Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Climate Code Red. The case against carbon trading

The global warming crisis is far worse than officially indicated says David Spratt the author of 'Climate Code Red' and Ted Nordhaus author of 'The Emerging Climate Consesnsus' and 'The Death of Environmentalism'.

David Spratt: "We face a climate EMERGENCY. At times of emergency you don't put a price in the market. 2 degrees celsius is enough for 5-10 metres of sea level rise. Enough to melt Greenland."

Ted Nordhause from the Breakthrough Institute in California agrees. "We need to directly invest in employing the technologies we need. The cap and trade is indirect. We are not going to achieve this by making dirty sources of energy more expensive. We need to make clean energy cheap." Nordhaus added that we need massive public investment in research and deployment; massive new infrastructure. Public monies should be employed due to the existence of what is termed the "Gordian Knot' - Because of the huge price gap between dirty and clean energy, if you raise the price of fossil fuels you get almost an immediate public reaction. . But if you don't raise the price enough you don't get the public converting to clean energy.

Norhaus says that solar thermal technology will be competitive with coal by 2013 and he claims that this development has been actively suppressed by Government.

David Spratt: "We can come up with money to save the banking system, but will we come up with money to save the planet?" "I do a lot of opinion research work. What Americans want is long, large investments in the health of the US economy, for example renewable technologies."

Thirty to fifty percent of GDP was spent on the Second World War. Why not employ a similar percent on this climate emergency? Historically the environment movement has focussed on regulating and restricting. This new requirement is to build a fundamentally new economy, says Nordhaus.

We cannot leave aside our own personal responsibilities in terms of growing food, using bicycles, conserving energy in the home.

The research I've done confirms Spratt's and Nordhaus' warnings. See references below.



Global warming: has the meltdown has begun?
Norm Dixon. Green Left Weekly. 9th June 2004
http://www.greenleft.org.au/2004/585/32365

Harvard Prof. John Holdren on “Global Climate Disruption: What do we know, what should we do?"”
Posted on Sunday, February 24, 2008
http://www.climatesciencewatch.org/index.php/csw/details/holdren_global_climate_disruption/

GLOBAL WARMING Reason for Alarm?
Article – June 29, 2006
Posted/Updated: 2008-04-17 10:39:04
http://www.realtruth.org/articles/443-gwrfa-print.html

Arctic Sea Ice Gone in Summer Within Five Years?
Seth Borenstein in Washington
Associated Press
December 12, 2007

Greenhouse gas 4 times higher than thought
Published October 24, 2008 09:04 AM
http://www.enn.com/top_stories/article/38482

Globalization Is Fueling Global Warming
By Les Leopold, AlterNet
Posted on December 28, 2007, Printed on February 6, 2009
http://www.alternet.org/story/71873/

4,500 year old ice shelf breaks away. 3rd September 2008
http://www.cnn.com/2008/TECH/science/09/03/arctic.ice.shelf.ap/

The Collapse of the Arctic Ice Shelf Could Mean the End of Life As We Know It
June 4, 2008 ·
http://earthfirst.com/the-collapse-of-the-arctic-ice-shelf-could-mean-the-end-of-life-as-we-know-it/

And many more articles


15 comments:

BruceMcF said...

Why except the absurd framing that they are alternatives?

As rapid as possible D&R of carbon free transport, housing and food production technologies (that is, putting the Development first and foremost), and a carbon fee imposed as far upstream as possible, are complements, not rivals.

Bruce Webb said...

Darn another Bruce snuck in and stole my thunder.

Between McFarland and Wilder I hardly get a chance. Ah always the bridesmaid, never the bride.

In fairness to Brenda there are people out there who are so besotted by the magic of the market, even on the left (cough, cough-Ezra, Matt-cough) that they seem to largely dismiss the approach of direct regulation and minimize that of direct investment and so frame everything as a choice between a carbon tax and cap and trade. But the fact that they have blinders on doesn't keep us from considering a combination of carrot and stick.

