodds
    2014/10/22

    As Paul S said –

    There’s no particular reason to think that decarbonising is a net cost, even assuming no economic impact from global warming. The cost of subbing Nuclear for coal is basically a function of interest rates – currently extremely low; and it’s not as if oil and gas are exactly cheap as it is, especially if you count in the cost of fighting apparently endless wars in the middle east (and Ukraine, it now seems)..

    Indeed, whilst it is clear that some on the ‘Green’ side would happily demolish the economy to get their way, it often seems that there are many on the ‘Skeptic’ (I would say ‘conservative’, but that’s just wrong) side who would promote fossil fuels even if it cost them more, because they are culturally committed to burning stuff. Why must only one side be economically irrational?

    [There’s a lot wrong with that. You could start with Germany *closing* lots of nukes, largely for Green concerns (with Fukushima as a smokescreen), so that is, effectively, green concerns promoting fossil fuels too, whatever their protestations of innocence. Secondly, no, nukes aren’t cheap whatever interest rates may currently be. See, e.g., http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/energy/10525538/Subsidies-for-UK-nuclear-plant-could-reach-17bn-and-may-be-unnecessary.html. You ask, “Why must only one side be economically irrational?”, and part of the answer is that they don’t say things like “There’s no particular reason to think that decarbonising is a net cost”. Of course its a cost, if it wasn’t we’d be doing it for free -W]

  13. #14 rational troll
    2014/10/22

    I’m not sure, I half agree and three quarters disagree. I think we (collective) do care, or at least, we have the capacity to, if or when the impacts become more obvious. Perhaps the issue is that enough of an influential minority do not. Yes, I’m talking about fossil fuel interests and political conservatives and so on, but I don’t say that in the sense that I buy into all this they’re evil ’cause they don’t believe what I believe crap. I’m coming more from the perspective that I’d probably have a hard time believing that the kebabs I just sold were responsible for the salmonella outbreak down the road, I’d probably gamble that they didn’t… Then again we did just scrap the carbon tax… so maybe you’re right?

  14. #15 ...and Then There's Physics
    2014/10/22

    > [“There’s no particular reason to think that decarbonising is a net cost”. Of course its a cost, if it wasn’t we’d be doing it for free]

    Andrew said “net cost” which I took to mean the difference between the cost of a decarbonised economy and one that is more like ours today. I guess we don’t know how the cost of fossil fuel based energy will change in the future, nor how the cost of non-fossil-fuel based energy will change. However, it seems reasonable that fossil fuels will increase in price and others will reduce (okay, I don’t know about nuclear, but that’s unlikely to get more expensive). Hence, it’s not obvious to me that we couldn’t decarbonise at a rate that was essentially cost neutral. Of course, I don’t mean cost-neutral relative to today, since changing will carry costs, but cost neutral relative to rising fossil fuel costs.

    Okay, maybe fossil fuels will always remain cheaper than any viable alternative but it’s not clear to me that this is likely and seems even less likely if we include externalities – which, presumably, brings us back to the whole carbon tax issue.

    [Its quite likely that, say, solar will become cheaper than fossil fuels in the future. If that’s so… well, why are we worrying? People will use the cheaper power, of course. Just like they are doing now. If we’re content to leave it all up to the (relatively free) market, then saying things like “it can happen for free” is fine. If you’re trying to promote “aggressive” switching, or govt having to mandate or subsidise switching, then you’re admitting that its not cost free. How could it be otherwise? -W]

  15. #16 Andrew Dodds
    2014/10/22

    Nukes are not cheap when you put yourself in the position of having to bribe people to build them. But this is actually evidence FOR my position; we have a situation where, *due to ideology*, the government can only implement energy policy through various economic incentives. And it turns out that doing so is fantastically expensive. Something that might make pro-market ideologues pause for thought, if they were into thinking.

    Germany, *due to ideology* is closing Nukes. There’s no way they’d do that if they wanted to decarbonise. I’m not sure that the German Greens do a great deal of thinking either.

    Indeed, as a general statement, policy that comes from ideology tends to be expensive and not actually work.

    Now, your statement about the cost decarbonising.. why should it not be cheaper? You certainly can’t tell me economic consequences of decisions made now decades hence, or the cost of fossil fuels, or even the magnitude of indirect subsidies right now.., so why am I being irrational to posit the idea? Unless you think that our fossil fuel industries are perfect, transparent, apolitical market participants.. It could be that the bigger market participants are simply rigging the rules to make carbon based fuels appear to be the cheapest option.

    (This reminds me of a joke: An Economist sees a £10 note in the street. He doesn’t pick it up, because if it existed, someone would have picked it up already.)

