Topic: Energy and Environment

Be Careful What You Wish For…

A couple of people over recent days have asked my opinion on the prospects for reform of agriculture policy should Democrats take over the House and/or the Senate. My usual reply is to lament the depressingly bipartisan nature of support for farm subsidies and trade barriers, and to also point out that the recent farm bill (implemented by a Republican congress) has been one of the most expensive in history: $23 billion last year. In a nutshell, I had thought that the prospects for reform could not be any worse under the Democrats than under Republicans.

It turns out that I may be wrong (yes, it happens occasionally). In a recent press release from Texas A&M University, the ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee (and probable chairman of that committee should the Democrats regain the majority in the House), Colin Peterson (D-MN) seems to support extension of the current farm bill, egregious though it is, but with yet more pork added.

Rep. Peterson would implement permanent crop disaster relief (I have blogged on this idea previously), and was indirectly quoted as calling renewable energy derived from crops ”the most exciting development in agriculture in his lifetime.”

Rep. Peterson does seem to have a point about the scope for the addition of expensive and agriculture-irrelevant rider amendments to ad-hoc disaster relief bills, but describing a permanent disaster relief program as a way to “save taxpayer dollars” is disingenuous, to say the least.

Rep. Peterson seems to have no truck with the idea that agriculture should contribute to deficit reduction, either: “I reject the idea that because we have a $9 trillion deficit, we have to get rid of farm programs. We didn’t cause that problem. In fact, agriculture was the only government initiative that actually spent less than was projected, $13 billion less so far. Besides, if you got rid of all agriculture programs, it wouldn’t make a dent in the deficit. So we need to do what’s right for agriculture, and that’s where I’m coming from.”

On ethanol, which my colleague Jerry Taylor has blogged about here, Rep. Peterson wheeled out the old “foreign oil dependency” issue and put his full support behind investing significant resources (that’s your resources) into more research into bio-fuels, describing the profits that investors are making currently from ethanol as “obscene.”

You said it, sir.

Energy Markets for Thee, but Not for Me

OPEC’s announcement last Thursday to cut crude oil production by 1.2 million barrels prompted this gem from Energy Secretary Sam Bodman: ”We continue to believe that it is best for oil producers and consumers alike to allow free markets to determine issues of supply, demand and price.”  Hearing frank talk about the virtues of free markets in the energy sector is indeed refreshing.  Too bad Bodman doesn’t take his own rhetoric seriously.  Why should oil supply, demand, and price be left to market actors but not ethanol supply, demand, and price?  Or wind energy supply, demand, and price?  Or ad infinitum?

Simply put, this administration believes that politicians should dictate energy choices, not markets.  Otherwise, we wouldn’t have “Freedom Car” initiatives, clean-coal technology programs, massive new subsidies for nuclear power plant construction, or any of the political madness surrounding ethanol.

OPEC should tell Bodman they’ll embrace markets as soon as Bush does likewise. 

The Global Warming Cult

Debra Saunders of the San Francisco Chronicle penned a spot-on essay the other day regarding the manner in which the warming crowd has donned the trappings of a religious cult.  The true faith has even managed to claim a large number of scientists who one might think would resist the rather unscientific nature of this particular belief system.  Her opening paragraph sets the tone:

GLOBAL WARMING is a religion, not science. That’s why acolytes in the media attack global-warming critics, not with scientific arguments, but for their apostasy. Then they laud global-warming believers, not for reducing greenhouse gases, but simply for believing global warming is a coming catastrophe caused by man. The important thing is to have faith in those who warn: The End Is Near.

Unfortunately, the media is largely blind to the increasing weirdness of the debate and seems to have signed on as PR operatives for the New Church of the Earth Redeemed.

This is a theme I’ve hammered on before in these pages, but Saunders does a better job than I have highlighting the rather unscientific demeanor of our self-proclaimed guardians of scientific truth.  Worth reading.

The Kyoto Charade

One of the things I keep trying to hammer home to the media is the extent to which legislative promises to meet environmental goal X sometime in the future have almost always been, and likely always will be, meaningless blather

The reason is simple. Voters love promises to accomplish wonderful things, but they don’t love burdensome policies to secure those wonderful things. Because the public’s attention span is quite limited to say the least, loud and vigorous promises to slay environmental dragons will harvest political capital while subsequent failure to actually slay those dragons will go relatively unnoticed and cost politicians little. 

