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Published: Fri, 30 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Fri, 30 Sep 2016 16:40:36 -0400


Richard Epstein: Why Obamacare Is Collapsing and He's Not Voting for Trump, Hillary, *or* Johnson

Fri, 23 Sep 2016 14:20:00 -0400

The architects of Obamacare could have foreseen today's crisis, says NYU Law Professor Richard Epstein, except they were intellectual "super jocks" with a "superior Ivy-League sneer," who knew so much better than anyone else "how to run this Rube Goldberg contraption" designed to "defeat the law of gravity." Epstein speaks as an insider to elite circles. A graduate of Columbia, Oxford, and Yale Law School, he's the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of Law at New York University, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute, and a professor emeritus at the University of Chicago. A towering figure in his field, Epstein has had a profound impact on libertarian legal theory, especially with his 1985 book, Takings: Private Property and the Power of Eminent Domain. Throughout his career, Epstein says, he's been surrounded by "people cleverer than myself putting up schemes that are dumber than you can imagine." Reason's Nick Gillespie sat down with Epstein for an extended discussion about the collapse of the Obamacare exchanges (0:43); why cigarette companies don't owe smokers a dime (15:49); the recent legal campaign against Exxon Mobile related to global warming (27:00); Obama's dismal record (35:23); where the U.S. went wrong in Iraq (45:00); why he thinks Gary Johnson is a weak candidate (57:00); Hillary Clinton's criminal offenses (58:26); whether he favors Hillary or Trump (1:04:51); and why he's planning to sit out this election (1:05:34). A transcript of the conversation is below. Camera by Jim Epstein and Kevin Alexander; edited by Epstein. Subscribe to our YouTube channel. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes. This is a rush transcript that has not been checked for accuracy and punctuation. Check any quotes against the video. Nick Gillespie: You were among the people who predicted that Obamacare would fail not simply because it was a bad idea but the implementation would be virtually impossible to do. In the Obamacare exchanges, now we are seeing basically some sort of death spiral or some kind of predictable outcome. Talk a little about that and what is happening and why didn't more people see it come Richard Epstein: Well, I think we start the second question first. Why didn't more people see it coming? I think the explanation really is that these were all the kinds of Ivy League super jocks. And what they always believe is that they can defeat the law of gravity by the ingenious schemes that they could put into place in order to keep things under control. So when this thing was actively debated in 2008 and 2009 there were two approaches to the problem. People like myself said look you know health care insurance is not really special. What you have to understand about all insurance schemes is the greatest chance of conniving is typically with the insured and not with the insurer. And I said the way in which we kind of know this is you go back to the history of marine insurance and you start to see that the insurance companies were always given the options to pull out because they understood that the concealment of information by the insured would have very adverse effects on what they did and it was also clear that the people who would come for insurance were those who had private information which made it more likely than average that they would be the ones who would need the stuff Nick Gillespie: You know you are at NYU and Chicago, not at an Ivy League school. We fixed that because you have to buy insurance. Richard Epstein: Well we didn't fix it because of that. First of all what we do is we say you have to buy it but the mandates were extremely unpopular and the idea that you were going to run a social program with very popular acceptance which says you have to pay if you don't take something that you don't want to buy really sticks in the craw of just about everybody, because this is sort of libertarian moment that is respected by all people, because it's not dealing with what large business and industry does, its dealing with what you have to do in your particular life. So what y[...]

Arctic Sea Ice At Second Lowest Extent in Modern Record

Fri, 16 Sep 2016 14:30:00 -0400

(image) Arctic sea ice extent is the second lowest in the satellite record beginning in 1979. Although the vagaries of storms and wind affect the amount of sea ice that survives summer melting, it is clear that increased warming in the region is responsible for most of the decline. The National Snow and Ice Data Center reports:

Arctic sea ice appears to have reached its seasonal minimum extent for 2016 on September 10. A relatively rapid loss of sea ice in the first ten days of September has pushed the ice extent to a statistical tie with 2007 for the second lowest in the satellite record. September's low extent followed a summer characterized by conditions generally unfavorable for sea ice loss.

(image) On September 10, Arctic sea ice extent stood at 4.14 million square kilometers (1.60 million square miles). This appears to have been the lowest extent of the year and is tied with 2007 as the second lowest extent on record. This year's minimum extent is 750,000 square kilometers (290,000 square miles) above the record low set in 2012 and is well below the two standard deviation range for the 37-year satellite record. Satellite data show extensive areas of open water in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, and in the Laptev and East Siberian seas. ...

Why did extent fall to a tie for second lowest with 2007? The 2016 Arctic melt season started with a record low maximum extent in March, and sea ice was measured at record low monthly extents well into June. ...

The late season ice loss appears to have been greatest in an extended area of patchy ice reaching from the eastern Beaufort Sea to the northern Chukchi Sea. This is in the area influenced by the two strong cyclones ... —the strong winds appear to have compacted the ice cover and may have led to an upward mixing of warm ocean water.

