Topic: Energy and Environment

The Left vs. Conservation

I was on NPR’s “News & Notes with Ed Gordon” today to discuss gasoline prices with Julianne Malveaux. It was a rather bizarre experience. Apparently, the Left is of many, many minds when it comes to energy conservation—and all of those minds seem to coexist in the same head.

On the one hand, Dr. Malveaux was quite adamant that we need to “incentivize people” (her phrase) to use mass transit. But, on the other hand, she was equally adamant that gasoline prices were too high and had to be brought down by hook or crook.

Question 1: Wouldn’t increasing the marginal cost of driving provide the most powerful incentive for people to use mass transit?

Question 2: Wouldn’t decreases in marginal driving costs reduce the incentive people would have to use mass transit?

I tried to press her on those points but couldn’t get a straight or even understandable answer out of her.

When I tried to point out that how much people spend on gasoline is largely under their control and that high gasoline costs will do more to encourage conservation than anything government could do, I was treated to a rather loud rant about why most people had no option but to keep buying gas and that only ivory tower, doctrinaire Cato types would ever believe to the contrary.

Now, this is really something. Up until recently, environmentalists and conservationists have gone on at quite some length about how people can and should conserve energy. When I took a page from that book and suggested that people could sell their SUVs, pickups, and luxury sedans for more fuel efficient cars, I was told that this would be too expensive for working Americans to even consider (huh?). When I suggested that people could move closer to work or to mass transit hubs if they wanted to cut their commute costs, I was accused of crazy talk. When I suggested that car-pooling is always possible for those who don’t want to pick up stakes, I was informed that this is yet more crazy talk. When I suggested that people may want to rethink how often and how far they drive around town on errands or the nature of their summertime vacations, I was accused of peddling nonsense. When I argued that high gasoline prices are actually something that conservationists and environmentalists should embrace, I was dismissed as a nutcase.

Apparently, all that talk about conservation from the Left was smoke. It’s actually an impossible task, quite beyond the capabilities of mere mortals.

Republican Lunacy on Energy

My colleague Peter Van Doren and I wrote an op-ed that was published this morning at National Review Online that rips the GOP for their ideas regarding energy policy. Just when you think the Republicans can’t get any worse, they manage to surprise.

For those tired of all the populist hysteria surrounding gasoline prices, we’ve also got a piece in the Investor’s Business Daily today (subscription only) that presents data on what we term “the hardship price” of fuel. We looked at gasoline prices from 1949 to the present and adjusted for inflation and changes in per capita disposable income. In essence, we ask: How long would a person have to work to pay for a gallon of gasoline today compared to any other year over the past 57? Turns out that gasoline at the moment is less expensive by that metric than it has been during most years over that time. A very nice graphic is provided with the piece.
We’ll have the IBD piece on the Cato website soon.

Oil Unbound

There is a lot of worry in the public domain these days about whether we might be running out of oil.  That shouldn’t surprise - every time the oil industry goes through a boom cycle (and there have been six such price booms since the creation of the industry in the late 19th century), industry analysts and resource prognosticators have warned that, this time, the lights are truly going out. 

The worry, however, is overly broad.  There is virtually no limit to the amount of hydrocarbons available to the economy.  It has been estimated, for instance, that the amount of oil that we could theoretically extract from shale rock in the western United States is about three times as great as the proved reserves of oil in Saudi oil.  Other unconventional sources of oil such as tar sands (now being exploited with gusto in Alberta) promise even more.

But unconventional oil is expensive.  The reason it’s not exploited very aggressively at the moment is that conventional oil is still less expensive to deliver to market.  If conventional oil continues to increase in price - or if the technology related to unconventional oil extraction improves - that might change.

Worries about the depletion of conventional oil - and light crude oil in particular - are better grounded.  But how much better?

To worry about the future availability of light crude is to worry about the future availability of Persian Gulf crude oil in general and Saudi crude oil in particular.  If Saudi fields are running dry, then worries about conventional crude are probably well placed.  If not, then they probably aren’t.

The most credible analyst who’s made the argument that Saudi reserves are overstated and that Saudi Aramco is near a production plateau is Matthew Simmons, author of Twilight in the Desert.  The most impressive criticism of Simmons’ arguments come from energy economist Michael Lynch, who maintains that Saudi production is not even close to reaching its peak. 

