Friday, July 23, 2010

Back to Square One on Climate Change

There is no way to paint a pretty color on the bad news: the Democrats have abandoned any hope of passing a climate bill this year. If the Republicans pick up seats in November, as everyone expects them to do, this effectively postpones any serious action until 2013 at the earliest. Carbon targets will have to be pushed back, and the cost of meeting them will rise.

What can we learn from this?

Above all, that the strategy of the national green groups—the National Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Sierra Club, etc.—simply failed. They wanted to bring business, and especially the energy sector, along as partners by cutting backroom deals. Let’s put forward a united front, they said, and we will cut you some free carbon permits, ease up on some regulations, shovel you some pork. You’ll make your money and we’ll save the planet.

The deal-making happened; just scan the Kerry-Lieberman text if you have a spare day or two. What didn’t happen was the partnership. The climate “allies” courted so assiduously by the green groups funneled money to deniers and obstructionists. They took giveaways and demanded more. They never really shouldered any of the burden of pushing this bill through. And with each retreat to a fallback position the effort had less to offer and less traction.

In my dreams, the leaders of the green groups stand before the microphones and say, Enough! No more beltway BS! We are going to draft a bill that meets the criteria of science and ask the public to force the politicians to pass it.

In real life, I know that these groups have their eyes on their side of the deals: the funding for mass transit, energy research, renewables, efficiency retrofits. They don’t want to give this up, so they will be the last to recognize that the deal is really, truly dead.

Whatever the composition of congress, the need for legislation remains urgent, and it is still possible for the public, if organized and focused, to push the politicians into it. What’s needed is a strategy that’s exactly the opposite of what we’ve seen for the past two years:

1. No deal-making to win over business “allies”.

2. No disappearance into the minutiae of complex energy bills.

3. A single environmental demand: to put an economy-wide price on carbon.

4. A single economic demand: to collect the full price and rebate it back to the public.

Yes, there are details that can make a big difference, but if you want a popular movement the emphasis has to be on the core ideas. If you say that the stringency of the targets is essential, I won’t argue. If you say we need gobs of investment in research and infrastructure and retrofitting to get us to a decarbonized economy, I will agree completely. But job one is getting an architecture in place as soon as possible. Once there’s a price on carbon, and once the public starts getting money from it, the political environment for everything else we have to do will become more favorable.

At this point, what’s needed more than anything else is leadership to galvanize this movement.


FuzzyFace said...

And I was thinking that was needed was a bit of humility on the part of those who believe that they know better than the rest of us what needs to be done. If it is has failed, that is the reason why - that the activists never believed in important to persuade through sincere argumentation that they were right about the problem. Neither denouncing nor bribing those who disagree is an effective strategy.

Gar said...

Fuzzy: I love it when arrogant climate deniers demand humility of others. (I have never met a humble or modest climate denier.)

But Peter, while I think 1 & 2 are right on, 3 & 4 are nonsense.

In terms of policy a "price on carbon" is the LEAST effective thing we can do. Large scale investment in clean energy and C&C regulations are far more effective.

In terms of politics decades of public opinion polling shows support for old fashioned rule based regulation and public investment far stronger than for cap & trade, cap & dividend, or cap & tax. And support for carbon pricing goes down, not up when the public gets more informed. That suggests you have the politics reversed. Build a movement around demands to "fund clean energy" and "require more efficient less polluting ways to run buildings, transport, industry and electricity generation". That is pretty damn simple, and win that and you have a political infrastructure in which it is easier to win a carbon price.

TheTrucker said...

Gar said...

"I think 1 & 2 are right on, 3 & 4 are nonsense."

And then Gar goes left, left, left, attempting to substitute emotion for majority numbers. The majority of the people in this nation are concerned about their pocket book and how much everything costs. And those who attempt to increase government spending on _ANYTHING_ will be politically burned at the stake. There must be a VERY clear rebate of monies confiscated from the nasty old oil and coal companies and delivered to the middle class as a stimulus. That is a debate that will _WIN_ in that it spurs the development of alternatives in the private sector.

r l love said...