Peter Dorman said...

Brenda, it seems exactly the opposite to me: exactly because we face an emergency we need to set a strict limit on the amount of carbon fuels extracted and burned. Everything else is iffy.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

Brenda,

I am joining the chorus here. These are not substitutes. Up the R&D on the alternatives, but also put in place something to push existing sources of pollution to start moving away from doing so. There have been all sorts of debates about this, and the cap and trade is on the floor of the US Congress and what was put into Kyoto. One can argue about the details of it, and Peter D. prefers doing it at the front end, as does clearly Bruce M. (who is an Ozzie, last time I checked), and I agree that it should not be done sector by sector as the current US bill is proposing.

Keep in mind that cap and trade can be made to work. It has done pretty well for SO2 in the US, for which emissions are steadily declining. Much of this is a matter of political will to set caps that really bite, whether they are front end or back end. Cap and trade is ultimately a quantity control system, and if one wants to go the quantity control route, cap and trade is superior because it allows those who can reduce emissions the cheapest to be the ones to do so. One way to really kill support for environmentalism is to go around arbitrarily shutting down plants and laying people off in the middle of a recession that really do not need to be shut down to meet the quantity reduction desired.

In that regard, the real alternative is not some command and control quantity (or tech) system, but the carbon tax, which nobody around here is particularly pushing, although a wide range of economists from Mankiw to Stiglitz like. I am not a fan of it for a variety of reasons.

BTW, I think these forecasts of commercially viable solar by 2013 are probably overly optimistic, although it would be great if it happens. Certainly we should be pumping money into the R&D on that and some other clean alternatives. As you well know, I have for a long time said that if we are going to get serious about this, especially soon, biting the bullet on expanding nukes must be faced and done.

Brenda Rosser said...

In response to the points you raise above:

Bruce McF: "and a carbon fee imposed as far upstream as possible, are complements, not rivals"I agree. Impose a carbon fee (a tax) that is income-tested and use the money to immediately implement programs to key polluters more energy efficient and/or provide alternatives for those industries. Carbon trading is quite another thing, though. I don't see how such a system will help. Can you?

Bruce W: "the fact that they have blinders on doesn't keep us from considering a combination of carrot and stick. The objection I raised was against a 'cap and trade' system. I can see the usefulness of 'sticks'. Cap and trade is unlikely to work as a 'stick' however. The key industrial polluters are large TNCs and they have shown that they have infinite resources to fiddle while Rome burns, especially in a 'market'.

Peter: "it seems exactly the opposite to me: exactly because we face an emergency we need to set a strict limit on the amount of carbon fuels extracted and burned. Everything else is iffy. Setting 'strict limits on the amount of carbon fuels extracted' is not the same as 'cap and trade'. Does government have the resources to ensure greenhouse gas emission limits are strictly enforced? I don't believe so. Then it is much better for government to fund programs that are known to limit emissions.

Barkley: "I agree that it should not be done sector by sector as the current US bill is proposing." Precisely the problem with a cap and trade system. The immense room for the powerful players to fiddle the system.

"Much of this is a matter of political will to set caps that really bite." Once new energy-efficient housing and technology is in use the issue of 'political will' goes away. The essential job of government is to ensure that what means are available today (to avoid greenhouse emissions) are indeed employed. Cap and trade does not ensure this.

"cap and trade is superior because it allows those who can reduce emissions the cheapest to be the ones to do so." So far, the proposed cap and trade system has resulted in huge swathes of native and plantation forest to be burnt in huge infernos. Over and over again. Whilst the industry waits for a financial incentive to do the right thing. Cap and trade presumes that markets work. Huh!!
Cap and trade presumes that large powerful interests will act with integrity and that they won't have enormous financial incentive to hide their existing emissions and pretend that they have reduced them. Bottom line is that Government/citizens will have to go into the establishments and verify that emissions reductions are actually happening.

If a thief was offered a financial incentive to stop stealing sometime in the near future, how effective would that offer be in terms of putting an end to the act of theft?

