Sunday, December 13, 2015

Paris Talks Good: James Hansen Is An Idiot

Robert Stavins has expressed great pleasure with the outcome of the Paris talks.  Yes, it does not guarantee more clearly the $100 billion per year fund to help poorer countries with their mitigation efforts, but clear goals and transparent mechanisms for moving to achieve them have been agreed upon by nearly 200 nations, with those responsible for 96% of world emissions providing more concrete plans for what they plan to  do.

The loudest naysayer is climate scientist James Hansen.  He declares this to have been all talk and "no action" as reported by The Guardian.  Why?  Because it did not include a carbon tax.  I have  already argued that this was not remotely on the table and is not even necessarily the best plan.  In fact, as I forecast would be the case if there was agreement here, it has encouraged international trading in carbon permits.  This already exists in the European system and China is implementing one in 2017.  There are many arguments for this, which I have already laid out here before.

The agreement looks about as good as could be hoped for.  Non-economist Hansen declaring the carbon tax to be the only acceptable action is just making a big fool of himself.  He should stick to climate scence.

Barkley Rosser

14 comments:

Peter Dorman said...

I agree, Barkley, that inclusion of a carbon tax should not be the litmus test of an international agreement -- a tax would be OK but a permit system would be better. But I don't think the Paris deal, which includes neither taxes nor permits, is so hot either. There is nothing enforceable, either in terms of mitigation or adaptation, and the targets are very weak. The best that can be said for it (and is being said) is that it could lead to a future agreement a few more years down the road that's better.

On the third hand, I agree that nothing of greater value could have emerged from Paris, which is why I didn't follow it that closely. I think "carbon clubs" are the way to go, rather than watered-down but ostensibly universal pacts.

The one piece of the deal that intrigues me is the agreement on a set of carbon accounting rules. I'm looking for a source that spells this out in detail.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

Agree with all your points, Peter.

Myrtle Blackwood said...

Barkley argues: "..The real reason is quite simple. If one is aiming for a specific targeted limit on temperature increase, then given current science that implies a specific quantitative emissions limit. It is well known that a tax only stabilizes/guarantees the price. It does not stabilize the quantity emitted. To do that, one must impose a specific quantity limit, and it is also completely well known that a properly set-up cap-and-trade system will be the most cost effective way to achieve such a limit. This is why cap-and-trade is on the table in Paris, but the carbon tax is not...."

"A properly set-up ... system" and "impose a specific quantity limit" being the operative words. I've been alive long enough to observe and understand how governments 'work' in reality.

If there is to be a change it will, more than likely, come from a change of 'values' in society in general. Our crisis - once the true dimensions of it become known - will precipitate this. And then it won't be taxes imposed. It will be heavy fines and jail terms.

Myrtle Blackwood said...

The following words were written over 4 decades ago:
"The Last Days were announced to St John by a voice like the wound of many waters. but the voice that comes in our day summoning us to play out the dark myth of the reckoning is our meager own, making casual conversation about the varieties of annihilation . . . the thermonuclear Armageddon, the death of the seas, the vanishing atmosphere, the massacre of the innocents, the universal famine to come . . .

Such horrors should be the stuff of nightmare or the merely metaphorical rancors of old prophecy. They aren't. They are the news of the day, by now even growing stale (for some) with reiteration. They descend upon us, not as the will of capricious gods, but as the fruit of politics held to be pre-eminently practical, of down-to-earth policy and tough-minded, dollars-and-cents realism. Governing elites, empowered by the consent of multimillionfold majorities, have piloted us deliberately along our way. We have not stumbled into the arms of Gog and Magog; we have 'progressed' there..." Theordore Roszak (page 1, 'Where the Wasteland Ends')

Myrtle Blackwood said...