More than any other nation in the history of the world, the USA has succeeded in finding ways to gain from avoiding negative external responsibilities. The USA for example, exports food and beverage products all over the world that are of little, if any nutritional value, and known to cause diet-related diseases. Then too, tobacco products are being marketed to poor children in any country that will allow such a destructive practice to exist... and Americans are complicit in this via their stock holdings and via their willingness to ignore their democratic responsibilities as citizens of the world.

Shareholders in US corporations are also benefiting from the avoidance of pollution controls and the aforementioned external costs in nations where the governments are kept 'business friendly' by 700+ military bases and 17 intelligence agencies. The planet is under an MNC market-share-attack and there is very probably not a type of pollution that Americans are not somewhat responsible for... somehow, somewhere along the money trail.

The number of dead-zones has risen from 140 in 2003... to 406 in 2008. Ag subsidies and other social engineering ploys being implemented by the developed nations are causing a vast migration to urban areas that in most cases lack adequate sanitation capabilities, and this migration more than anything else, is causing dead-zones. Yet little is said about these related issues even though they are much more easily solved than the climate change issues. To begin with, the developed nations need only to remove the subsidies that they promised to remove about 15 years ago. Although, such issues receive far, far, less attention than the climate change issue.

And why has there been so little said about the need for the WTO to have more authority over pollution controls? The WTO is obviously well suited to implement punitive regulation related to externals yet such considerations are conspicuously absent from the debate. But of course, one need only to know which nation has the most influence over the WTO, and which nation has the most to lose if the WTO was given such authority, to know the answer to that question.

How might it be possible to convince Americans and the citizens of other advanced nations to make sacrifices regarding carbon emissions when they are unwilling to give-up their gains from so many other, more solvable, exploitative ploys? In other words, it is naive and pretentious to think that the US population was ever likely to make the necessary sacrifices to curtail carbon emissions. But it was necessary to create the illusion of civilized and responsible concern. The guilt that comes with carbon emissions is not so easily avoided as it has been with other pollutants, it is not yet practical to have our energy produced elsewhere and transported in... but we are finding ways to ease the guilt. And that is all that this climate change legislation was ever about: easing the guilt.

Gar said...


The evidence that people support public investment and rule based regulation is overwhelming.

My current post on Grist includes a quick skim of the evidence, but more in depth analysis of decades of polls will reveal the same result.

TheTrucker said...

The notion that there will be a "world government" to enforce the value of carbon permits is a hoax. It has always been a hoax. The normal, well adjusted, human being becomes at best, dizzy, just trying to think about such a world body of central bankers and hucksters. If you think that carbon coupons are going to work in Rush Limbaugh America then you must live on a different planet than I.

The only politically feasible method of addressing climate change in the USA is a tax and rebate system that rewards those who reduce their carbon footprint at the expense of those who don't. And the rebates must be called a "stimulus" and distributed in the same way that the 2008 stimulus was distributed. The "cap and trade" crap is _NOT_ going to fly, and I am pleased about it. We do not need a new form of taxi medallions.

r l love said...


A "world government" is not necessary "to enforce the value of carbon permits". Individual governments will simply levy border taxes. The only hope for a world government solution would require that the USA lead in such an effort. That would be doable using the framework that currently exists with the WTO; but that would require an overwhelming mandate from the American people and that will not happen because the media would need to convince the citizenry that the people who own the media should make the sacrifices. That will not happen.

What could happen though is that the USA becomes ostracized regarding its exports. It is difficult for nations with closets full of skeletons to file formal complaints with the WTO (think of China's currency tricks). Plus, if large numbers of nations levy border taxes on not just carbon, but any and all negative external costs being transferred to the importers... what could the WTO do? What does the WTO enforcer say to the trade minister who complains about the Mountain Dew that is rotting the teeth of children, or about the fat Americans and their fat carbon footprint? Not much, especially when the trade minister stands together with other trade ministers who all recognize this carbon issue as an opportunity to level the playing field. That is not only possible but probable.

TheTrucker said...