Last December, a report from researchers associated with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Arctic temperature trends reported that "the mean annual surface air temperature anomaly (+1.3°C relative to the 1981-2010 mean value) for October 2014-September 2015 for land stations north of 60°N is the highest value in the record starting in 1900. This is an increase of 2.3°C since the 1970s and 2.9°C since the beginning of the 20th century. The global rate of temperature increase has slowed in the last decade (Kosaka and Xie 2013), but Arctic air temperatures have continued to increase. Currently, the Arctic is warming at more than twice the rate of lower latitudes."(image)

Send Around This XKCD Climate Change Web Cartoon, But Really Look at It First

Wed, 14 Sep 2016 18:01:00 -0400

(image) XKCD has a web cartoon making the rounds that nicely summarizes 22,000 years of climate and human history. One important point: As the last ice age ended and temperatures heated up, humans did better and civilizations advanced. Vox invites readers to consider its implications and send it along to those folks who serenely opine, "The climate always changes." From Vox:

Randall Munroe, the author of the webcomic XKCD, has a habit of making wonderfully lucid infographics on otherwise difficult scientific topics. Everyone should check out today's edition on global warming. It's a stunning graphic showing Earth's recent climate history. Take some time with it. Stroll through the events like the domestication of dogs and the construction of Stonehenge. And then ponder the upshot here....

But Munroe's comic below hits at the "why worry." What's most relevant to us humans, living in the present day, is that the climate has been remarkably stable for the past 12,000 years. That period encompasses all of human civilization — from the pyramids to the Industrial Revolution to Facebook and beyond. We've benefited greatly from that stability. It's allowed us to build farms and coastal cities and thrive without worrying about overly wild fluctuations in the climate.

And now we're losing that stable climate.

During the last ice age global temperatures averaged about 4 to 5 degrees Celsius lower than the Holocene average. As one scrolls down the trendlines in the graphic, one notes that about 9,000 to 7,000 years ago global average temperatures were higher than currently. In the cartoon, Munroe says that temperatures "start to level out slightly above the 1961-1990 average" around 8,000 BCE.

Of course, determining what temperatures were thousands of years ago is a fraught exercise, but it is generally thought that during the Holocene Optimum global average temperatures were 1 to 2 degrees Celsius higher than they are now. (Yes, I know it's a link to Wikipedia, but I checked a bunch of different studies and it turns out that Wikipedia pretty much cited and linked to the most relevant of them, so click the links if you've got doubts.)

At the end of the XKCD cartoon, it shows current average temperature (which is around where it was 9,000 years ago), and then appends the steeply rising projections of various climate models. Since most doubters are contesting the model projections - not the actual temperature trends - I expect that sending the graphic along to them will do little to change their minds. It will, however, nicely feed into the confirmation biases of those who are fully on-board with those projections. I do note that the cartoon mentions that the Northwest Passage has recently opened. About 9,000 years ago, it was at least as warm in that region as it is now.

In any case, go check out the XKCD cartoon and learn some interesting history.

Just a reminder: I do think that man-made global warming could likely become a significant problem for humanity by the end of the century.

Climate Change Subpoenas Versus Free Speech

Tue, 13 Sep 2016 17:01:00 -0400

Climate change partisans are issuing subpoenas right and left in attempts to shut up their opponents. The first salvos were launched from the left when 20 Democratic state attorneys-general joined together at the behest of several environmental activist organizations to demand the oil giant ExxonMobil turn over 40 years of documents. New York Attorney-General Eric Schneiderman and Massachusetts Attorney-General Maura Healey are leading the legal campaign and ordered ExxonMobil to turn over all internal communications regarding climate change including all those related to various think tanks, academicians, lobbying groups who question the urgency of man-made global warming. The Democratic attorneys-general have issued their subpoenas and civil investigatory demands on the pretext that they are investigating the possibility that ExxonMobil knowingly defrauded and misled investors and customers about how climate change will affect its business prospects. They also demand to know what was communicated to various skeptical public policy groups who they evidently believe could have been paid by the company to mislead policymakers and public about the dangers of climate change. ExxonMobil and some of the groups are fighting back arguing that the attorneys-general are engaging in a legal fishing expedition whose chief aim is to intimidate and thus stifle the free speech rights of those with whom they disagree. In the meantime, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), the chair of House Committee on Science, Space and Technology has issued subpoenas from his committee to Schneiderman and Healey as well as to nine environmental activist groups who evidently worked with both AGs to create the pretextual fraud investigation against ExxonMobil. Smith claims that the AGs and activists worked together to devise a strategy "to act under color of law to persuade attorneys general to use their prosecutorial powers to stifle scientific discourse, to intimidate private entities and individuals, and deprive them of their First Amendment rights and freedoms." Smith is demanding in the "interests of transparency" to see all documents relating to this plan exchanged between the AGs and the activists. The AGs and groups are refusing to cough up the demanded documents. As this legal battle over who can say what about climate change in public as evolved, several Republican attorneys-general have filed an amicus brief in the federal district court for Northern Texas in support of ExxonMobil's motions to quash Healey's civil investigative demand. They note: The Attorney General of Massachusetts is investigating Plaintiff's expressed opinions on the issue of climate change and those with whom they communicate about this subject. While vocal assaults from politicians, universities, professional societies, journalists, and others are a natural part of the discourse that accompanies free expression, the action by Defendant herein is of a different ilk. Here, a government official is using their law enforcement power to attack a company for expressing opinions, or asking questions, unpopular within their office or political constituency. Yesterday, several constitutional scholars sent a letter to Rep. Smith arguing that his committee has no authority to bedevil the AGs and their activist friends in this matter. The scholars assert: When UCS [Union of Concerned Scientists] and other organizations discussed their concerns about what they viewed as the apparently intentional distortion of climate science with state attorneys general and with each other, they were exercising their constitutional rights. The First Amendment guarantees, among other rights, the rights to speak freely, to petition the government, and to associate with others for the advancement of beliefs and ideas. The right to petition entitles citizens to communicate with their government bodies and officials to express ideas, hopes, and concerns. It incorporates the right to associate with others in a joint effort to con[...]

