Tag Archives: carbon tax

Facing The Harsh Reality Of Our Unsustainable Status Quo

Not since Hitler offered his solution to the despair of the great depression has civilized society faced such clear signs of serious danger.  Unlike that era, in which complex problems could be somewhat simplified in a focus on the persona of an evil man, the problems the world face today reflect the accumulated irresponsibility of a short sighted world view that has predominated modern culture for generations. Simple answers of good and evil don’t suffice. The harsh reality of historic flagrant irresponsibility is coming to a crescendo.

The tyrannical stability in the Middle East, that has under girded the western world’s dependency on cheap petroleum for decades, is being reconciled with the aspirations for freedom that our foreign policy rhetoric has encouraged, as the entire mid-east explodes with demands for legitimate governance and a just economy. As we launch yet another war in a Muslim country, the conflicted history of our “national interest” becomes increasingly clear, while the future of the petroleum supply to which our society is addicted becomes increasingly murky.

At the same time, the economic crises in Europe and America escalate with the risk of municipal, state and national insolvency increasing around the world. Large European financial institutions are lining up for more bailouts, while the ever more political power and wealth is concentrated in the “too big to fail” banks in the US.  The Federal Reserve is desperately propping up the bond market with irresponsible levels of  “Quantitative Easing” that will inevitably lead to high inflation, a significant increase in interest rates and greater challenges in funding future US treasury debt. The Fed also continues to accumulate the risk of the speculative endeavors of Wall Street as liabilities for the federal tax payers.

Meanwhile in congress, Democratic Party “leaders” argue the federal government should be spending $1.6 trillion more than it takes in, while the Republican “leaders” condemn the Democrats irresponsibility arguing we should only be burdening our children with $1,5 trillion in additional unsustainable annual debts to support the short term spending they can’t get under control.

With the recent earthquake and tsunami, the fantasy of safe nuclear power has been exposed, as the Fukushima nuclear disaster unfolds in the most technologically advanced and emergency prepared nation in the world.

Reading the news, there seems to be so many serious problems all at once and one has to wonder why there seems to be so few responsible leaders insisting on credible solutions.

Government spending can’t exceed revenues for long. Promising entitlements without realistic means of paying for them is neither kind or compassionate, but rather foolishly cruel and irresponsible, since those promises can’t be kept.  Merely calling it “investment” does not turn unsustainable spending into anything other than what it is.  True investments have realistically profitable projected returns. Unless someone can show how their suggested “investments” will provide significant financial returns and reduce the need for future taxes and spending, we should insist on a balanced budget every year, through reduced spending or increased taxation. We can’t afford more empty promises for a postponed mythical future responsibility based on unrealistic projections.

In a little over a hundred years, we have burned through about half the world’s petroleum and other fossil fuels reserves that have taken hundreds of millions of years to form. Do the math. How sustainable could that be? Even if fossil fuel reserves end up being many times those known today, we cannot pretend that future generations will benefit from the luxuries our generation has enjoyed through wastefully burning through so much of the world’s richest concentrated sources of energy. Our society can no longer allow energy companies to value these resources at the mere cost of extracting them from the ground, or even less with the insane subsidies that governments provide. We have to consider the value to society these stored resources represent and include that value in pricing the use of fossil fuels. What’s the right price? Hard to say. But if it will take another hundred million years to replace them, that price sure should be a heck of a lot higher than it is today. And the value shouldn’t go entirely to a few companies just because they have a permit to mine or drill.

Resources that have taken hundreds of millions of years to form should be treated as an annuity for society to be valued in a manner that accrues to many future generations. Like the massive debt being incurred to support our excessive government spending today, the waste of fossil fuels at unjustifiable and unsustainable low prices represents blatant theft from our children.

As for the chimera of safe inexpensive nuclear power, the evolving mess in Fukushima is once again highlighting the sheer lunacy of using such dangerous technology for producing electricity. After decades of research and compromise focused on Yucca mountain as the sole depository in the nation for nuclear waste, in order to garner the political support of Harry Reid for some short term policy initiatives, President Obama ended consideration of the Yucca Mountain project, abandoning the only option for nuclear waste disposal the US has ever seriously considered. Now and for the foreseeable future, like the waste causing problems at Fukushima, our nuclear waste is accumulating in temporary pools at nuclear power plants around the country, with no plan at all for what to do with materials that even nuclear proponents agree will be highly dangerous for thousands of years. Those waste pools, like the reactors themselves, remain attractive targets for terrorists and some will be casualties in the next not quite adequately predicted natural disaster or the inevitable accident caused by human error, aging equipment or some other unexpected factor. Even if nukes weren’t dangerous on their own, nuclear power is the perfect cover and  materials resource for the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, both for rouge nations and terrorist organizations.