  16. #17 ...and Then There's Physics
    2014/10/22

    > [If we’re content to leave it all up to the (relatively free) market, then saying things like “it can happen for free” is fine. If you’re trying to promote “aggressive” switching, or govt having to mandate or subsidise switching, then you’re admitting that its not cost free. How could it be otherwise?]

    I’m not specifically promoting aggressive switching, but it’s not clear to me that one can exclude the influence of the existing industries who may have an incentive to realise the value of their existing assets (fossil fuels). of course, one might argue that in a true free market that shouldn’t matter as the most competitive produce should eventually win. I’m not completely convinced that such an ideal is actually possible.

    [I wasn’t really saying “you” were promoting it, but TheConversation clearly is, and I thought that you were to some extent defending their position. And clearly I’m not suggesting that we do have an entirely free market, or anything close to it -W]

    The other factor is how the business model might influence things. Renewables (and nuclear) tend to have larger upfront costs and smaller running costs than fossil fuel based sources, hence this alone may require some kind of incentive so as to minimise risk, even if the overall cost were comparable.

    [Nukes do. Renewables, not at all obvious. Small scale solar installations, no [Sigh: but see #21, below]. If you’re worrying about market costs of, say, Nukes then as AD points out the “costs” there are not all market ones – you have to factor in both increased financing costs due to the artificial slowness with which they are built, and the probably grossly exaggerated zomg-radiation-its-dangerous costs -W]

  17. #18 crandles
    2014/10/22

    > [If you’re trying to promote “aggressive” switching, or govt having to mandate or subsidise switching, then you’re admitting that its not cost free. How could it be otherwise? -W]

    Cost of solar is in free fall. While up til now govt subsidy has been required so it is a net cost so far, the cost of solar is expected to continue to fall. Vast majority of solar installations are in the future and there will be savings relative to ff. Will those savings eventually recoup the past higher costs? Quite likely I would have thought.

    Will it automatically happen? If there is too much solar does the price of energy fall to zero when the sun is shining? Does that discourage investment? Also Spain seems to have crazy situation where energy police are allowed to break into any home suspected of having illegally connected some solar power and prevent home owners accessing their own home!

    [I think that’s a subsidy problem; in theory we have the same one. Solar subsidies for householders are so high, there’s an incentive to fake solar power -W]

    We will need smart grids, Electric Vehicle charging at suitable times, more long distance interconnections …. to cope with balancing supply and demand and these need to be paid for too. Currently that might be difficult if price of energy falls too far when sunny or windy so expect we will have changes in structure of what we pay for to facilitate this – if existing companies don’t have enough political power.

    Q Solar energy above a desert near tropics, does the land become more suited to farming?

    [I though solar in the Sahara was a great idea. But, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Talk%3ADesertec&diff=629625368&oldid=608295068 -W]

  18. #19 ...and Then There's Physics
    2014/10/22

    [I wasn’t really saying “you” were promoting it, but TheConversation clearly is, and I thought that you were to some extent defending their position. And clearly I’m not suggesting that we do have an entirely free market, or anything close to it -W]

    Ahhh, I see. No, I’m not specifically defending the Conversation as I probably agree with your reservations there. I was more just arguing that Andrew’s “no net cost” argument may have more merit than you were suggesting. I also worded my response poorly as I wasn’t meaning to suggest that you think that there is an entirely free market :-)

  19. #20 Hank Roberts
    hankroberts.wordpress.com
    2014/10/22

    All these conversations, including “The Conversation” and blogs, seem to suffer from the seductive delusion that anything people say makes a difference. The economists, climate scientists, biologists — each group — wants to believe it’s their particular expertise that’s being ignored.

    It ain’t. The pretense of listening is granted to mollify the strong voices of each separate discipline for a while, from time to time. If they’d get together, they’d realize none of them — no scientist, no economist, no moralist — get more than the chance to pretend to be heard.

    Op. cit. from the Rabett’s blog, using an economist as an example:
    _________________
    But see Krugman
    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/15/opinion/paul-krugman-how-to-get-economic-policy-wrong.html

    Like he has to ask it as a question:

    “But would it have mattered if economists had behaved better? Or would people in power have done the same thing regardless?

    If you imagine that policy makers have spent the past five or six years in thrall to economic orthodoxy, you’ve been misled. On the contrary, key decision makers have been highly receptive to innovative, unorthodox economic ideas — ideas that also happen to be wrong but which offered excuses to do what these decision makers wanted to do anyway.”
    ___________________

    That’s the shocked, shocked, gasp of a liberal beginning to realize, all too late in his working life, that he’s been given only enough voice to give the appearance anyone cares what he thinks — and nothing more.

    I’m not cynical enough yet. Working on it, still.

  20. #21 ...and Then There's Physics
    2014/10/22

    Actually, maybe you could explain what you mean by this

    > [Renewables, not at all obvious. Small scale solar installations, no.]