Obama and Xi 'Ratify' Paris Climate Change Agreement

Sat, 03 Sep 2016 10:24:00 -0400

President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced at the G-20 Summit in Hangzhou today that both countries will join the Paris Climate Change Agreement. The White House must be annoyed that lots of headlines are declaring that President Obama is "ratifying" the the agreement. The Paris Agreement will come into effect 30 days after 55 countries emitting at least 55 percent of the world's greenhouse gases commit to it. The U.S. and China emit about 40 percent of the world's greenhouse gases. In March, 2015, President Obama submitted the U.S.'s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution pledge to cut by 2025 U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 percent below their levels in 2005. At the Hangzhou conference, President Obama reaffirmed those cuts and President Xi restated that China would begin cutting its emissions around 2030 or so. But what about that pesky "ratification" issue? The Constitution provides that the President "shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two-thirds of the Senators present concur." In order for a treaty to be ratified two-thirds of the Senate must vote in favor of a resolution of ratification. If the resolution passes, then ratification takes place when the instruments of ratification are formally exchanged between the United States and the relevant foreign governments. The Paris Agreement was specifically crafted during the United Nations negotiations to try to get around this provision of the Constitution. As I reported in my article, "Obama's Possible Paris Climate Agreement End Run Around the Senate," back in 2014 from the United Nations Lima climate change conference: A 2010 Congressional Research Service (CRS) legal analysis of climate agreements ... notes that a 1992 Senate Committee on Foreign Relations report dealing with the ratification of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) flatly stated that a "decision by the Conference of the Parties to adopt targets and timetables would have to be submitted to the Senate for its advice and consent before the United States could deposit its instruments of ratification for such an agreement." The 1992 Senate report also explicitly added that any presidential attempt "to reinterpret the Convention to apply legally binding targets and timetables for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases to the United States" would also require the Senate's prior advice and consent. The State Department's own Foreign Affairs Manual notes that presidents may conclude executive agreements in three cases, e.g., pursuant to a treaty already authorized by the Senate; on the basis of existing legislation; and pursuant to his authority as Chief Executive when such an agreement is not inconsistent with legislation enacted by the Congress. Consequently, President Obama might assert that he has the authority to bind the U.S. to take on international obligations under the Paris climate agreement because it is pursuant to the already authorized UNFCCC and is consistent with existing federal environmental legislation. On the other, the Manual offers guidance for deciding when a treaty or when an executive agreement is appropriate. Relevant considerations include (1) the extent to which the agreement involves commitments or risks affecting the nation as a whole, (2) whether the agreement is intended to affect State laws, and (3) the preference of the Congress as to a particular type of agreement. Clearly any international agreement that purports to impose legal limits on the emissions of greenhouse gases would involve risks to the nation as a whole and affect state laws. And, as noted earlier, the Senate has plainly stated that setting any greenhouse gas reduction targets and timetables under the UNFCCC would require its advice and consent. As I predicted, President Obama is asserting that he is concluding an executive agreement and so he can commit the U.S. to joining t[...]

August and Year-to-Date Are Second Hottest in Satellite Record: Global Temperature Trend Update

