Topic: Energy and Environment

Highways and the Federal Gas Tax

Another day, another news article supportive of raising the federal gas tax. This time it’s the Wall Street Journal. The article notes that there is strong public opposition to raising gas taxes, but then proceeds to give us the arguments in favor of it, but none against. So for the next reporter writing about raising the gas tax, here are some policy reasons against it.

Let me zero in on two points made by the Journal story.

First, it says, “elected officials from both parties are treading into the debate cautiously, framing the issue around improving highway safety and local economies by repairing a growing backlog of troubled roads and bridges.”

I don’t think that’s true about a “growing backlog.” In fact, our highways and bridges appear to be improving, not getting more “troubled.” Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) data show that of the nation’s 600,000 bridges, the share that is “structurally deficient” has fallen from 22 percent in 1992 to 10 percent in 2013. The share that is “functionally obsolete” has also fallen.

Meanwhile, the surface quality of the interstate highways has steadily improved. A study by Federal Reserve economists examining FHWA data found that “since the mid-1990s, our nation’s interstate highways have become indisputably smoother and less deteriorated.” And they concluded that the Interstate system is “in good shape relative to its past condition.”

The Journal says, “The federal levy … has stood at 18.4 cents a gallon since the first year of the Clinton administration, despite multiple proposals over the years to raise it. Over the past decade, Congress has approved higher spending for highway construction but hasn’t raised the tax to pay for it, creating periodic funding crises.”

It’s true that Congress has not raised the gas tax recently, but that’s because the American people have been consistently against it in polls. The problem is that Congress has gone ahead and jacked up spending anyway. So we don’t have a “funding” crisis, but a “spending” crisis.

Gas tax supporters say that it is time to raise the tax because it has not been raised in two decades. What they leave out of the story is that the gas tax rate more than quadrupled between 1982 and 1994 from 4 cents per gallon to 18.4 cents, as shown in the chart below the jump. Thus, looking at the whole period since 1982, federal gas tax revenues have risen at a robust annual average rate of 6.1 percent (based on Tax Foundation data). So, again, we have a spending crisis, not a funding crisis.

You Ought to Have A Look: Carbon Tax, Carbon Tax, Carbon Tax

You Ought to Have a Look is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science posted by Patrick J. Michaels and Paul C. (“Chip”) Knappenberger. While this section will feature all of the areas of interest that we are emphasizing, the prominence of the climate issue is driving a tremendous amount of web traffic. Here we post a few of the best in recent days, along with our color commentary.

As you may have guessed from the title of this post, this week we call attention to a few articles around the web examining the common sense behind a tax on carbon. It turns out there is none.

From time to time, there is a pitch made to conservatives that a “revenue neutral” carbon tax would be a win-win for everyone. It would help mitigate climate change while at the same time spur economic activity. Even if you don’t care about the former, you’re bound to like the latter. Or vice versa.

To try to win some new carbon tax recruits in the incoming Republican-led Congress, two recent high profile articles—one in the Washington Post by one-time Obama economic adviser Larry Summer and the other on National Review Online by the Hudson Institute’s Irwin Stelzer—make that argument, with embellishments.

If a carbon tax sounds too good to be true, then your intuition is correct.

Robert Murphy, an economist for the Institute for Energy Research, provides the technical details, collected from the economic literature, as to why the economic gains don’t actually come along with a carbon tax as they are being promised. In his National Review Online article “Taxing Carbon Won’t Help the Economy,” Murphy rebuts many of Stelzer’s claims. Ultimately, he delivers this sage advice:

Final Hurdle to Keystone XL Pipeline Decision Lifted

Today, the Nebraska Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling and held that the power to approve a route for the Keystone XL pipeline through the state lay with the governor. Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman had previously approved the pipeline’s route, but his authority was challenged by a group of landowners (pipeline opponents) who claimed the authoritative power was held by the state’s Public Service Commission rather than the governor.

President Obama repeatedly referred to this pending decision as the reason why he could not made a final decision on whether to approve or deny the pipeline. As recently as earlier this week, when indicating the president would veto a measure to approve the pipeline that is currently making its way through Congress, Obama press secretary Josh Earnest referred to a  “well-established process in place” for making such decisions. The Nebraska case was the last remaining part of that process, as the State Department has already given the pipeline a clean bill of environmental health.

As for the president himself, in delivering his Climate Action Plan back in the summer of 2013, he said:

I do want to be clear: Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest. And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward. It’s relevant.

Odd that he should say that in June of 2013 when a month earlier, in May of 2013, I testified before Congress as to that climate math of the Keystone XL pipeline and found its effect on our climate was inconsequential, resulting in less than 1/100th of a degree of warming by the end of this century. Case closed.