James Hansen seems to have an understanding of some fundamental economic principles:
"It's as certain that as long as fossil fuels are the cheapest energy, we will just keep burning them."
"If your child gets asthma, the fossil fuel industry doesn't pay. Or if there's a natural disaster, the bill is paid by the taxpayer, not the fossil fuel company."
Because cap and trade is enforced through the selling and trading of permits, it actually perpetuates the pollution it is supposed to eliminate.
You can't turn on your television without seeing these advertisements about clean coal, clean tar sands and the claim that there's more jobs associated with fossil fuels than other industries. That's of course not true. But they're hammering that into the voters' heads.
We are running out of time.

Myrtle Blackwood said...

James Hansen: "Cap and trade generates special interests, lobbyists, and trading schemes, adding non-productive millionaires, all at public expense. The public is fed up with such business. Tax with 100% dividend [return to the public] in contrast, would spur our economy, while aiding the disadvantaged, the climate, and our national security."

Hansen said that the dividend returned to householders from the tax would lead to them investing in energy saving measures. They too would want to avoid the tax of fossil-fuel based energy.

Another quote from Hansen: "Goals and caps on carbon emissions are practically worthless, if coal emissions continue, because of the exceedingly long lifetime of carbon dioxide in the air."

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

Mytle,

Sorry, but I am not budging one inch from my condemnation of Hansen. Indeed, I am going to make it sharper. He has claimed that failure to adopt a "global carbon levy" makes the talks "bullshit," something being widely repeated by people one should not necessarily expect to know better, such as Meteor Blades on Daily Kos. In any case, no it does not.

I have already noted that in fact there have been successful cap and trade systems set up, quite aside from that ancient one I was involved with in Wisconsin in the 70s for BOD emissions into the Fox River. We have basically eliminated lead from gasoline in the US, and a cap and trade system among refineries played a role in that success. Also, SO2 emissions are substantially down with little negative economic repercussions since the cap and trade system for them was imposed a quarter of a century ago. These are in fact examples of successful government action on this.

And as for the carbon levy, all these people defending it as somehow purer or better or more implementable than cap and trade are just living in a dream world. This is government after all, and any effort anywhere to impose such a tax will bring forth those interest groups to obtain exemptions for them from the appropriate legislative bodies. You do not think this will happen? Heck, in the US Congress the idea of any tax increase, even a revenue neutral one on carbon to be offset by cuts in income or other taxes is just utterly dead in the water. Anybody who thinks otherwise, whether they are Greg Mankiw or Joe Stiglitz or the hapless James Hansen, is just kidding themselves.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

BTW, I am going to add something here that I probably should not, but I am so disgusted by Hansens' conduct that, well, here goes.

So, yes folks, not only have I been in this climate biz for a long time, but as an upshot I personally know a lot of the players on the scientific side as well, and some of them for decades. While Hansen deserves some respect for his 1988 testimony before Congress that, coinciding with an especially hot summer, brought public attention to the issue, although the academic lit had basically been calling for warming pretty nearly unanimously for over a decade.

However, it is an unfortunate fact that he has been off on some climatological issues, with quite a few climatologists not thinking all that highly of him as a climatologist, even as he parades around making inane statements about the economics of all this. In this regard he a bit resembles Al Gore whose widely read book contained some indefensible whoppers. Both of them should frankly just lay low in general on this.

Myrtle Blackwood said...

Barkley, regarding your paragraph: "as for the carbon levy, all these people defending it as somehow purer or better or more implementable than cap and trade are just living in a dream world. This is government after all, and any effort anywhere to impose such a tax will bring forth those interest groups to obtain exemptions for them from the appropriate legislative bodies. You do not think this will happen? Heck, in the US Congress the idea of any tax increase, even a revenue neutral one on carbon to be offset by cuts in income or other taxes is just utterly dead in the water. Anybody who thinks otherwise, whether they are Greg Mankiw or Joe Stiglitz or the hapless James Hansen, is just kidding themselves...."