Fri, 02 Sep 2016 11:50:00 -0400

Through the first eight months of the year, 2016 seems to be racing toward what might be its place in history — as the second warmest year in the satellite temperature record. But just by a little bit, according to Dr. John Christy, director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville in a press release. "While global average temperatures peaked higher this year than they did in 1998, temperatures fell faster this spring and summer to levels that are cooler than they were at this same time of year in 1998. We had three months this year that were warmer than their 1998 counterparts, and five that were cooler. There is really no reliable way of predicting what the next four months will do, compared to those same months in 1998." With temperatures that were 0.55 C (about 0.99° F) warmer than seasonal norms, August 2016 was the warmest August in the Northern Hemisphere in the satellite temperature record. August 1998 was second warmest at 0.49 C warmer than normal. August 2016 was the second warmest August in the tropics, trailing August 2015 0.52 to 0.50 C. It was the third warmest in the Southern Hemisphere, where the August 2016 average was 0.32 C warmer than normal. August 1998's Southern Hemisphere average was hottest at 0.54 C warmer than seasonal norms. Global climate trend since Nov. 16, 1978: +0.12 C per decade August temperatures (preliminary) Global composite temp.: +0.44 C (about 0.79 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for August. Northern Hemisphere: +0.55 C (about 0.99 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for August. Southern Hemisphere: +0.32 C (about 0.58 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for August. Tropics: +0.59 C (about 0.90 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for August. According to the latest (July) National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data global temperature was the hottest ever since the late 19th century: For the 15th consecutive month, the global land and ocean temperature departure from average was the highest since global temperature records began in 1880. This marks the longest such streak in NOAA's 137 years of record keeping. The July 2016 combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces was 0.87°C (1.57°F) above the 20th century average, besting the previous July record set in 2015 by 0.06°C (0.11°F). July 2016 marks the 40th consecutive July with temperatures at least nominally above the 20th century average. The last time July global land and ocean temperatures were below average was in 1976 (-0.09°C / -0.16°F). Although continuing a record streak, July 2016 was also the lowest monthly temperature departure from average since August 2015 and tied with August 2015 as the 15th highest monthly temperature departure among all months (1,639) on record. However, since July is climatologically the globe's warmest month of the year, the July 2016 global land and ocean temperature (16.67°C / 62.01°F) was the highest temperature for any month on record, surpassing the previous record set in July 2015. July 2016 was the 379th consecutive month with temperatures at least nominally above the 20th century average. The last month with temperatures below the 20th century average was December 1984 (-0.09°C / -0.16°F). Go here for UAH's monthly temperature data.[...]

Climate War: Bill McKibben's Really Bad Metaphor for Solving Man-Made Global Warming

Tue, 30 Aug 2016 11:11:00 -0400

"We are used to war as a metaphor," writes Bill McKibben in his new article on climate change at The New Republic. In "A World at War," McKibben insists, "But this in no metaphor. By most ways we measure wars, climate change is the real deal." The trend toward higher average global temperatures is seizing territory, sowing panic, killing people, and even destabilizing governments. "It's not that global warming is like a world war. It is a world war. And we are losing," he declares. McKibben then suggests we must look to the vast mobilization that took place during the last world war in order "to assess, honestly and objectively, our odds of victory." Honesty and objectivity are certainly important when trying to devise policies aimed at addressing problems, especially wicked problems like man-made climate change. It is therefore disappointing to find that McKibben cites some context-less weather disaster data to press his case for a WWII-scale economic onslaught against man-made. For example, with regard to Arctic sea ice trends, he quotes an unnamed climate scientist as saying, "In 30 years, the area has shrunk approximately by half." The quotation evidently comes from Christian Haas, an Arctic sea ice geophysicist at York University, Toronto, talking about June 2016 Arctic sea trends cited in an article in Arctic Deeply. As it happens Arctic sea ice currently is melting at the third fastest rate in the satellite records starting in 1979. But what does Haas mean by "half?" The average extent of Arctic sea ice in the 37-year record in June is 11.9 square kilometers and the June 2016 extent was 10.6 million square kilometers - about 10 percent less. Looking further in the article finds that Haas measures the average thickness of arctic sea ice of first year sea ice, which is apparently "more than 50 percent thinner than usual." While that's important data - thinner ice melts faster enabling the darker sea to absorb more warmth - it's not the same thing as the extent of sea ice. Nevertheless, the extent of Arctic sea ice is falling at a rate of 7.4 percent per decade. Or perhaps Haas meant to reference calculated Arctic sea ice volume where May 2016 sea volume was 45 percent below the highest level in May 1979. If you're trying to persuade people that there is a problem, accuracy matters. McKibben cites the vast fire this past June in northern Alberta that forced the evacuation of the city of Fort McMurray as evidence of climate change. Drought conditions enabled that fire to burn nearly 600,000 hectares (2,300 square miles) of boreal forest. While certainly of unusual size, the Fort McMurray fire is not the biggest in the region. Also following drought conditions, the Chinchaga fire in 1950 burned 1,700,000 hectares (6,500 square miles) of boreal forest in northern British Columbia and Alberta. McKibben points to the flooding of the Seine River earlier this year that threatened the storage basement of the Louvre Museum in Paris as further evidence for climate change. However, the Seine at flood was higher in 1982 (6.2 meters) and 1955 (7.1 meters), and its highest ever-recorded flood was in 1910, reaching 8.62 meters. But what about overall flood trends? The Dartmouth Flood Archive has been keeping track of floods only since 1985 reports that the numbers of large and extreme floods have trended upward, although they have dropped since peaking in 2007. The good news is that a 2015 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found with respect to river floods that "rising per-capita income coincided with a global decline in vulnerability between 1980 and 2010, which is reflected in decreasing mortality and losses as a share of the people and gross domestic product exposed to inundation." As evidence that climate change is destabilizing governments, McKibben states that record-setting droughts fueled the rise of Boko Haram terrorists in Nigeria an[...]