    I agree with what you say about nukes, but not sure what you mean with respect to renewables. I was thinking, for example, about what’s illustrated in Chart 4 here. Renewables are dominated by capital costs, while fossil fuel based sources have large fuel costs.

    [Ah, well, what I meant was that I wasn’t thinking very carefully. I was thinking that small-scale renewables can be setup rapidly with minimal bureaucratic and frictional costs – unlike Nukes. But you’re right, they pay their capital costs up front. Nice link BTW, thanks -W]

    [Though now I look, that link contains weirdness. The carbon costs for coal are marked up substantially higher than the fuel costs, which I don’t understand. The capital costs for biomass are significantly less for coal, ditto. I’m dubious they’ve factored in the drop in solar price; etc -W]

  21. #22 Raff
    2014/10/22

    When looking at levelised costs such as those in the link from ATTP, are load (capacity) factors taken into account? For example, wind turbines typically have load factors of around one third. Similarly, from what I can see, gas or coal installations in the UK have average load factors of around 50%.

    At the bottom of page 9 it says, “Estimates for onshore wind are shown using average load factors for UK and England and Wales ‘E&W’” but I didn’t see load factors listed. And there is no equivalent statement about other generators. “Step 1” in Annex 2 lists “Expected Load Factor” amongst its “Expected Generation Data” but again there is no list of load factors used.

    Anyone know?

  22. #23 ...and Then There's Physics
    2014/10/22

    >[The carbon costs for coal are marked up substantially higher than the fuel costs, which I don’t understand. ]

    Yes, I don’t really understand that either. I’m guessing that the carbon costs are some kind of carbon tax or effective CCS cost, but I can’t seem to find it explained in the document.

    Raff,
    It’s my understanding that load capacity is taken into account, but I can’t seem to find any reference to back that up.

  23. #24 crandles
    2014/10/22

    >[I think that’s a subsidy problem; in theory we have the same one. Solar subsidies for householders are so high, there’s an incentive to fake solar power -W]

    Is that the impression you get from
    http://www.thelocal.es/20131112/spains-solar-police-to-kick-in-your-door
    “As if Spaniards had not already been dissuaded by the potential €60 million fines they face for illegally generating their own solar power, they now have to look forward to a knock on the door from the ‘solar police’.”

    [http://www.economist.com/news/business/21582018-sustainable-energy-meets-unsustainable-costs-cost-del-sol looks like a better article -W]

  24. #25 stuart
    Australia
    2014/10/22

    One problem with the idea that “if carbon-free power was cheaper we’d do it for free” is that the GHG-emitting power sources are heavily subsidised in many (most?) places. The switch to zero emissions sources can be prevented (or delayed) by policies that increase subsidies to polluters over time.
    The current government in Australia denies the very existence of subsidies to fossil fuels so there is zero chance of them being wound back or removed in the near future.

    [Perhaps it denies them because they don’t exist? You’ve provided zero evidence that they do exist, after all -W]

    The next stage (already proposed by energy companies) is to *penalise* people who install rooftop solar. This is effectively another subsidy to fossil fuels.
    The idea that “economics” will result in a switch to clean energy once it’s cheap enough ignores the reality that governments can and will distort the market in favour of their polluting donors.

  25. #26 EFS_Junior
    2014/10/23

    I call shenanigans on

    “the GHG-emitting power sources are heavily subsidised in many (most?) places”

    meme.

    [http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/26de2f22-573a-11e4-a45c-00144feab7de.html#axzz3GwspueQB etc etc -W]

    Show me the money!

    And what is the percentage of those “so called” non-monetized subsidies as a fraction of total revenues, TYVM.

    (something imagined followed by 9 zeros is meaningless relative to something real followed by 12 zeros).

    Go ahead and make up some numbers, because that’s all that economists ever do anyways. D’oh!

    So, for example, how much is a liter of petrol in Europe versus the USA?

    Why isn’t Europe using those additional tax revenues to decarbonize?

    Also, please remember that it was teh scientists that gave us The Bomb. Still trust scientists?

    Stick that in your [incivility redacted -W].

    Every time I see one of these BS op-ed pieces from scientists pushes me one step closer towards this nut job:

    https://nottingham.academia.edu/ReinerGrundmann

  26. #27 Raff
    2014/10/23

    EFS_Junior there are and have been lots of subsidies to fossils over the decades. Start most recently with the trillion plus spent on the Gulf wars. If you think that wasn’t a war for oil you’re an [incivility redacted -W]. Then add the hundred thousand lives plus lost and the middle east in flames largely as a result of this war – ok they were Iraqis and Syrians so not worth much to you. Add the overturning of an elected government (Iran), the sponsoring of dictators (middle east), the suppression of dissent (Nigeria etc), the corruption of the polity in oil states and the cost of environmental damage worldwide. And of course there’s the damage to health through burning hydrocarbons in our cities worldwide. How many millions of lives have been shortened by the effects of this pollution?