"One way to really kill support for environmentalism is to go around arbitrarily shutting down plants and laying people off in the middle of a recession." One way to garner great support in a recession is to start using bailout money to go house to house insulating homes, handing over bicycles to citizens, constructing local organic gardens, ending the huge subsidies the US government pays to agribusiness and redirecting it to family farms etc. Stop subsidising energy guzzlers like Cargill and Co.

Don't you find it odd, Barkley, that the known, plentiful and cheap ways to reduce energy consumption are not being employed right now?

There are many many well informed commentators today who are saying that the technology exists now that allows the world to avoid the employment of nuclear power plants. It is very strange that nuclear power plants came into being in the first instance; particularly in the context of a notable refusal to employ energy-efficient technology and build appropriate types of housing.

It's almost as if the world was being run by the fossil fuel lobby.

Peter Dorman said...

Brenda, I think the confusion is to a large extent semantic. (I have raised this issue with Larry Lohmann and Patrick Bond, who have [justifiably] had a large influence on the thinking of "carbon dissidents".) The term "carbon trading" is used to mean several different things. Some use it to refer to creating a market in carbon offsets, which is, I agree, a very bad idea in both theory and practice. Others use it to refer to a system in which individual sectors, or even businesses, are given out "pollution permission slips", which they can then trade with one another. This is also a bad idea, and it comes fairly close to Waxman-Markey. What I advocate is requiring anyone who extracts oil, gas or coal in the US or who imports these fuels from abroad to have a permit, and to limit the number of permits. This would be easily enforced, since in fact there are just a handful of such producers/importers. Trading is a minor feature of such a system; you would want to allow people who buy, say, a coal extraction permit in March to sell it to someone else in August if they change their mind in the interim. That's about it for trading. The rest of us have to cut back on our emissions because there is that much less carbon fuels for us to burn. Period.

Calling this third approach, which is by far the simplest, most efficient, most easily enforced, most certain in its effects "carbon trading", and lumping it with offset scams and complex (easily gamed) emission trading schemes, is unhelpful.

From a political point of view, what makes a carbon fuel permit system sellable is the commitment to auction all the permits and to rebate the money back to the public, so we are not soaked when price increases are passed on to consumers -- which they will be.

Brenda Rosser said...

"you would want to allow people who buy, say, a coal extraction permit in March to sell it to someone else in August if they change their mind in the interim. That's about it for trading."Thanks for the clarification Peter.
I would suggest that a permit be issued for each instance a permit holder wishes to sell to someone else. Given, as you say, that there is a small number of producers/importers this should not entail any great administrative difficulty. Hopefully it will discourage the development of market madness.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

Brenda,

What are the available energy sources that are cheap? Solar is competitive for home heating and some other things, but is still prety far off for electricity production. This latter is the issue, what can replace coal and natural gas and oil for producing mass quantities of electricity?

Hydro is pretty much played out. It is clean in not producing air pollution of any sort, but the last big hydro project was widely denounced as an environmental disaster, Three Gorges in China.

The one alternative besides nuclear that is cheap enough is wind, and I am all for pushing it. But that one too also has lots of problems. Where I live, the most active environmentalists are against it because of its impacts on endangered bats and salamanders. Building in west Texas or other places on the plains involves building massive transmission lines over huge territories. There is already building opposition to such lines coming out of existing plants in Texas, to the point those plants have paid people to take their excess energy off their hands. I think offshore plants are the best option, but even there one runs into opposition, and fundamentally, even an optimistic scenario with all these problems being solved has huge amounts of land being used for really replacing coal, and few are suggesting in the US more than 20 percent of US electricity coming from wind.

I suggest other options are a lot more speculative, either limited to certain locales, such as geothermal, or not yet developed, like waves. The issue is, what to do now? What will China and India be willing to put in place, and they are not going to be interested at all in anything that is not cheap, and cheap now, not maybe ten years from now after a lot of R and D.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

Brenda,

What are the available energy sources that are cheap? Solar is competitive for home heating and some other things, but is still prety far off for electricity production. This latter is the issue, what can replace coal and natural gas and oil for producing mass quantities of electricity?