More data confirming that insight (reported in Platt’s, subscription required) came our way yesterday courtesy of Cap Gemini, a global consulting firm. European greenhouse gas emissions rose 0.4 percent in 2005 despite the fact that meeting European obligations under the Kyoto Protocol requires emissions to decline 0.3 percent per annum from 1990 through 2012. According to Cap Gemini, Europe is 300 million metric tons of CO2 away from meeting its treaty obligations, which means that it is ”highly unlikely” (Cap Gemini’s words) that European obligations under Kyoto will be met. 

Examination of the emissions data over time reveals that the Protocol is having no detectable impact on European emission trends. Greenhouse gases come primarily from fossil fuels, which means that unless fossil fuels become very expensive via taxation or regulation, emissions will remain unaffected. European governments, however, lack the stomach to inflate the heck out of fossil fuel prices because the public has no appetite for such a thing. A poll conducted a few months ago (EUObserver.com, subscription required) for the European Commission, for instance, found that 59 percent of those (notoriously Green) Europeans surveyed were not “prepared to pay more for energy produced from renewable sources than for energy produced from other sources.”

Why do environmentalists put up with this political charade? I’ve been asking that of environmental leaders of late, and as best as I can tell, they tolerate this kind of duplicity from their political champions because they fear that the charade is the best they can hope for at present. Better that politicians pretend to be doing something important while actually doing something quite inconsequential than for politicians to tell the Greens to get lost altogether.  

Maybe so, but the environmental lobbyists are probably hurting their own cause in the process. After all, if the public thinks that meaningful and low-cost things are being accomplished to address warming today, they will be less inclined to support far more costly programs to do the same tomorrow.  

Fine with us.     

The Global Warming Debate is Over? It’s NEVER Over!

When you hear scientists declaring “the debate is over” about industrial emissions and their relationship to global warming, you are essentially hearing a radically anti-science argument. That, at least, is the bracing contention of Prof. Michael Shaughnessy in an essay just posted this morning for WorldNet Daily. An excerpt:

For honest, truth-seeking scientists, vigorous debate over scientific ideas is never really over. Scientists are supposed to seek truth first, as indicated by the scientific data collected. The pursuit of truth and data is never supposed to end for the scientist. The declaration that the global warming debate is over says more about global warming proponents’ agenda than it does about the science of global warming.

Economic Reporting

Notes from the Business section of Tuesday’s Washington Post: There’s some evidence in the lead story that both politicians and journalists do learn economics. Writing about the award of the Nobel Prize in economics to Edmund Phelps, reporter Nell Henderson writes:

In a series of papers in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Phelps, 73, challenged the prevailing belief that policymakers could lower the nation’s long-term unemployment rate by accepting higher inflation.

That misguided notion contributed ruinously to Federal Reserve policies of the 1970s, which allowed easy credit to fan inflation to double-digit levels. The result was high inflation and high unemployment, a combination that came to be called stagflation.

Free-market economists often bemoan misguided economic assumptions in newspapers, not to mention bad policies promulgated by politicians, and they despair of getting basic economic concepts understood. But here’s a reporter who understands the failure of Phillips Curve economics in the 1970s, writing about a Federal Reserve that also came to understand that failure.

Inside the section, Vickie Elmer writes that “Some 77 percent of government workers say they’re happy at work, compared with 70 percent of those who work in private enterprise.” She offers some speculation about why that might be, including the fact that government agencies are hiring (but private-sector employment is also growing). What she doesn’t mention is that it could be because federal employees make exactly twice as much money as private-sector workers, as Chris Edwards wrote in the Post recently.

Finally, another story by Steven Mufson is headlined “Suspicion Surrounds Retreat in Gas Prices, Poll Finds.” It may actually be good news that according to the poll, only 30 percent of Americans think that gas prices are falling because the Bush administration is manipulating them in advance of the election. Last week Jerry Taylor praised Mufson’s previous story reviewing and deflating this conspiracy theory. It’s too bad that the idea is still alive.

The Sun: Attracting Global Warming Complaints?

Would you believe the sun’s magnetic field is a culprit? 

According to a new study from the Danish National Space Center, cosmic rays created by the explosions of distant stars play an important role in cloud formation in the earth’s lower atmosphere. Those clouds have a cooling effect on the planet. The sun’s magnetic field, however, interferes with this process to some degree, and that field has doubled for some reason in the 20th century. 

According to the Space Center’s website:

The resulting reduction in cloudiness, especially of low-altitude clouds, may be a significant factor in the global warming Earth has undergone during the last century.

Grist for the mill. I’m sure it will only be a matter of time, however, before someone claims that the Danish National Space Center is secretly on the Exxon take.