    [I’m pretty sure those aren’t the subsidies people are thinking of. I think people are thinking in terms of tax credits and stuff. Though, frustratingly, without providing any refs so its impossible to know -W]

    All of these are costs, monetary and moral. They dwarf any money belatedly being spent subsidizing renewables. I’ve never met a climate science “skeptic” who is honest enough to admit to any of these costs at the door of fossil fuels. They normally deflect the issue by enthusing about how wonderful these fuels are and what benefits they have brought. And they are and have been wonderful, but if the costs mentioned above were accounted for properly they would be a lot more expensive.

  27. #28 Everett F Sargent
    United States
    2014/10/23

    Raff,

    [Incivility towards another commentator redacted -W]

  28. #29 Thomas Fuller
    Shanghai, China
    2014/10/23

    #27, I will never understand your logic. Even if you are 100% correct about the motives of the second Iraq war (and if so why aren’t you agitating to add the costs of the first as well?), and you disregard Saddam Hussein’s desperate efforts to sell oil to the U.S. and anybody else, why would a policy decision made by politicians register as an impact on the inherent costs of fossil fuels?

    I personally believe that the U.S. would have been happy to bomb the s**t out of Hussein even if Iraq had no oil. The dude tried to kill the President’s dad. The U.S. was happy to invade Afghanistan and Vietnam without oil being part of the equation.

    What you’re trying to do is attribute any costs incurred anywhere for any reason to fossil fuels. It’s stupid.

  29. #30 verytallguy
    2014/10/23

    Re subsidies on fossil fuels.

    The IMF claim $480bn in direct subsidies to reduce the cost of energy to consumers

    Egypt, for instance, regularly spends up to 8 percent of its GDP subsidizing fossil fuels — more than it spends on education and public health combined

    *Most* of the claimed subsidy, at least from the IMF perspective howver, is *not* paying for the externalities –“social cost of carbon” – direct subsidies only seem to be about 25% of the total.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/03/27/imf-want-to-fight-climate-change-get-rid-of-1-9-trillion-in-energy-subsidies/

    http://www.skepticalscience.com/carbon-the-huge-overlooked-fossil-fuel-subsidy.html

    [As far as I can tell, most subsidy is govts bribing their own voters. So its usually not-really-democratic countries (with exceptions, yes yes I know). Egypt an obvious example. India another (keep the poor happy and quiet). Or Saudi. The pic in your SS link is useful; not-taxing as subsidy is dubious, though -W]

  30. #31 Hank Roberts
    there's always Slashdot ...
    2014/10/23
  31. #32 Hank Roberts
    hankroberts.wordpress.com
    2014/10/23

    By the way, a reminder:
    http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2013/nov/07/climate-change-gambling-civilization/
    ” Nordhaus …. calls for strong action: his best estimate of what we should be doing involves placing a substantial immediate tax on carbon, one that would sharply increase the current price of coal, and gradually raising that tax, more than doubling it by 2030. Some might consider even this policy inadequate, but it’s far beyond anything currently on the political agenda, so as a practical matter Nordhaus and the most hawkish of climate activists are entirely on the same side…..”

  32. #33 Thomas Fuller
    Shanghai, China
    2014/10/23

    Any analysis of what are called subsidies for fossil fuel will quickly reveal that most of the money is actually capped fuel prices by governments (Indonesia, Iran, Venezuela, etc.) to keep gasoline prices at a politically acceptable level.

    As most fossil fuel reserves are in fact held by governments, not companies, perhaps some of the ire directed at Exxon and Shell is a bit misdirected, don’t you think?

    And it’s nice for someone to acknowledge Nordhaus. Usually consensus fans have a somewhat low opinion of him. Maybe the consensus someday will rehabilitate Lomborg and Pielke Sr. as well.

    [BTW, you were on moderation for a while – I’m sure you’ve noticed. I can no longer recall why, so you’re off -W]

  33. #34 Andrew Dodds
    2014/10/23

    Regarding Home PV in the UK..

    My 2.7kW system returns roughly £200 per year in saved-usage and selling electricity to the grid (plus FiTs). That was not economically viable 3 years ago.. but now you can get a 4kW system for c. £6k. That would get an index linked return of £300p.a. in savings and sell-back (plus FiTs, not counted in this calculation). 5% index linked IS viable – it’s an awful lot more than you’ll get in a bank for the same cash, or even a long term investment.

    Of course, this is only because the cost is vs. UK retail electric prices, but that seems reasonable since it’s the real-world price. Add in the FiT scheme and it really IS ‘cash on the pavement’.