Climate Change Will Impoverish Millennials, Says Study

Wed, 24 Aug 2016 12:50:00 -0400

The Demos think tank, which aims to enhance democracy and "elevate the values of community and racial equity," has just released an alarming report that argues that climate change will deprive millennials and those born after 2015 of massive amounts of income and wealth over the course of this century. The report, The Price Tag of Being Young: Climate Change and Millennials Economic Future, calculates that 21 year-old Millennial college graduates earning a median income will lose $126,000 in lifetime income, and $187,000 in wealth if no action is taken to slow and stop man-made climate change. Non-college graduates will lose $100,000 in lifetime income, and $142,000 in wealth. That's bad enough, but the kids of Millennials will do much worse. Unabated climate change will reduce median incomes and wealth of children born in 2015 who do not go to college by $357,000 in lifetime income and $581,000 in wealth. The college-educated children of Millennials will supposedly lose $467,000 in lifetime income, and $764,000 in wealth. The Demos analysis compares these climate change lifetime earnings losses to those associated with college debt ($113,000) and the Great Recession ($112,000). Sounds really bad, right? Digging into the calculations, Demos uses the worst-case projection of greenhouse emissions, known in the climate trade as Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5 in which CO2 in the atmophere rises from about 400 to 1313 parts per million. Essentially no efforts at all will be taken to reduce emissions by 2100. The Environment Directorate at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has devised five shared socioeconomic pathways (SSPs) that outline how the world's economy might develop by 2100. The SSPs include scenarios for population, economic, energy use, and greenhouse gas emissions growth. Very interstingly, the Demos study selects the SSP5 scenario which features the highest economic growth, the lowest population growth, and no greenhouse emissions abatement. As I report in my book, The End of Doom: In the SSP5 "conventional development" scenario, the world economy grows flat out, which "leads to an energy system dominated by fossil fuels, resulting in high GHG emissions and challenges to mitigation." Because there is more urbanization and because there are higher levels of education, world population peaks at 8.6 billion in 2055 and will have fallen to 7.4 billion by 2100. The world's economy will grow fifteen-fold to just over $1 quadrillion, and the average person in 2100 will be earning about $138,000 per year. US annual incomes would exceed $187,000 per capita. Demos uses only wages, not personal income in its calculations. Nevertheless, for a rough calculation as a comparison, let's assume the U.S. per capita SSP5 income of $187,000 with a working lifetime of 44 years (age 21-65 years). That yields an average per capita lifetime income exceeding $8.2 million. The SSP5 analysis takes into account the costs of adaptation to a hotter world, but the Demos analysts are not satisfied with that. So they cite a 2015 study in Nature that suggests that unmitigated warming would reduce incomes by 23 percent by 2100. In other words, they take an already worst-case warming scenario and make it even worse. Even with that additional thumb on the climate change scales, average U.S. per capita lifetime income would be $6.3 million by 2100. For comparison, multiplying the current U.S per capita GDP of $56,000 by a working lifetime produces an total income of just under $2.5 million. What would happen if the world were to pursue the greatest efforts at cutting greenhouse gases under the SSP1 sustainability scenario. Surely this would be the preferred scenario for the Demos folks. In that case, global GDP would be just a bit more than half of the SSP5 scenario. U.S. GDP per capita in 2100 in the SSP1 sustainability scenar[...]

Gary Johnson on Climate Change and a Carbon Tax

Tue, 23 Aug 2016 15:05:00 -0400

First, my claim is anything that you may think of as an environmental problem is the result of a defect in property rights. Basically, environmental problems occur in open-access commons where the incentive is to plunder a resource before anyone else can beat you to it. This includes unowned fisheries, wild game, rivers, estauries, forests, and the atmosphere. There are two ways to handle problems of overuse and abuse in open access commons: Recognize or assign property rights to the resource or regulate the resource. Some resources are more easily enclosed than others, e.g., fisheries, rivers, and forests. It is arguably much more difficult to assign property rights to the global atmosphere. As a consequence, the nations of the world agreed in 1987 to regulate and ban the substances that where eroding the stratospheric ozone layer that protects the earth's surface from dangerous UV sunlight. So what about climate change? It is a fact that all temperature data sets agree that the globe was been warming in recent decades ranging from a low rate of 0.12 to a higher rate of 0.17 degrees Celsius per decade. In addition, all data sets agree that this past July was the hottest month ever recorded. For a review of the debate over man-made climate change, see my article, "What Evidence Would Persuade You that Man-Made Climate Change Is Real?", as well as refutations of my arguments. In any case, Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson agrees with me that man-made climate change is happening. Furthermore, Johnson in a CNBC interview also suggested that a carbon tax might be a "very libertarian proposal" to address the open access commons problem of climate change. Johnson is tentative, saying that he is "open" to considering a carbon tax. He specifically notes that a carbon tax would be a simple comprehensive way to replace all sorts of clunky expensive top-down centralized regulations and subsidies that aim to limit carbon dioxide emissions. Johnson's thinking that a carbon tax might be a useful way to handle the open access problem of climate change is in line with that of some groups who are part of the larger free market intellectual movement. I discuss the pros and cons of a carbon tax in my article, "Can a Carbon Tax Solve Man-Made Global Warming?" Over at Scientific American I explore how speeding up economic growth can solve climate change. I argue: [F]aster economic growth provides the wherewithal to spur innovation and create cheaper and more efficient technologies. Swanson's Law is an example of increasing economies of scale: Every time global solar panel production capacity doubles, the price drops 20 percent. At the current rate of growth, electricity from solar panels will be cheaper than that produced by burning natural gas in less than a decade. Similarly, climate scientist James Hansen and his colleagues have urgently argued that there is "no credible path to climate stabilization that does not include a substantial role for nuclear power." A recent study published in PLoS ONE by Swedish and Australian researchers estimates that replacing all fossil fuel energy generation with nuclear power could be done in 25 to 34 years. Economic growth supplies the capital needed to fund the global no-carbon energy transformation, not mandates to deploy current, expensive, clunky versions of renewable energy and nuclear technologies. A Johnson/Weld administration is far more likely than either a Trump or Clinton adminstration to adopt just the sort of free market policies that would speed up economic growth and technological progress. As a second-best proposal for handling the open access commons problem of climate change, a revenue neutral carbon tax makes considerably more sense than the current mess of federal and state regulations and subsidies and taxes.[...]