Time will tell soon enough who’s right (I’d bet on Lynch), but in the meantime, a new report out today about Arab investments underway in the oil sector suggests that someone forgot to tell OPEC that the wells are running dry.  Of course, one might argue that all that money is necessary just to maintain current production levels.  Maybe - but the increasing production figures coming out of OPEC aren’t figments of the imagination.

No Courage Behind Global Warming Convictions

The House is expected to vote as early as Wednesday on a resolution that decries the dangerous threat posed by rising industrial greenhouse gas emissions. The resolution calls for an emissions cap on greenhouse gases as long as (i) the cap doesn’t harm the U.S. economy, and (ii) U.S. trading partners agree to live under a similar cap.

While the Greens are quite exited that the GOP seems prepared to go along with this, these things are called “resolutions” for a reason - they echo promises made on New Year’s Eve. In short, it’s nothing but a statement that the Congress thinks that this would be a good idea, but that they are unprepared (at the moment) to do anything about it.

Does this represent progress for the enviros? Not really. Show me an emissions cap that won’t have a negative effect on the economy and I’ll show you an alterantive reality where up is down, black is white, and rivers are made of liquid chocolate. Now, depending upon the nature of the cap and the regulations attached thereto, the negative economic impact might be very modest or rather signficant. But ruling out caps that have any negative economic impact is to essentially rule out a cap.

Frank O’Donnell, head of the Left’s Clean Air Watch, was not too far off the mark when he was quoted in the subscription trade journal Energy & Environment Daily this morning as noting that “The way [the resolution] is worded, you’d have to be a kook to be opposed to it.” Indeed, who would object to what is in effect an insurance policy with no premium?

If the Greens really think that global warming is serious, they are demonstrating both political and intellectual cowardice by backing pablum like this. All this resolution would accomplish is to allow politicians to claim environmental virtue from empty political gestures.

So why would the enviros provide an easy out for politicians who want to appear Green but not do anything real to advance the Green agenda? Because it’s the best the enviros can do right now. That speaks volumes. This is a resolution that advertises Green political weakness, not Green political strength.

The resolution, then, is pretty meaningless. That having been said, you don’t have to be a “kook” to be skeptical about all the “doom, doom I say” hand-wringing that litters the resolution. That is, unless you think a Vice President of the U.N.’s oft cited International Panel on Climate Change is a kook. And if you do, what does that say about the merit of that much-worshiped body of scientific experts?

Caution: Supply and Demand at Work

According to a report released yesterday by the International Energy Agency, high oil prices are forcing analysts to make sweeping cuts in their forecasts regarding energy demand and substantially revise upward their forecasts regarding energy supply.  Apparently, producers and consumers aren’t the mindless economic zombies that politicians would have us believe.

Who knew this crazy invisible hand thing might be legit?

Energy Policy Hooch

It what might be the quote of the week, Bob Dinneen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association, warned the House Energy & Commerce Committee yesterday in an open hearing that removing the U.S. tarriff on Brazilian ethanol would send “a very negative signal to our marketplace.”

So there you have it.  According to the loony-fuels lobby, positive signals to the market = trade barriers and negative signals to the market = uninhibited global trade.  Say this stuff enough times and you too might be able to work for the renewable energy business.

Hollywood Ad Hominem

Over at the Huffington Post, enviro activist Laurie David complains today that the media is willing to give some ink to my colleague, Prof. Pat Michaels, on the issue of global warming. One of her main complaints is that Pat is nobody (scientifically speaking) and the fact that he has “(finally) gotten a paper published” does not qualify him as an expert.

And Laurie has published peer reviewed papers … where? Anyway, Prof. Laurie has nothing substantive to say about the arguments in the Michaels paper that sent her around the bend.

It’s truly a wondrous thing when Hollywood celebs with no scientific training feel free to attack the credentials of academics with Ph.Ds in their (momentary) field of interest. She did a similar smear-job on MIT Prof. Richard Lindzen. More such attacks are likely to come.