    [Really? I think mine does better in theory. See http://scienceblogs.com/stoat/2011/12/22/solat-panels/ Cost £10k, supposed to generate (with subsidy) £1k/y. I haven’t quite – cough – tested that yet because we’ve only rather belatedly completed the registration -W]

  34. #35 Dunc
    2014/10/23

    [Fair point. But take it further: migrating away from fossil fuel use is also a stress. None of this is a one-way no-brainer type of thing. Is the stress of GW greater than the stress of restricting CO2? Its question that requires thought -W]

    Absolutely. But it’s a stress that we’re going to have to face sooner or later anyway. The choice is not “do we migrate away from fossil fuels or not?”, it’s “do we migrate away from fossil fuels on a schedule of our own choosing, or do we do it only when we’re forced to by circumstance, and while we’re also suffering the additional stress of unmitigated GW?” (As Paul S pointed out in #10.)

    Now, sure, there’s an argument to be made that it might be easier in future than it is now, but most of those arguments rest on the idea that we’ll get better with practice – which seems to imply that we do actually need to try moving away from fossil fuels now, in order to develop the necessary technologies. To return to the example of photovoltaics: yes, these are getting much cheaper, and it seems reasonable to expect that they will continue to do so. But that didn’t happen by magic, or through the simple passage of time, it happened because people spent a great deal of time, money, and effort making it happen, largely thanks to subsidies of one form or another.

    So, if we return to this:

    [Its quite likely that, say, solar will become cheaper than fossil fuels in the future. If that’s so… well, why are we worrying? People will use the cheaper power, of course. Just like they are doing now. If we’re content to leave it all up to the (relatively free) market, then saying things like “it can happen for free” is fine. If you’re trying to promote “aggressive” switching, or govt having to mandate or subsidise switching, then you’re admitting that its not cost free. How could it be otherwise? -W]

    … the problem is that solar is only becoming cheaper because of the effort going in to developing the technology (and also achieving economies of scale) which is being driven by the “aggressive” promotion of switching through subsidies. The development of technology and capacity is not free. It’s an investment. You can’t just sit on your arse and wait for it to be delivered by the solar panel fairies, somebody needs to pony up the cash.

    [All quite reasonable, though there is scope for disagreeing on quite how much aggressive promotion is required -W]

  35. #36 Paul Matthews
    2014/10/23

    “the enemy take care not to read here”

    In fact William, “the enemy” rather approves of your last three posts. Who would have thought that you’d be criticising you former colleague and posting that cartoon that is such a favourite among climate sceptics (it’s better with the other panel, 700 years ago… alongside).

    [Ah, well, welcome then. As for the cartoon, I struggled to find the one I wanted (I really wanted the one where they play monopoly). If you have a link to the other panels, do post it -W]

  36. #37 crandles
    2014/10/23

    >[Really?]

    Subsidies are obviously on their way down as costs fall so we installed at the right time but that isn’t relevant to current decisions.

    Was the ‘really’ questioning the ‘IS viable’?

    Unlike money in a bank you don’t get the investment money back any time you want. 5% without index linking certainly wouldn’t be considered viable. The index linking of the subsidy is valuable (if it isn’t retrospectively changed like in Spain). If trying to tell whether PV without subsidy is worthwhile it may depend on whether cost of electric will go up or down. Reaction may be obviously up but I think it is possible electric will go down but there will be a larger fixed cost element to pay for making grids smarter, more long distance interconnections etc.

    [The “really” was for the apparently-low return of ~£300/y. Looking closer, I see that didn’t include FiT which is ~3-4 times that, so actually its about the same and my “really” makes no sense -W]

  37. #38 crandles
    2014/10/23

    >”I see that didn’t include FiT which is ~3-4 times that”

    Current FiT is 14.38p/KWh *1800 KWh/year = £259

    Don’t know if you will still get 43.7p/KWh (indexed up). That is £787 so even that isn’t 3* £300. Clearly it is worth paying £10k rather than £6k if you get subsidy of 43.7p instead of 14.4p, but that isn’t an option now.

    [My recollection is that FiT (paid to us) was ~4x the price of the electricity (that we pull from the grid). So I’m somewhat mixing numbers up. We were amongst the last getting the higher FiT payments, but then again the installation costs fell after we got ours -W]

  38. #39 Andrew Dodds
    2014/10/23

    I was excluding FiTs.. With FiTs we’re getting ~£1400p.a. from a £9k outlay. I was just illustrating that domestic rooftop solar has reached the point of making financial sense on it’s own in the UK.

  39. #40 Howard
    2014/10/23

    Dunc:

    Points all well taken. No doubt solar has improved due to politics and subsidies. However, some political views think that a more natural path is more efficient. Fossil fuels won’t disappear overnight, rather FF costs will start to rise. Once it becomes clear that FF costs are not going down, innovators driven by profit motive will figure out how to cut into the energy money pile. The free market politics also views the subsidy approach will attract people who are good at playing politics in getting government grants and padding results to keep the gravy train flowing.