What is your opinion of Barry Commoner's writing on this subject? He states: "there is no way to reorganise society along ecologically sound lines without challenging head-on the powerful, politically conservative forces - more plainly speaking, the corporations - that now control the system of production. this, as we have seen, is the basic conclusion that emerges from the effort to deal with environmental pollution over the last two decades....Solving the environmental crisis - as distinct from somewhat diminishing its effect - is fundamentally a political problem because it calls for the establishment of a new social form of governance over decisions that are now exclusively in private, corporate hands. But until recently, most environmental groups merely debated how the government ought to regulate whatever production facilities the corporate decision makers in their wisdom decide to build and operate. Since pollution is inherent in the very design of the production technologies, once the technological choice is made, regulation can have only a limited effect, addressing the symptom instead of the disease...the hard political path [to confront the real source of environmental degradation - the technological choice - and debate who should govern it, and for what purpose] is the only workable route to the soft environmental path...." 'Making Peace with the Planet' [1990] pages 172-174

I have personally tried the soft environmental path. But our drinking and other water is being contaminated with aerial-sprayed pesticides. We've been forced out of our home in the middle of the night on repeated occasions by large scale burnoff operations by the 'forest' industry. Our environment has been heavily degraded by large-scale clearfelling where the debris is piled up and burnt with napalm and the soil baked to a red clay consistency...and so forth. This has been performed by multinational corporations with the assent of heavily-lobbied state and federal governments.

If it was so easy to deal with greenhouse gas emissions with cap and trade then why didn't this happen in the 1970s? Why wasn't the problem solved decades ago?

Myrtle Blackwood said...

The signs are that this is all 'academic' now.

The concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere are increasing at an accelerating rate from decade to decade. [Now, apparently, from month to month.]

The upper safety limit for atmospheric CO2 is 350 parts per million (ppm). Atmospheric CO2 levels have stayed higher than 350 ppm since early 1988.

This atmospheric CO2 is one of three planetary boundaries that have been surpassed.

The CO2 measurement for November 2015 is said to have been 400.16 ppm. For December 6-12, 2015 it was 401.31.

Source: http://co2now.org/current-co2/co2-now/

Myrtle Blackwood said...

The trouble with even hinting at offering 'carrots' to big business (such as cap and trade) is that they hold off and hold off on reforms until the very end.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

Myrtle,

I have no problem with Barry Commoner, and he is right that pollution is inherent in production technologies. There is no purely clean technology. Solar looks clean, but there is pollution in producing the panels. Same for wind. Nukes are clean on CO2, but obviously have other issues such as waste disposal, not to mention the occasional meltdown here and there. Hydropower emits no CO2, but big dams damage the environment, and on and on.

The hard fact is that it is the government that must deal with the corporations. Suggesting that maybe we shall shut both of them down may sound nice, but that is not likely to happen. I think the immediate issue is what governments should use as strategies to deal with the corporations.

BTW, while I have criticized those pushing the carbon tax over everything else, I am not totally against carbon taxes. But I think there are reasons why it is not wise to push it as the one and only solution, which is what Hansen has pushed.

Myrtle Blackwood said...

Barkley, Well, I've often wondered whether the world was being run by clever people who have been engaged in a prolonged conspiracy. They made a decision behind closed doors. Perhaps they decided in 1970 to keep the industrial game going. Because the costs involved in ensuring the world stayed alive meant some way of life far more humble than what they wanted for themselves. Or maybe they just couldn't get their head around the planetary requirements for continued existence?

Or was it the world's people (in general) who wanted to be deceived.

Ö for now you are in this place and of it
and all its million years
that will not last another decade.
You go back to the car, turn a key
And the dream land slides away.

[Excerpt from a poem entitled ëVisití, by Mark OíConnor]

Albrecht Zumbrunn said...

Those who lament the fact that nothing "enforceable" has been agreed upon, consider this: Agreements between states are by their nature unenforceable--except by force of arms. If a state breaks an agreement there is nothing the community can do but impose sanctions which most of the time won't work, because they are not executed consistently enough as the incentive to cheat on them is just too large. Therefor it would be stupid to let an agreement fail because it is unenforceable; it will be unenforcable whether the words are in it or not.