Regardless, Laurie’s ad hominem attack is bogus. Pat is in fact one of the most widely published climate change experts in the peer-reviewed literature. If she had ever bothered to actually read the U.N.’s “state of the science” IPCC reports she claims to have digested, she would have seen multiple references therein to his work.

But for the record, Pat’s peer-reviewed papers and presentations since 2000 follow:

Michaels, P. J., P. C. Knappenberger, and R E. Davis, 2006. Sea-surface temperatures and tropical cyclones in the Atlantic basin, Geophysical Research Letters, 33, L09708, doi:10.1029/2006GL025757.

Davis, R.E., Michaels, P.J., Knappenberger, P.C., 2006. Global warming and Atlantic hurricanes. 2006 Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers, Chicago, IL, March 7-11.

Michaels, P.J., Knappenberger, P.C., and C. Landsea, 2005. Comments on “Impacts of CO2-Induced Warming on Simulated Hurricane Intensity and Precipitation: Sensitivity to the Choice of Climate Model and Convective Scheme”. Journal of Climate, 18, 5179-5182.

Michaels, P.J., Knappenberger, P.C., and R.E. Davis, 2005. Sea surface temperature and tropical cyclone intensity: Breaking the paradigm, 15th Conference on Applied Climatology, American Meteorological Society, Paper No. 2.4, Savannah, GA, June 19-23.

Davis , R.E., Knappenberger, P.C., Michaels, P.J., and W.M. Novicoff, 2005. Changing Heat Wave Sensitivity in U.S. Cities, 15th Conference on Applied Climatology, American Meteorological Society, Paper No. 4.6, Savannah, GA, June 19-23.

Davis, R.E., Knappenberger, P.C., Michaels, P.J., and W.M. Novicoff, 2005. Evidence of Adaptation to Increasing Heat Wave Intensity and Duration in U.S. Cities. 17th International Congress on Biometeorology, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Bavaria, Germany, September 5-9.

Davis, R.E., Knappenberger, P.C., Michaels, P.J., and W.M. Novicoff, 2004. Changing Heatwave Mortality in U. S. cities. Proc. 14th Appl. Clim. Conf., Seattle, WA, paper no. J8.4.

Davis, R.E., Knappenberger, P.C., Michaels, P.J., and W.M. Novicoff, 2004. Seasonality of climate-human mortality relationships in U.S. cities and impacts of climate change. Climate Research, 26, 61-76.

Davis, R.E., Knappenberger, P.C., Michaels, P.J., and W.M. Novicoff, 2004. Heat Wave Mortality in Large U. S. cities. Proc. 16th Conf. Biometeorol. Aerobiol. and the 17th ISB Cong. Biometeor., Vancouver, British Columbia, WA, paper no. 6A.3.

Davis, R.E., Knappenberger, P.C., Novicoff, W.M., and P.J. Michaels, 2004. Presentation of “Davis, R.E., Knappenberger, P.C., Novicoff, W.M., and P.J. Michaels, 2003. Decadal changes in summer mortality in the U. S. cities, International Journal of Biometeorology, 47, 166-175,” to the Association of American Geographers in accepting the 2004 “Paper of the Year” award from the Climate Specialty Group.

Douglass, D.H., Pearson, B.D., Singer, S.F., Knappenberger, P.C., and P.J. Michaels, 2004. Disparity of tropospheric and surface temperature trends: New evidence. Geophysical Research Letters, 31, doi:10.1029/2004GL020212.

McKitrick, R., and P. J. Michaels. 2004. A Test of Corrections for Extraneous Signals in Gridded Surface Temperature Data. Climate Research, 26, 159-193.

Michaels, P.J., McKittrick, R., and P.S. Knappenberger, 2004. Economic Signals in Global Temperature Histories. 14th Appl. Clim. Conf., Seattle, WA, paper no. J1.1.

Michaels, P.J., Knappenberger, P.C., Frauenfeld, O.W., and R.E. Davis, 2004. Trends in Precipitation on the Wettest Days of the Year across the Contiguous United States. International Journal of Climatology, 24, 1873-1882.

Davis, R.E., Knappenberger, P.C., Novicoff, W.M., and P.J. Michaels, 2003. Decadal changes in summer mortality in the U. S. cities, International Journal of Biometeorology, 47, 166-175.