    If you are really concerned about carbon pollution, it makes sense to seek solutions that embrace the free market in a way that attracts some in the “enemy” camp to get behind a technological revolution that is required.

    NB I’m not talking about converting over the WUWT crowd as they are just as recalcitrant as the extreme greens. With these folks, it’s about the fight, not the fix.

  40. #41 Raff
    2014/10/23

    > [I’m pretty sure those aren’t the subsidies people are thinking of. I think people are thinking in terms of tax credits and stuff. Though, frustratingly, without providing any refs so its impossible to know -W]

    I’m sure you are right, but I find that sort of subsidy analysis rather unconvincing. Where there is a direct payment to lower the cost of imported fuel, then clearly that is a subsidy. But when the a producer government says we’ll have 80% of petroleum revenues and then makes some adjustments around the margin to incetivise exploration, I have a hard time seeing those adjustments as subsidies. If there are special mechanisms put in place to aid oil/gas businesses that are not available to other industries, then that clearly amounts to a subsidy.

    On the subject of funding wars, overturning governments, corruption, health etc that I mentioned earlier, these clearly change the economics of fossil fuel exploration and use. If you setup a business in a wild place where the natives keep stealing your gear and attacking your workers, you have clear costs as a result. If I, local bigwig politician, say, don’t worry I’ll take care of them if you look after me, your operating costs are reduced. I’m not paying you (quite the reverse) but you make more profit. Similarly, if your business wants to burn its product in my towns and the exhausts cause children to grow up with stunted lung capacity, causes increases in lung and cardiovascular disease and increases the number of early deaths then someone has to pay for that. By rights it should be the people burning the fuels and I could, for example, mandate that cars could enter the towns only if they didn’t pollute. That would place significant extra costs on drivers but the air would be clean and alternative non-polluting means of transport would be more likely to be used. By not enforcing clean air and by assuming or transferring the resulting medical costs, I am making the use of fossil fuels cheaper than it would otherwise be. In other words I am subsidizing it.

    I’m sure most of you need no convincing of that, but there are many “skeptics” like the Fullers of Shanghai who think that a subsidy has to involve money changing hands directly. Subsidies are everywhere – that’s what the PoTUS meant when he said, “You didn’t build that”.

  41. #42 Eli Rabett
    http://rabett.blogspot.com
    2014/10/23

    [Its quite likely that, say, solar will become cheaper than fossil fuels in the future. If that’s so… well, why are we worrying? People will use the cheaper power, of course.]

    No. Any number of examples where sunk costs and stupidity contradict your libertarian lah de dah

  42. #43 Hank Roberts
    hankroberts.wordpress.com
    2014/10/23

    > people will use the cheaper
    The existing multiyear contracts for coal expire rather far in the future.
    https://www.google.com/search?q=coal+supply+contract+penalty+cancellation

  43. #44 Steve Bloom
    SF Bay Area
    2014/10/24

    “not cost free”

    As expected, the environmental free (for a given value) ride for fossil fuel extraction and emissions gets short shrift, probably because it makes for a short, boring discussion.

  44. #45 Mal Adapted
    2014/10/24

    Raff:

    I’m sure most of you need no convincing of that, but there are many “skeptics” like the Fullers of Shanghai who think that a subsidy has to involve money changing hands directly.

    I’m suprised no one has cited Oil Change International’s report on fossil fuel subsidies:

    A fossil fuel subsidy is any government action that lowers the cost of fossil fuel energy production, raises the price received by energy producers or lowers the price paid by energy consumers. There are a lot of activities under this simple definition—tax breaks and giveaways, but also loans at favorable rates, price controls, purchase requirements and a whole lot of other things.

    In the United States, credible estimates of annual fossil fuel subsidies range from $10 billion to $52 billion annually, yet these don’t even include costs borne by taxpayers related to the climate, local environmental, and health impacts of the fossil fuel industry.

    Interesting that their figure for the U.S. explictly excludes external costs of fossil fuels.

    [The report that leads to – http://priceofoil.org/content/uploads/2014/07/OCI_US_FF_Subsidies_Final_Screen.pdf – includes more than $5b for “BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Deduction”. That’s not IMO something that would naturally be called a subsidy, and so to me calls into question all the other numbers. You can, of course, say that a subsidy is whatever you choose to call it, but unless it looks like what it means in natural language, its going to be misleading -W]

  45. #46 Eli Rabett
    http://rabett.blogspot.com
    2014/10/25

    If BP can deduct something it is a tax subsidy. If BP does not pay the entire cost of that fiasco, it is a subsidy.