EPA Says It Needs Eight More Years to Decide if Ethanol Mandate Is Bad for the Environment

Fri, 19 Aug 2016 17:15:00 -0400

The Environmental Protection Agency never submitted a report due to Congress in 2014 that might have shed light on the environmental problems with mandating the use of ethanol in gasoline. When the EPA's Inspector General pointed out this week that the study was nearly two years overdue, the EPA said they'll get around to finishing it—by 2024. Congress created the ethanol mandate in 2005, requiring the blending of corn-based biofuels into gasoline and diesel. A 2007 law expanding the scope of the mandate required the EPA to submit reports to Congress every three years detailing the consequences of that policy on air and water quality. After completing one such report in 2011, the EPA says it ran out of money and didn't have enough time to keep doing them. "Not having required reporting and studies impedes the EPA's ability to identify, consider, mitigate and make policymakers aware of any adverse impacts of renewable fuels," the EPA's Inspector General concluded in a report released Thursday. In a response to the inspector general's findings, the EPA says it will release an update to the 2011 report next year but won't have a full study completed until 2024. Unless you're a corn farmer or a politician who needs votes from corn farmers to get elected, there aren't many reasons to support the federal government's ethanol mandate. Burning ethnol doesn't reduce carbon emissions and the process of making the biofuel actually increases the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, as Reason's Ronald Bailey reported earlier today. Even so, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump support the Renewable Fuels Standards law that mandates the use of ethanol and other biofuels. In other words, these laws probably aren't going to change anytime soon, whether the EPA gets its reports done on time or not—although there were some encouraging signs for fans of reasonable ethanol policies in February when Ted Cruz won the Iowa caucuses while calling for a reduction in ethanol subsidies. While we wait for the EPA to discover how terrible the ethanol mandate has been for the environment (to say nothing of what it's done to the price of food, beer and just about anything else made with corn or transported within the United States) here's a look at what others have found. An Associated Press investigation published in 2013 found that federal ethanol policies drove up the price of corn and encouraged farmers to plant more of it. That touched off "a cascade of unintended consequences, including the elimination of millions of acres of conservation land." Since the 2007 expansion of federal ethanol mandates, farmers had planted 19 million new acres of corn, the AP found, including 6.5 million acres planted on land supposedly set aside for conservation. That's more than the land area of Yellowstone, Yosemite and Everglades National Parks, combined. "The consequences are so severe that environmentalists and many scientists have now rejected corn-based ethanol as bad environmental policy," the AP concluded. "But the Obama administration stands by it, highlighting its benefits to the farming industry." Ethanol isn't just bad for the land, it's bad for the air too. The switch from gasoline to ethanol-blended fuels has been linked to increased smog in some cities. Mark Jacobson, an environmental engineer at Stanford University, found that using ethanol adds 22 percent more hydrocarbons—the miniscule bad guys responsible for burning a hole in the planet's ozone layer—to the atmosphere than does burning gasoline. Environmental groups like The Sierra Club oppose the ethanol mandate because the carbon-heavy process of making ethanol cancels out any supposed greenhouse gas benefits from using it instead of gasoline and because of those pesky "unresolved direct and indirect environmental impacts." Craig Cox,[...]