Davis, R.E., Knappenberger, P.C., Novicoff, W.M., and P.J. Michaels, 2003. Winter Mortality, Climate, and Climate Change in U.S. Cities. 37th Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society Congress, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

Davis, R.E., Knappenberger, P.C., Michaels, P.J., and W.M. Novicoff, 2003. Changing heat-related mortality in the United States. Environmental Health Perspectives, 111, 1712-1718.

Douglass, D.H., Clader, B.D., Christy, J.R., Michaels, P.J., and D.A. Belsley. 2003. Test for harmful collinearity among predictor variables used in modeling global temperature. Climate Research, 24, 15-18.

Davis, R.E., Knappenberger, P.C., Novicoff, W.M., and P.J. Michaels, 2002. On seasonal differences in weather-related mortality trends in the United States. Proc. 13th Appl. Clim. Conf., Portland, OR, 326–330.

Michaels, P.J., Knappenberger, P.C., Davis, R.E., and O.W. Frauenfeld, Rational analysis of trends in extreme temperature and precipitation, Proc. 13th Appl. Clim. Conf., Portland, OR, 153–158.

Davis, R.E., Knappenberger, P.C., Novicoff, W.M., and P.J. Michaels, 2002. Climate change adaptations: trends in human mortality responses to summer heat in the United States, Proc. 15th Conf. Biometeorol. Aerobiol. and the 16th ISB Cong. Biometeor., Kansas City, MO, Paper 9B.1.

Davis, R.E., Knappenberger, P.C., Novicoff, W.M., and P.J. Michaels, 2002. Spatial pattern of human mortality seasonality in U. S. cities since 1964, Proc. 15th Conf. Biometeorol. Aerobiol. and the 16th ISB Cong. Biometeor., Kansas City, MO, Paper 2B.2.

Davis, R.E., Knappenberger, P.C., Novicoff, W.M., and P.J. Michaels, 2002. Decadal changes in heat-related human mortality in the Eastern United States. Climate Research, 22, 175-184.

Michaels, P.J., Knappenberger, P.C., Frauenfeld, O.W., and R.E. Davis. 2002. Revised 21st century temperature projections. Climate Research, 23, 1-9.

Knappenberger, P.C., Michaels, P.J., and R.E. Davis, 2001. The nature of observed climate changes across the United States during the 20th century. Climate Research, 17, 45–53.

Michaels, P.J., Knappenberger, P.C., and R.E. Davis, 2001. Integrated Projections of Future Warming based Upon Observed Climate During the Attenuating Greenhouse Enhancement. Proceedings of the1st International Conference on Global Warming and The Next Ice Age, co-sponsored by the Atmospheric Science Program at Dalhousie University, the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society, the American Meteorological Society and the European Space Agency, 19-24 August, 2001, at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, pp.162–167.

Michaels, P.J., Knappenberger, P.C., Balling, R.C., and R.E. Davis, 2000. Observed Warming in Cold Anticyclones. Climate Research, 14, 1-6.

Balling R.C., MacCracken, M.C., Michaels, P.J., and A. Robock, 2000. Assessment of uncertainties of predicted global climate change modeling: Panel 1. Technology, 7, 231–256.

Michaels, P.J., and P.C. Knappenberger, 2000. Natural Signals in the MSU Lower Tropospheric Temperature Record. Geophysical Research Letters, 27, 2905–2908.

Davis, R.E., Knappenberger, P.C., Novicoff, W.M., and P.J. Michaels, 2000. Decadal Changes in Summer Mortality in the United States. Proceedings of the 12th Conference on Applied Climatology, Asheville, NC, 184–187.

Michaels, P.J., Knappenberger, P.C., Gawtry, S.D., and R.E. Davis, 2000. Anticyclonic Warming. Proceedings of the 12th Conference on Applied Climatology, Asheville, NC, 119–122.

Davis, R.E., Knappenberger, P.C., Novicoff, W.M., and P.J. Michaels, 2000. Decadal Shifts in Summer Weather/Mortality Relationships in the United States by Region, Demography, and Cause of Death. Proceedings of the 14th Conference on Biometeorology and Aerobiology, Davis, CA, 250–251.