  46. #47 Rachel Martin
    Scotland
    2014/10/25

    “Its quite likely that, say, solar will become cheaper than fossil fuels in the future. If that’s so… well, why are we worrying? People will use the cheaper power, of course. Just like they are doing now.”

    This assumes that people behave rationally and I don’t think we do. In New Zealand there’s a website you can use to find the cheapest energy provider in your area based on your own circumstances (I think there’s something similar here). My mother-in-law discovered she could get cheaper energy but she chose not to because she’s loyal to the company she’s been with for decades. I suspect she also doesn’t like change and she doesn’t want the hassle and paperwork of switching to something new.

    New Zealand already gets more than half of its domestic power supply from renewable energy. This is thanks to large hydroelectric power plants that have been around for about a 100 years. I imagine that if they tried to build these today, they probably wouldn’t be able to. And if they did, people would be reluctant to switch to these providers because they would be new and different and they might also be turned off by the word “renewable”.

    Dan Ariely wrote a book – Predictably Irrational – quite a few years ago that challenges the idea that we make rational decisions. There’s quite a funny TED talk about it called, “Are we in control of our decisions?” and it seems that quite often, we are not:
    http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_ariely_asks_are_we_in_control_of_our_own_decisions/transcript?language=en

  47. #48 Tim Beatty
    2014/10/25

    From my view as Captain Obvious: There are literally hundreds of strategies. Each supported by a corresponding percentage and opposed by nearly everyone else. It’s like a ballot that only has write-in candidates, the voter can nominate themselves and the winner needs a super-majority, not just overall but in each sub-district. That’s a lot of campaigning. NIH (“Not Invented Here”) syndrome rules the day in climate strategy.

    P.S. When lived harmoniously with nature, only ate fruit, meat and vegetables and hunted with spears, we were 5 feet tall and lived about 40 years. I remind my GP of this when he recommends a “hunter gatherer” diets and no beads or refined sugars.

  48. #49 Hank Roberts
    hankroberts.wordpress.com
    2014/10/25
  49. #51 Mal Adapted
    2014/10/25

    W:

    [The report that leads to – http://priceofoil.org/content/uploads/2014/07/OCI_US_FF_Subsidies_Final_Screen.pdf – includes more than $5b for “BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Deduction”. That’s not IMO something that would naturally be called a subsidy, and so to me calls into question all the other numbers. You can, of course, say that a subsidy is whatever you choose to call it, but unless it looks like what it means in natural language, its going to be misleading -W]

    Well, OCI’s definition of a subsidy seems natural to me:

    A fossil fuel subsidy is any government action that lowers the cost of fossil fuel energy production, raises the price received by energy producers or lowers the price paid by energy consumers.

    Environmental damage from oil spills is a cost of oil production, that BP would have externalized if not for government regulation. Allowing BP to deduct part of their cost of cleaning up the spill keeps it external to the price the company has to charge its customers for a barrel of oil. If that doesn’t meet your “natural” definition of a subsidy, then I prefer OCI’s definition. Why disguise it by calling it something else?

  50. #52 Howard
    2014/10/25

    Since fossil fuels subsidize modern rich western democracies and all of the benefits thereunto pertaining, one could say that fossil fuels are mostly subsidized by fossil fuels.

    It makes much more logical sense to say that western labor and environmental laws subsidize injuries, sickness, cancer and environmental degradation in the developing world. One would think that progressive liberal consciousnesses would support fracking, nuclear power, dam building, and more steel factories in the US and Europe. Western regulation directly results in environmental racism.

    Externalities cut all ways. Sunk costs are a reality to be factored in. Until you adopt concessions that free-market conservatives can sell to their constituencies, no meaningful action on climate or the environment will happen.

    Depending on catastrophe and “I told you so” is not a strategy, it’s enabling.

  51. #53 Eli Rabett
    http://rabett.blogspot.com
    2014/10/26

    free market conservatives? Oh you mean the folks who want subsidies. Clear now.

  52. #54 Hank Roberts
    hankroberts.wordpress.com
    2014/10/26

    > concessions that free-market conservatives
    > can sell to their constituencies

    Please, they’re called “stakeholders” — and yes, the image of government as bloodsucker, held off by the threadening stake, is indeed the idea.

    Example: http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-744
    USDA Needs to Strengthen Its Approach to Protecting Human Health from Pathogens in Poultry Products
    GAO-14-744: Published: Sep 30, 2014. Publicly Released: Oct 20, 2014.

    “Without performance measures for these standards, USDA is not publicly reporting performance information and cannot assess the effects of its actions related to these standards in meeting the goal of maximizing domestic compliance with food safety policies and, ultimately, protecting public health.

    GAO identified several challenges—based, in part, on the views of 11 stakeholder groups—that could hinder USDA’s ability to reduce contamination in poultry products….”