Hydro is pretty much played out. It is clean in not producing air pollution of any sort, but the last big hydro project was widely denounced as an environmental disaster, Three Gorges in China.

The one alternative besides nuclear that is cheap enough is wind, and I am all for pushing it. But that one too also has lots of problems. Where I live, the most active environmentalists are against it because of its impacts on endangered bats and salamanders. Building in west Texas or other places on the plains involves building massive transmission lines over huge territories. There is already building opposition to such lines coming out of existing plants in Texas, to the point those plants have paid people to take their excess energy off their hands. I think offshore plants are the best option, but even there one runs into opposition, and fundamentally, even an optimistic scenario with all these problems being solved has huge amounts of land being used for really replacing coal, and few are suggesting in the US more than 20 percent of US electricity coming from wind.

I suggest other options are a lot more speculative, either limited to certain locales, such as geothermal, or not yet developed, like waves. The issue is, what to do now? What will China and India be willing to put in place, and they are not going to be interested at all in anything that is not cheap, and cheap now, not maybe ten years from now after a lot of R and D.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

Brenda,
An additional minor point. I think your guy making the optimistic forecasts about solar is Nordhause. At times you say Nordhaus. There is a prominent economist at Yale named William Nordhaus who has written very extensively and very conventionally on global warming, some years ago doing a benefit-cost analysis that claimed that the optimal level of reduction was about 11 percent, although someone can correct me on that. He was also a major critic of Stern on his use of discount rates, supporting higher ones.

I have not dug into Nordhause s argument in detail, but timing is important, and also the assumed price of oil in 2013. At 200 dollars a barrel, maybe with the best tech outcomes. Otherwise, no way China or India will even look briefly, except for very special uses. Will keep building their coal fired plants for electricity, with the occasional nuke or hydro plant thrown in there from time to time.
Barkley

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

Brenda,
An additional minor point. I think your guy making the optimistic forecasts about solar is Nordhause. At times you say Nordhaus. There is a prominent economist at Yale named William Nordhaus who has written very extensively and very conventionally on global warming, some years ago doing a benefit-cost analysis that claimed that the optimal level of reduction was about 11 percent, although someone can correct me on that. He was also a major critic of Stern on his use of discount rates, supporting higher ones.

I have not dug into Nordhause s argument in detail, but timing is important, and also the assumed price of oil in 2013. At 200 dollars a barrel, maybe with the best tech outcomes. Otherwise, no way China or India will even look briefly, except for very special uses. Will keep building their coal fired plants for electricity, with the occasional nuke or hydro plant thrown in there from time to time.
Barkley

Brenda Rosser said...

Barkley: "what can replace coal and natural gas and oil for producing mass quantities of electricity?Can we exist without the production of mass quantities of electricity? Humanity managed to do this before.

What frightens me the most about our climate change crisis is that societies around the globe have been turned over to (what Lewis Mumford calls) the 'megamachine'. Everything is subordinated to incessant production.

My direct experience is that if a person were to withdraw from the 'production machine' it is possible to discover that a good life can be sustained with a minimal amount of energy use. Food can be grown locally. Diet can be changed to prolong life and for healing. Economic exchanges can be kept to a minimum. Nature can be sustained AND it can sustain, in turn. (does that sound hackneyed?)

What we have instead are a range of incongruous situations and behaviours. Bloated houses with many separate rooms that all 'need' heating. Workplaces that are 10 or 20 or even 1,000 kilometres away from where we live. Production systems that waste most of the earth's forests and ocean life. Shopping lists full of frivolous consumption of limited resources.