The Nuclear War Over Climate Change

Fri, 05 Aug 2016 13:30:00 -0400

If you're concerned about climate change, it would be perverse to fight a technology that can supply copious quantities of no-carbon energy 24 hours a day—right? Well, when it comes to nuclear power, lots of leading environmental activists are indulging in just such perversion. For orthodox greens, the only untainted electrons are those jiggled free by sunlight or stirred by wind. One battle in this intra-green war just played out in New York State this week. The good news is that the eco-modernist supporters of nuclear power were strong enough to win. The bad news is that the plan they were fighting for will lead to more government meddling in energy markets. What happened? Unable to compete with heavily subsidized wind and solar power or electricity generated using cheap natural gas, the operators of four upstate New York nuclear reactors were planning to shut them down. Closing the plants would be a significant setback for Gov. Andrew Cuomo's ambitious plan to reduce the state's carbon dioxide emissions from the electric power sector. Currently the state gets 32 percent of its electricity from nuclear power, 19 percent from hydropower, 3 percent from wind, and 0.1 percent from solar. Burning natural gas currently generates about 41 percent of the state's electricity with the remainder from coal and oil. In order to forestall these nuclear shut-downs, state regulators decided this week to subsidize nuclear power plants at a rate of $500 million per year. The deal was announced by the state's Public Service Commission when it adopted a plan to mandate that 50 percent of the state's electricity be produced using renewable energy by 2030. Under the new Clean Energy Standards, each nuclear plant will be allocated zero emissions credits, which utilities must purchase when buying power from them. It is estimated that the credits will sell for about $17.48 per megawatt-hour of electricity. That money will go to the bottom lines of the plant's owners, Entergy and Exelon. Now everybody's a subsidized rent-seeker. The idea of subsidizing nuclear power plants sparked a furious round of recriminations among various environmental groups. For example, the Sierra Club opposed what it characterized as "massive ratepayer-funded subsidies to the nuclear power industry." The Alliance for a Green Economy organized a coalition of 112 activist groups, including Greenpeace, Food & Water Watch, Frack Action, and Upstate New York for Bernie Sanders, to sign an open letter arguing against the proposed nuclear subsidies. Spearheading the pro-nuclear green campaign was a new group, Environmental Progress. Founded by eco-modernist Michael Shellenbeger, Environmental Progress, unlike most dogmatic green groups, fully understands that poverty is the biggest threat to the integrity of the natural world. In its open letter to the Public Service Commission, Environmental Progress argued that the subsidies "embody a fair and equitable standard in treating nuclear power on a similar footing with other low-carbon sources." The letter added that the subsidies were "critical to safeguarding New York's low-carbon nuclear power, ensuring the security of the electricity supply, and meeting the state's decarbonization goals." New York State's electric power sector currently emits 30 million tons of carbon dioxide annually. If the four upstate nuclear power plants were to be replaced by natural gas plants, the state's annual carbon dioxide emissions would jump by 15.5 million tons, a 50 percent increase. The Environmental Progress letter was signed by several environmental heavy-hitters, including Whole Earth Catalog creator Stewart Brand, climate change crusader James Hansen, and a former president of the Missouri Botanical Garden, Peter Raven. So why can't these plants compete without subs[...]

Nuclear Warfare Between the Greens: New at Reason

Fri, 05 Aug 2016 13:30:00 -0400

(image) If you're concerned about climate change, it would be perverse to fight a technology that can supply copious quantities of no-carbon energy 24 hours a day—right? Well, when it comes to nuclear power, lots of leading environmental activists are indulging in just such perversion. For orthodox greens, the only untainted electrons are those jiggled free by sunlight or stirred by wind. One battle in this intra-green war just played out in New York State this week. The good news is that the eco-modernist supporters of nuclear power were strong enough to win. The bad news is that the plan they were fighting for will lead to more government meddling in energy markets.

Is Global Warming a Sign of the End Times?

Fri, 29 Jul 2016 17:41:00 -0400

(image) The folks over at the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication conducted a poll of 1,200 or so Americans regarding their religious and climate beliefs. It turns out that not insignficant percentages of Americans think that global warming is definitely or probably a sign of the approaching End Times Some Christians believe that various Millennarian prophecies are coming true now. Traditionally, the Apocalypse will be brought on by Four Horsemen: Famine, Pestilence, War, and Death. Yale pollsters report that about 14 percent of Americans believe that planetary warming may be a Fifth Horseman.

As the pollsters report:

For a significant number of Americans, the reality, causes and meaning of global warming are seen through the lens of their religious beliefs. Some reject the evidence that humans are causing global warming because they believe God controls the climate. Others believe that global warming is evidence that the world will be ending soon, and that we don't need to worry about global warming in light of the approaching apocalypse.


Go here to see the full report from the Yale program.

H/T Mark Osler.