    The gummint can’t even get the contaminated fecal chickenshit out of the packages of chicken in the grocery stores, and you’re thinking the gummint can deal with the fossil fuel industry?

  53. #55 Howard
    2014/10/26

    Hank:

    Thanks for making my point.

    US per capita chicken consumption is around 60 pounds per capita. At 300 million people, that’s 18 billion pounds. There are 2-million (according to your link) reported cases of chicken-borne food illness. Assuming a meal is a half pound, that’s 99.9944% safe. If we assume 1 in 10 report illness, that’s 99.9444% safe.

    Your link said that the US had one of the safest food supplies in the world. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty good. Can it be better? Yes. Is it something we need to get hysterical about? No.

    As a smart working scientist and/or engineer, I am sure you have extensive professional experience that repeatedly shows that getting that itty bitty last bit of product or safety or extra significant figure in data collection is very difficult and very expensive. All the low, middle and high hanging fruit has been plucked from chicken production (pun not initially intended). What remains are the practically inaccessible fruit. Problems are solved by people who make tradeoffs between cost and perfection. Sure there is pushback by industry because they crave profits while competing globally with nations with lower standards of quality, worker safety and environmental protection. The FDA could probably do more, but many are in government because they like to be inside the box. What was clear from the article was that more study was needed to determine where the best place to spend resources to knock those last few numbers down a bit lower. Industry thinks it’s at the farm and FDA hasn’t collected data to see if that is true.

    If you prefer getting your chicken from China, recycling your electronics by children using crude bespoke methods in India and buy your gas from Nigerian War-Lord oil, then it must makes sense to be hostile toward western business because it’s not absolutely perfect.

    Your hostility, like a mirror image of the WUWT hostility toward climate science, is not the sort of leadership that achieves goals.

  54. #56 Hank Roberts
    hankroberts.wordpress.com
    2014/10/26

    > that itty bitty last bit of product or safety …. are the practically inaccessible
    > …
    > hostility

    Trust, but verify

  55. #57 David B. Benson
    2014/10/26

    2 K too much.

  56. #58 Howard
    2014/10/27

    Eli

    You caught me. The constituency thinks they are free market conservatives while their representatives are corporate socialists. In any event, one must deal with the devil to get stuff done. Everything else is just vanity heroin.

    Hank:

    You are focused on weather, not climate.

  57. #59 Howard
    2014/10/27

    David: 2K is already baked in. Throwing up hands and stomping feet don’t help.

  58. #60 David B. Benson
    2014/10/27

    Howard — The USA DoD budget is over US$600 billion per annum. Even half of that would go a long way towards removing excess CO2 emissions and removing the excess,

    So I repeat

    2 K too much.

  59. #61 Howard
    2014/10/28

    I agree the US foolishly spends money on subsidizing European security, subsidizing the worlds shipping lanes, military pork and playing an incompetent ME policeman. Transferring dollars from military to R&D idea has merit, unfortunately, war machines are the lifeblood of the corporate socialists. These are the folks one must horse trade with to actually get something accomplished.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Realpolitik

    None of this has anything to do with the arbitrary 2K mantra you keep repeating. It’s coming and our grandkids and their kids will deal with it… and so it goes

  60. #62 handjive
    2014/10/28

    Hey there, Dr Connelley.
    According to you, I would be one of the scientifically mis-informed enemy/dork that doesn’t read your words.
    Can’t understand why, who doesn’t like being insulted with adhom because …?)
    Anyways, it seems your much vaunted carbon(sic) tax is working:
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2809995/Government-measures-slowed-global-warming-Energy-minister-claims-policies-playing-role-curbing-rising-temperature.html

    Considering you never bought into the scare story routine, good luck this new settled science.

    [I strongly advise you not to trust anything in the Fail -W]

  61. #63 crandles
    2014/11/11

    World governments have been breaking promises to phase out subsidies for fossil fuels, a report says.
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-29985382

    The Overseas Development Institute says G20 nations spent almost £56bn ($90bn) a year finding oil, gas and coal.

    However, the report said subsidies were irrational, a waste of public money and harmful to the environment.

    [Oho! Notice how they’ve just elided two things and you didn’t notice. The way that’s reported encourages you to read £56bn as the subsidy. But of course it isn’t. I recommend http://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2014/11/11/contrary-to-reports-rich-countries-do-not-subsidise-fossil-fuels-by-88-billion-a-year/ which oddly enough I added to the references list this morning -W]

    However, the report said renewables were a better bet. It claimed every US dollar spent on renewable energy subsidies attracted $2.5 (£1.50) in investment, while a dollar in fossil fuel subsidies drew $1.3 (82p) of investment.

    It said phasing out exploration subsidies should be the first step for the G20 towards meeting its existing commitments to phase out all inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.

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