"Economic imperatives seek to impose the standardised measuring system of the market on the whole of human activity. Very large quantities take the place of the qualitative, but even quantity is rationed and economised. Myth is based on quality, ideology on quantity. Ideological saturation is an atomisation into small contradictory quantities which can no more avoid destroying one another than they can avoid being smashed by the qualitativ negativity of popular refusal. the quantitative and the linear are indisociable. A linear, measured time and a linear, measured life are the co-ordinates of survival; a succession of interchangeable instants. These lines are part of the confused geometry of Power."

'The Revolution of Everyday Life'
by Raoul Vaneigem. A translation from French of 'Traite de savoir-vivre a l'usage des jeunes generations' which was first published in 1967.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

Brenda,

While we would be better off with more locally grown ag, that is not the main problem here. The issue is electricity usage by urban people, who now constitute a majority of the world's population, a ratio that is simply going to keep on increasing. Actually, higher oil prices will help as it will push denser urban settlements that will be more energy efficient, especially regarding transportation. I think that area will improve, more mass transit and cars that use less gasoline and pollute less.

The problem remains electricity, with coal being the leading global source and with China and India building coal fired power plants like mad. In the US, thanks to SO2 cap and trade, now we are building natural gas ones that do not put out SO2, but still put out CO2. And if one makes a speech to Indian officials about how they should be cleaner in their electricity sources (and they are working on thorium reactors, really a serious hope for the future), they will give you a speech about the neeed to have rural electrification so women do not have to get sick and die from burning cow dung to feed their families. I am not kidding. I have heard this more than once.

Brenda Rosser said...

It's clear that the thrust of many governments is to continue to clear the rural landscape of people; to convert family and organic farming to the industrial agribusiness model and (in China) to further inculcate a car culture.

In Tasmania, one of Australia's last remnant of temperate rainforest, the Tarkine, is about to be burnt and logged more heavily than ever. This rainforest is not far from where I live. Bob Brown: "20% or so of Australia's greenhouse emissions coming from logging and clearance of forests and woodlands.

The key to solving the problem appears to be centred on finding a new form of governance, self and otherwise. Why don't the indian officials talk about solar cookers?

The dilemma posed by the existing level of urbanisation seems huge. But I don't think the problems are insurmountable. Nor do I think that a great expansion of the electricity grid is required. Knock down internal walls of residences and combine the living room with bedrooms. One room to heat only. Increase consumption of raw food (that is the enzyme-vitamin-rich healthier alternative anyway). Solar cookers. Wall and community gardens, etc.

The trouble with a sustainable way of life is that it doesn't fit the paradigm of a military-industrial economy. Most of the energy we use is going to and from work and energy used in alienated production systems.

Brenda Rosser said...

"The problem remains electricity, with coal being the leading global source and with China and India building coal fired power plants like mad.Advice from Theresa Brennan (now deceased):
*Move toward a "small business market economy" and make it dependent on "natural reproduction time". They will be directly affected if the local resources they depend on become exhausted or polluted. Therefore business, and life in general, will be 'slower'.

"The restricted pace of life regulated by natural rule, or the "prime directive" also allows for meditation, prayer and reflection. Slow time or downtime was, and in some parts of the world still is, seen as the condition of creativity."THE PRIME DIRECTIVE "thou shalt not use up nature and people at a rate faster than they can be replenished - underpins the Judaic tradition that forgave debts every seven years and returned land to its former owners every fifty years. Aside from the spiritual and cultural significance of these traditions, they also made centralised economic ownership impossible. Christianity banned usury or the lending of money for interest, and the effect of this ban was to block the accumulation of capital. The new school of "Islam economics" also recommends slowing down the exploitation of nature, and offers the most explicit condemnation of globalisation to date..."[In the Levelers' Petition of September 11 1648, Clause 10 prays: "That you would have freed all Trade and Merchandising from Monopolising and Engrossing, by Companies and otherwise..."]

Reserve the term 'capitalism' for any economy that disregards the rate of reproduction of human subjects and natural things.

'Globalisation and its Terrors - daily life in the West' by Theresa Brennan. Chapter 10 'The Prime Directive'. Published in 2003