Topic: Energy and Environment

apoCOWlipto

According to a report out last week from the UN Food & Agricultural Organisation, the humble cow (all 1.5 billion of them) is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than all the world’s planes, trains, and automobiles combined.

If I have to choose between shutting down coal-powered power plants and cleansing the earth of cows, I’ll give up Mayor McCheese.  But would that mean another jihad - this time, with the Hindus?  Life is never easy …..

Dasgupta Corrected

I am deeply chagrined to see Brad DeLong take me to the woodshed for mischaracterizing one aspect of Prof. Parth Dasgupta’s criticism of the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change. 

Prof. Dasgupta does not criticize Stern’s use of a 0.1% discount rate (that’s Prof. William Nordhaus’ job) per se. He criticizes the use of that discount rate while simultaneously ignoring the difference in well-being between present and future generations. That was indeed the point of my post, but I inadvertently suggested that Prof. Dasgupta complaint resided in the discount rate. 

Mea culpa.

Brookings Panel on SCOTUS and Global Warming

On Monday, I participated in a panel discussion at the Brookings Institution on the Massachusetts v. EPA case. Other participants were Stuart Taylor; David Doniger of the Natural Resources Defense Council; David Sandalow of Brookings; science journalist Gregg Easterbrook; and environmental transaction lawyer Robert Reynolds (of Alston Bird). A transcript (uncorrected) of the discussion is available here. The discussion turned out to focus less on law, my particular expertise, than on environmental policy, but I found it worthwhile nonetheless. Note there is a discussion of Pat Michaels’ climatologist amicus brief for the EPA at the very end of the transcript, during the Q&A period: the “speakers” in the brief exchange over that brief are David Doniger and me.

Debbie Hammons for President!

I’m not kidding. Ms. Hammons, a Democratic state legislator from Worland, WY, this week made a bit of a splash in fly-over country by questioning a $2.2 million annual tax break for investors considering building a type of coal-gasification electricity plant in her state. 

“When is it an incentive and when is it a subsidy?” she asked. ”What if we create a false sense of commercialization?” 

It would appear from the press account that nobody there seems to have any idea exactly what she’s driving at.

Anyway, good questions, Rep. Hammons. Are you sure you’re in the right line of work?    

Get Toyota’s Hands Out of Your Wallet!

The president of Toyoto operations in North America, Jim Press, thinks that his giant auto company deserves U.S. taxpayer handouts. 

Actually, that’s not quite right. Toyota is already getting hefty subsidies from U.S. taxpayers courtesy of federal tax credits (up to $3,600) afforded to buyers of hybrid powered cars. The 2005 Energy Policy Act, however, limits the number of car buyers who can take advantage of the tax credit to 60,000. The act also cut back on the size of the credit for the Prius from $3,150 to $1,575 as of October 1. Other Toyota hybrids — such as the Camry — have seen tax credits reduced to $775–$1,300. 

Mr. Press said in a speech this week to the Electric Drive Transportation Association that it’s time for Uncle Sam’s stinginess to come to an end. ”By encouraging consumer support for a promising new technology, our government is supporting innovation and investing in our nation’s future.” 

Well, that’s one way of putting it. Another might be: “By subsidizing people who buy Toyota products — products manufactured by one of the largest privately held corporations in the world — our taxpayers are supporting Toyota employees and stockholders at a time when GM and Ford are on economic life support. Thank you America!”

President Bush, as you might expect, is all for this. If he’s ever said no to a corporate handout, it’s escaped my attention. The Congress, however, has been reluctant to inflate the corporate welfare checks any further — at least, so far. It will be interesting to see if all the red-faced populist rhetoric against Republican coziness with K-Street will have any bearing on how the Democrats deal with Toyota’s demand for even bigger and more obnoxious handouts.

Look, I have nothing against hybrid powered cars. There are even a number of Cato staffers who drive them. It’s just that, personally, I don’t like being forced to pay for someone else’s car. But that’s just me.  

It’s Official - Economists Think Stern’s Nuts

In this month’s issue of the Economists’ Voice, Robert Whaples, chair of the economics department at Wake Forest, reports on a survey he recently conducted in which he sent questionnaires to 210 Ph.D. economists randomly selected from the American Economic Association.  His charge: to find out how much disagreement there is within the profession and a number of high profile public policy issues.

What did his respondents have to say about the impact that global warming will have on the economy? 

  • 19.6% agreed with the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, that is, that U.S. GDP per capita would be reduced by 5% or more by the end of the 21st century if the world did nothing to address industrial greenhouse gas emissions;
  • 35.7% believed that warming would reduce U.S. GDP by less than 1% and may even increase it up to 1%!;
  • 21.4% agreed with Yale economist William Nordhaus in that U.S. GDP losses would be somewhere between 1-5%;
  • 16.1% believed that U.S. GDP would increase by 1-5% as a consequence of warming; and
  • 7.1% though U.S. GDP would increase by more than 5% because of warming!

In short, the number of economists who thought global warming would improve the U.S. economy outnumbered the number of economists who thought that global warming would harm the economy to the extent feared by the Stern Review.

Will those who demand that we bow down to the consensus of scientific opinion likewise demand the same regarding the consensus of economic opinion?  Not bloody likely.

Sen. Richard Lugar: Public Menace

Representatives of NATO are in Latvia this week to talk about the alliance. But no international gathering is safe from the careful eye of Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN). On the eve of the NATO meeting, Lugar gave a speech at conference sponsored by the German Marshall Fund arguing that NATO must be capable of responding if producing states use energy “as a weapon” to cut supplies to NATO members.

Now, think about this for a minute. Lugar is implying that if A decides not to sell to B, then B has the right to shoot A in the head. If A decides to sell less to B than B might like, B is apparently also justified in shooting A in the head.

Sometimes, however, military retaliation might be a bit over the top – even for Sen. Lugar. In those cases, Sen. Lugar proposes that consumers diversify their sources of supply as a preventative measure. Apparently, this would never occur to market actors. This would only occur to United States Senators.

And now, let’s toast the new Democratic majority in the Senate ….