Before the Nebraska decision, Congress was preparing to send legislation to the president’s desk that would wrest the decision from the State Department. But now that the Nebraska court decision has been handed down, Obama can steal the thunder for himself and simply grant approval to the pipeline.

And, who knows, with today’s oil economics, perhaps the pipeline will not be built, and the president can have his cake and eat it too.

You Ought to Have A Look: Examples of Real-world Realities vs. Naïve Thinking

You Ought to Have a Look is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science posted by Patrick J. Michaels and Paul C. (“Chip”) Knappenberger. While this section will feature all of the areas of interest that we are emphasizing, the prominence of the climate issue is driving a tremendous amount of web traffic. Here we post a few of the best in recent days, along with our color commentary.

In his article “Hot Stuff, Cold Logic” from the January/February 2015 issue of The American Interest, University of Sussex professor of economics Richard Tol takes us through the logical fallacies used to support arguments for aggressive regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel use in the name of mitigating climate change. These range from “if there is a human impact, it must be regulated,” to “future catastrophe awaits.” Tol effectively debunks these claims with historical examples.

Here is a taste:

Just as there is no logical or scientific basis for thinking that climate change is new, there is no self-evident reason to assume that the climate of the past is “better” than the climate of the future. With just as little logic, we might assume that women’s rights, health care, or education were necessarily better in the past. Any such judgment also contradicts Hume’s Law and, perhaps worse, is grounded in a fallacious appeal to nature understood in a very slanted wy. There is no prima facie reason to assume that any given past climate was better than the prospective one. The climate of the 21st century may well be unprecedented in the history of human civilization; the number of people living in countries with free and fair elections is unprecedented, too. So what? “Unprecedented” is not a synonym for “bad.”

Scientist/political scientist Roger Pielke Jr. recently announced that Tol’s article topped his list of the Top 5 Climate Essays of 2014. If Tol’s name seems familiar, recall that back in 2013 he made headlines by withdrawing from the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), deriding their irrational negativity. Tol frequently points out (and does so in this essay), that the costs incurred by moderate climate change are equivalent to (or perhaps even less than) the costs associated with trying to mitigate it—a point of view that the IPCC and many others do not want to admit.

While we may not agree with everything in Tol’s most recent analysis, there is a lot of good stuff in the article and you ought to have a look to see why he believes that “politically correct climate change orthodoxy has completely destroyed our ability to think rationally about the environment.”

Along the same lines—that overly simplistic logic leads to incorrect conclusions—is a piece by Georgetown University’s Arik Levinson for the National Bureau of Economic Research. In his study “How Much Energy Do Building Energy Codes Really Save? Evidence from California,” Levinson describes the results of his look into the effect of efficiency standards on residential energy usage.

Response to Heat Stress in the United States: Are More Dying or Are More Adapting?

One of the concerns expressed by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) with respect to the potential impacts of CO2-induced global warming is an increase in the number of heat related deaths, which they predict should occur in response to enhanced summertime temperature variability and more extreme heat waves, particularly among the elderly.

Is this really the case? A new paper published by Bobb et al. (2014) in the scientific journal Environmental Health Perspectives provides an answer. 

In prefacing their work the team of four U.S. researchers writes “increasing temperatures are anticipated to have profound health impacts,” but they say “little is known about the extent to which the population may be adapting.” Therefore, they decided to examine “the hypothesis that if adaptation is occurring, then heat-related mortality would be deceasing over time.”

To accomplish this objective, Bobb et al. used “a national database of daily weather, air pollution, and age-stratified mortality rates for 105 U.S. cities (covering 106 million people) during the summers of 1987-2005,” employing “time-varying coefficient regression models and Bayesian hierarchical models” to estimate “city-specific, regional, and national temporal trends in heat-related mortality and to identify factors that might explain variation across cities.”

With respect to their findings, Bobb et al. state “on average across cities, the number of deaths (per 1,000 deaths) attributable to each 10°F increase in same-day temperature decreased from 51 in 1987 to 19 in 2005” (see Figure 1). Furthermore, they report “this decline was largest among those ≥ 75 years of age, in northern regions, and in cities with cooler climates.”  In addition, they write “although central air conditioning (AC) prevalence has increased, we did not find statistically significant evidence of larger temporal declines among cities with larger increases in AC prevalence.”

Figure 1. The number of excess U.S. deaths (per 1,000) attributable to each 10°F increase in the same day’s summer temperature over the period 1987 to 2005. Adapted from Bobb et al. (2014).