I am aware of the _PAST_ support for government funding of infrastructure. But you haven't seemed to notice the top billing and outrageous support given the deficit hawks by our bought and paid for MSM and our bought and paid for Senate. The anti government rhetoric is a tsunami of lies and deceit, but propaganda is what seems to win elections. So the only play in the book is to use a tax and rebate system with emphasis on energy independence. That system must emphasize oil more than coal. Americans _ARE_ willing to endure some hardship for the sake of energy independence.

The best way to assault the coal problem is with modular Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors (LFTR) and a High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) power grid backbone. The latter can carry windmill, solar, and tidal energy very long distances without significant loss. Such a grid allows windmills to create electricity that is transported to mountain pumped water storage for release on demand. Same with solar energy. The water pump system is only slightly less efficient than current battery technology. The need to transport electricity over long distances is plain. Yet there is no investment in infrastructure to accomplish this.

The LFTR technology promises to dramatically reduce the cost of nuclear power whether it is modularized or not. The modularization is for use as exports. At present Hyperion Power is working with the Chinese because our government is owned by the carbon people.

Gar said...

TheTrucker said:

>I am aware of the _PAST_ support for government funding of infrastructure. But you haven't seemed to notice the top billing and outrageous support given the deficit hawks by our bought and paid for MSM and our bought and paid for Senate.

I don't think you have noticed that the publics deficit hawkery is operational only in the abstract and fades when specific spending they support is proposed. One of the reasons my ciations were just skimming is that they showed fairly recent support, not in the distant past. I think more recent polls in the months since that research was done show the same thing.

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r l love said...

Energy independence for the US makes little sense at a time when global aggregate demand is waning. A transfer of global economic activity from oil producing nations that have few resources otherwise, to the US, a nation with vast resources otherwise, and a nation that consumes too much as it is, is at odds with the idea of creating a vast empire driven by the gains from the financial services sector. The notion that dollars spent on oil are of little or no reciprocal value... is nonsense based in demagoguery. A stain left on our national fabric that was smeared around by the likes of Bush Administration and T. Boone Pickens. As if the dollars spent on oil simply disappear.

Ray L Love

TheTrucker said...

The key word in "energy independence" the the word "independence". We do not need to export anything at all because we have more than anyone else. The entire idea of globalization has been a rape of the American middle class and a destruction of American resources.

The "financiers" have done quite well and all the rest are broke. Welcome to Republican heaven.

The way to take back the nation is to take back control of the currency. I assure you all that if the Democrats don't print their way out of this problem VERY SOON, then the Republicans _WILL_. And the Democratic Party will wander in the desert for another 15 years.

r l love said...


'Globalization' has been a failure but "a rape of the American middle-class and a destruction of American resources" is... well, misinformed. The "financiers" have of course taken more than their fair share, but they are a small group and the middle-class is a very large group that consumes far more than it produces and those resources are coming into the country at a much faster rate than they are going out of the country. Here is Dr. Stiglitz on net wealth flows after the 'Grand Bargain' from the Uruguay Round trade agreements:

"It was so asymmetric that the poorest countries were actually worse off; sub-Saharan Africa, the poorest region with an average income of just over $500 per capita per year, lost some $1.2 billion a year."

"Seventy percent of the gains went to the developed countries--some $350 billion annually. Although the developing world has 85% of the world's population and almost half of total global income, it received only 30% of the benefits--and these benefits went mostly to middle-income countries like Brazil."

"The Uruguay Round made an unlevel playing field less level. Developed countries [also] impose far higher--on average four times higher--trade restrictions against developing countries than against developed ones. A poor country like Angola pays as much in tariffs to the U.S. as does rich Belguim; Guatamala pays as much as New Zealand. And this discrimination exists even after the developed countries have granted so-called trade preferences to developing countries. Rich countries have cost poor countries three times more in trade restrictions than they give in total development aid."

In other words, MNCs are modern day conquistadors that are enabled by a coalition of the most powerful governments. And the American middle-class benefits directly as shareholders, and indirectly as stakeholders. Take a look at your fellow citizens... do you really believe that the American middle-class, with the highest rates of obesity and consumption in world history... is not being compensated fairly for its collective contribution?