Free Speech and Climate Fraud Prosecution Follies

Tue, 28 Jun 2016 11:35:00 -0400

Over the weekend, the Democratic Party platform included a climate change plank that "respectfully request(s) the Department of Justice investigate allegations of corporate fraud on the part of fossil fuel companies accused of misleading shareholders and the public on the scientific reality of climate change." This is in line with a set of Democratic state attorneys-general (AGs United for Clean Power) who are pursuing climate change fraud investigation against oil giant ExxonMobil. The allegedly motivating idea is that ExxonMobil possibly defrauded stockholders by not telling them about how projected climate change might damage its business prospects. One member of the global warming legal cabal is the particularly ambitious (and quite clueless) attorney-general for the U.S. Virgin Islands Claude Walker. Earlier this year, Walker issued a subpoena demanding that ExxonMobil turn over all records of any communications that the oil company may have had since 1977 with over 100 think tanks, advocacy organizations, and so forth. (The Reason Foundation that publishes this website was included in the subpoena dragnet.) Many of those organizations had expressed doubts about the significance of man-made global warming and the urgency of adopting policies to counter it. Walker clearly believes that such communications might provide evidence that oil company had orchestrated and paid for a conspiracy to mislead the public about the seriousness of climate change. In addition to the subpoena to ExxonMobil, the USVI attorney-general Claude Walker issued one to the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) demanding it provide "a decade's worth of communications, emails, statements, drafts, and other documents regarding CEI's work on climate change and energy policy, including private donor information. It demands that CEI produce these materials from 20 years ago, from 1997-2007, by April 30, 2016." CEI pushed back in federal court. The result is that Walker withdrew his subpoena, but said that he might file something similar in the future. CEI is arguing this week in DC Superior Court that the USVI pay for attorney's fees, court costs, and other sanctions. Claude wants CEI's lawsuit against him and his office dismissed, arguing that "CEI has wasted enough of VIDOJ's and the court's limited time and resources." CEI president Kent Lassman points out that CEI didn't start these legal proceedings, adding "Apparently Attorney General Walker believes that Constitutional abuses are are not worth the court's time. As if from a parallel universe where everything is reversed, Walker claims that CEI's motions in response to overreaching and abusive action initiated by his office are a waste of his time and resources.  An attorney general is neither above the law nor out of reach of the DC Superior Court." In the meantime, several Republican attorneys-general have sent a dear colleague letter to the "AGs United for Clean Power" cabal urging them to desist from abusing their prosecutorial powers to stifle free speech on the issue of climate change. They point out that if minimizing climate change is fraud, exaggeration of climate change is also fraud. If oil companies must disclose how projections of worsening climate change might affect their businesses to avoid fraud charges, so too must "clean energy" companies disclose how milder trends to higher temperatures could affect their future profits in order to avoid defrauding shareholders. In addition, the Republican AGs point out that both fossil fuel and clean energy companies provide funding to non-profits who share their viewpoints. "Under the stated theory for fraud, consumers and investors could suffer harm from misstatements by all energy-mark[...]

Climate Change Prediction Fail?

Fri, 17 Jun 2016 13:30:00 -0400

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing on June 10 and 11, 1986, to consider the problems of ozone depletion, the greenhouse effect, and climate change. The event featured testimony from numerous researchers who would go on to become major figures in the climate change debate. Among them was James Hansen, who was then a leading climate modeler with NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies and who has subsequently been hailed by the Worldwatch Institute as a "climate hero." When the Washington Post ran an article this week marking the 30th anniversary of those hearings, it found the old testimony "eerily familiar" to what climate scientists are saying today. As such, it behooves us to consider how well those 30-year-old predictions turned out. At the time, the Associated Press reported that Hansen "predicted that global temperatures should be nearly 2 degrees higher in 20 years" and "said the average U.S. temperature has risen from 1 to 2 degrees since 1958 and is predicted to increase an additional 3 or 4 degrees sometime between 2010 and 2020." These increases would occur due to "an expected doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide by 2040." UPI reported that Hansen had said "temperatures in the United States in the next decade will range from 0.5 degrees Celsius to 2 degrees higher than they were in 1958." Citing the AP report, one skeptical analyst reckoned that Hansen's predictions were off by a factor of 10. Interpreting a different baseline from the news reports, I concluded that Hansen's predictions had in fact barely passed his low-end threshold. Comments from unconvinced readers about my analysis provoked me to find and re-read Hansen's 1986 testimony. Combing through Hansen's actual testimony finds him pointing to a map showing "global warming in the 1990's as compared to 1958. The scale of warming is shown on the left-hand side. You can see that the warming in most of the United States is about 1/2 C degree to 1 C degree, the patched green color." Later in his testimony, Hansen noted that his institute's climate models projected that "in the region of the United States, the warming 30 years from now is about 1 1/2 degrees C, which is about 3 F." It is not clear from his testimony if the baseline year for the projected increase in temperature is 1958 or 1986, so we'll calculate both. In Hansen's written testimony, submitted at the hearing, he outlined two scenarios. Scenario A featured rapid increases in both atmospheric greenhouse gases and warming; Scenario B involved declining emissions of greenhouse gas and slower warming. "The warming in Scenario A at most mid-latitude Northern Hemisphere land areas such as the United States is typically 0.5 to 1.0 degree C (1-3 F degrees) for the decade 1990-2000 and 1-2 degree C (2-4 F degrees) for the decade 2010-2020," he wrote. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) offers a handy Climate at a Glance calculator that allows us to figure out what various temperatures trends have been for the U.S. since 1901 and the globe since 1881. So first, what did happen to U.S. temperatures between 1958 and 1986? Inputting January 1958 to January 1986 using a 12-month time scale, the NOAA calculator reports that there was a trend of exactly 0.0 F degrees per decade for that period. Curiously, one finds a significant divergence in the temperature trends depending on at which half of the year one examines. The temperature trend over last half of each of the 28 years considered here is -0.13 F degree per decade. In contrast, the trend for the first half of each year yields an upward trend of +0.29 F degrees. What happens when considering "global warming in the 1990'[...]