Figure 1. The number of excess U.S. deaths (per 1,000) attributable to each 10°F increase in the same day’s summer temperature over the period 1987 to 2005. Adapted from Bobb et al. (2014).

Based on these findings, Bobb et al. conclude the U.S. population has, “become more resilient to heat over time”—in this case from 1987 to 2005—led by the country’s astute senior citizens. This discovery, coupled with many other similar findings from all across the world (Idso et al., 2014), adds yet another nail in the coffin of failed IPCC projections of increased heat related mortality in response to the so-called unprecedented warming of the past few decades. Perhaps it is high time for all the other apocalyptic projections of the global warming movement to be removed from life support, as they are each equally failing in comparisons with real world data.

References

Bobb, J.F., Peng, R.D., Bell, M.L. and Dominici, F. 2014. Heat-related mortality and adaptation to heat in the United States. Environmental Health Perspectives 122: 811-816.

Idso, C.D, Idso, S.B., Carter, R.M. and Singer, S.F. (Eds.) 2014. Climate Change Reconsidered II: Biological Impacts. Chicago, IL: The Heartland Institute.

Global Warming and World Food Security

In a recent study to come out of China, Liu et al. (2014) write “food security under the changing climate is a great challenge for the world,” noting it has been stated by Porter et al. (2014) in the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report that “the negative impact of global climate warming on crop yield is more common than the positive impact according to the data from the past fifty years.”

That’s not true. Crop yields continue to rise, to the consternation of many, at the exact same rate that they have been rising at since the end of World War II. Even more telling, Liu et al. report studies based on historical data for the past several centuries suggest just the opposite, i.e. that “climate warming is good for crop harvests while climate cooling is bad for crop harvests in the world’s main crop production areas such as Europe (Braudel, 1992; Parker and Smith, 1997; Holopainen and Helama, 2009; Zhang et al., 2011) and China (Zhang, 1996; Ge, 2010; Su et al., 2014) in the temperate region.” They conclude “the current lengths of studies used to evaluate climate impacts on agriculture are too short to detect long-term trends.”

In making their case, the five Chinese scientists employed proxy data-based climate reconstructions that indicate that the Sui dynasty (581-618 AD) and Tang dynasty (618-907 AD) had warm climates comparable with the present, citing in this regard the study of Ge et al. (2003) that shows a strong periodicity in China temperatures. They additionally note that within this primarily warm climate regime, there were imbedded temperature variations—with cooling segments of inter-annual, multiple-decade and century-scale magnitude—which enabled them to assess crop yield responses to both heating and cooling from information provided about food availability in numerous historical documents that have been brought together in several historical compilations that deal with various aspects of China’s past, including Wang (1955), Wei et al. (1973), Li (1974), Liu (1975), Ouyang et al. (1975), Sima (1975), Dong (1985), Wang et al. (1985) and Song (2008). What did they thereby discover?

You Ought to Have A Look: Poor Climate Models, Ethics and Climate Policy, New White House Guidelines

You Ought to Have a Look is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science posted by Patrick J. Michaels and Paul C. (“Chip”) Knappenberger. While this section will feature all of the areas of interest that we are emphasizing, the prominence of the climate issue is driving a tremendous amount of web traffic. Here we post a few of the best in recent days, along with our color commentary.

Here are a couple of items from around the web that caught our eye this week:

The first is an analysis of recent climate model performance undertaken by Steve McIntyre over at his now-famous “Climate Audit” blog. (Recall that McIntyre began his blog as a place to carefully examine—”audit”—the now infamous “hockeystick” representation of the earth’s surface temperature history of the past millennium or so.) In his latest post, McIntyre compares climate model predictions against real-world observations of the earth’s temperature over the past several decades—a task that is near and dear to our own hearts. (We have been in San Francisco this week at the annual fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union presenting a poster on a similar topic.)

McIntyre finds the discrepancy between models and reality to be “unprecedented” and described the results of his examination:

Equally noteworthy however—and of greater interest to [Climate Audit] readers where there has been more focus on model-observation discrepancy—is that the overheating discrepancy between models and surface temperatures in 2014 was the fourth highest in “recorded” history and that the 5 largest warm discrepancies have occurred in the past 6 years.  The cumulative discrepancy between models and observations is far beyond any previous precedent. This is true for both surface and satellite comparisons.

If this all sounds familiar, it’s because we reached a similar conclusion ourselves in our recent post, “Record Global Temperature—Conflicting Reports, Contrasting Implications,” where we noted:

For the past 16 straight years, climate models have collectively projected more warming than has been observed.