The working-class has been cheated by the investment-class but a very significant portion of the middle-class has been complicit in this scam, conveniently ignorant, of course.

Ray L Love

TheTrucker said...

I just can't seem to get a grip on _WHY_ the "left" people keep thinking that a majority of the American middle class is the least bit concerned with what happens in Africa. It is like doing a poll about gays in the military. The persons being polled will lie and say what is PC. But they will vote against the "elitists" who would allow gays in the military. It is the same with the 3rd world. The people when asked will say, yes we will send em some money. And then they will vote their pocket books.

It is possible to internalize the global climate change issue by saddling it up as an energy independence and making a real contest out of it. Make it a game where the winners _KNOW_ they are doing good for the United States as the the big cheese AND helping their pocket book at the same time. Whether the global economics match this plan or not is somewhat irrelevant. The net effect is a shot in the arm for alternatives and conservation and a big whopping win for the climate.

It is somewhat like my observation regarding economics and calculus. The models are worthless because the voters don't understand them. You have to live in the _REAL_ world.

r l love said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
r l love said...

My previous comment was in reference to what you said in your previous comment: "The entire idea of globalization has been a rape of the American middle class and a destruction of American resources".

Does living in the "REAL_world" require a propensity for evasive thinking? Is that how Americans ignore the global implications of their policies even at their own expense. Is your comment an example of the dynamics of 'convenient' ignorance? My comment was not to implore that we should "send em some money"; my comment was an effort to explain that for every dollar we "send em"... we manage to take back $3 dollars by manipulating the playing field. Then we fail to understand why global aggregate demand is waning. Then too we pretend not to understand why excessive investment flows are causing bubbles."Gee whiz, there is too much investment capital flowing through our economy and global aggregate demand is falling and we export too little to maintain full-employment. Hummm, maybe we should produce more energy at a higher cost while ignoring the fact that this could cause unemployment numbers to go up instead of down."

Perhaps too many people living in what they 'think of' as the "REAL world"... is more than just evasive. Perhaps American selfishness has reached a point of collective delusion?

TheTrucker said...

There is no real doubt that the American people are delusional. This is not any big news flash. The question is, "what do we do about it".

Let me assure you that if the Republicans gain control of the US House of Representatives, then the entire planet will suffer quite intensely. In all probability, the planet will be doomed.

_*THAT*_ is reality. And the only way to keep that from happening is to absolutely support the common people any way you can. A tax and rebates system that takes money from oil companies and puts it in the pockets of the common people is the "politically possible" priority. Education, and more education is the mid to long range ticket. But we must fight the alligators while we drain the swamp.

r l love said...


So we must allow a delusional population to dictate what is "politically possible". At some point in the distant future "education" will enlighten them but... for now, we should only discuss "reality" as defined by the Dems. The truths, "that the voters don't understand", those truths that could assuage the delusions now, are "somewhat irrelevant" because the Dems know what is best for the folks. The Dems having funneled all of that public money to Wall St. while ignoring their campaign promises to the trade unions and to the enviros, is them, the Dems, just lulling the banksters into a false sense of security. Maybe all of those ex-Goldman Sachs fellows who have infiltrated our government were SEC infiltrators all along!

That all makes sense, although, what if 'the political reality' always seems more important than 'truth', does the educational effort always remain procrastinated? Is that perhaps how the delusion was perpetuated in the first place? I've been hearing about 'education' for many decades now... when does the effort start? Are we waiting for a better forum than this one?

TheTrucker said...

r l love:

I look at what you have written and can only say that the Dems are right where I want them. They must serve the middle class or they will be in the street come November. There are ways to save the planet while serving the middle class. And such benefits will not flow from Republicans.


You can vote for the Dems or you will get the Republicans. What part of the HCR stuff and the re-regulation stuff do you believe is going in the wrong direction? The education that is currently necessary is an education about how government can, in fact, make a positive difference. The tax and rebate method of attacking the fossil fuel problem is the right move at the right time. Any other move will be derailed by the Republicans. It's that swamp thing.