Perhaps the thing most crazy about nuclear power is that the nuclear industry is not remotely cost effective, so the federal government continues to subsidize nukes in all sorts of overt as well as indirect ways.  With the Price Anderson Act, the government absolves this most dangerous industry in the world from the need to cover its own liabilities with insurance in the manner that every other US business does. Without Price Anderson’s unjustifiably shielding an entire industry from responsibility for its real liabilities, no insurer would insure the industry, no investor would give nuclear power even the slightest consideration and the existing nuclear plants would be shut down instantly. No private investor considers nuclear power without the other huge subsidy of giant loan guarantees from the federal government. Meanwhile the nuclear industry’s research and development is funded almost entirely by tax payers.

As the federal government allows fossil fuels that took hundreds of millions of years to form to be squandered in a geological blink of the eye, while it subsidizes a nuclear industry that proliferates nuclear weapons, terrorist targets and the most toxic and radioactive byproducts known to science, we are told that solar and wind energy are not economically competitive. But wind and solar are actually very affordable and low cost in any sensible economic calculation that accounts for the real costs and values of the alternatives. While we squander billions in subsidies to fossil fuels and nuclear power while risking our credibility, the financial viability of our government and the lives of our brave troops in overseas wars to protect this Kafkaesque status-quo, we are told putting a real price on all these “economic externalizes” of our current unsustainable system is just impossible.

We are rapidly approaching the time we have to face the harsh reality that rather than sensible policy solutions that we are told are politically impossible,  it is in fact sustaining our current insane paths in energy and finance that is actually going to be impossible to justify or sustain.

How have these blatant and cruel abuses of our own children come to be accepted conventional public policy? Irresponsible politics is simply failing us. Unless we make some hard choices and real changes, our children face a future of deprivation, economic collapse and armed conflict throughout the world. Politicians who continue to believe they can spout empty platitudes while postponing hard decisions until after their next elections don’t deserve any consideration at all for re-election. The hard problems our nation and our world face need serious solutions now.

The politician that gets my vote is the one who is willing to develop a credible plan to repeal the Price Anderson Act, shut down the nuclear power industry, put a serious tax on fossil fuels while removing taxes on work and productive investment, end the wars and close most our over seas military bases, completely balances the federal budget, break up the “too big to fail banks” and make serious realistic reform to the unsustainable false promises that Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other social programs represent.

Hard stuff? – You bet. Disruptive? – No question. Can it all happen over night? – No way. But we have to start these hard conversations and address these hard policy questions in a credible manner – Now.

My college aged kids think I am an unrealistic  idealist for even suggesting such radical changes, even while agreeing that they make more sense than the current status quo. But it is increasingly clear to me that if my generation doesn’t act with some self constraint, their generation and my grandchildren will suffer a very diminished future.

There is a fundamental priority coded in the DNA of all life that creates opportunity for the next generation and for the future of the species. The selfish abandon with which we squander resources today and burden our children’s future has become like a cancer of immoral irresponsibility in our society. It is as if we have lost hold of the most basic premise and purpose of life itself.

We need to rediscover and commit to our moral obligation to future generations and make some very hard decisions as a nation. All sides need to just stop the political grandstanding and get serious. We need real leaders offering courageous calls for meaningful change.

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A New Tax Policy for the 21st Century

The following was published in the Spring 2011 Issue of Northeast Sun, the journal of the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association.

A New Tax Policy for the 21st Century

Let’s revitalize the US economy by replacing all federal revenues with a simple energy tax

America needs new answers regarding energy, economics and the environment. There are no real solutions on the table. And everybody knows it.

One radically simple proposal could work: Replace all federal government revenue with a simple energy tax. That may sound impossible. But it is a far more realistic approach to the problems our country faces than the pseudo-solutions that make their way through Congress these days.

This idea could inspire and appeal to Americans across the political spectrum while igniting an unprecedented era of economic prosperity. Along with radically reducing energy waste and pollution, it could release our society from the burdens and economic distortions of our current tax system, make our economy vastly more efficient and our industries far more competitive internationally, and provide the security of greater energy independence.

The numbers work

According to the US Energy Information Agency, in 2009 our country consumed about 18.8 million (18,771,400) barrels of petroleum a day, the equivalent of more than 287 billion (287,765,562,000) gallons of petroleum a year.

The Congressional Budget Office reports that all federal revenues for fiscal year 2010 were about  $2.2 trillion ($2,162,000,000,000). That includes all individual income tax, corporate income tax, investment taxes, social security tax, disability insurance, hospital insurance, unemployment insurance, excise taxes, fees, energy and transportation taxes, and every other form of federal government revenue other than debt.

Doing the math, if we replaced every source of government revenue with a tax on petroleum, that tax would be only $7.51 per gallon. And if you add the average mid-December 2010 cost of premium gasoline of $2.85 a gallon (before taxes), the total price on gasoline and other petroleum products would average about $10.36 per gallon.

That isn’t a whole lot more than average prices for premium gas in Europe in mid-December 2010, as reported by the US Energy Information Agency: Belgium, $7.42; France, $7.15; Germany, $7.39; Italy, $7.19; Netherlands, $7.93; UK, $7.31. And those countries are burdened with massive taxes on top of high energy prices.

Along with paying far more for petroleum, in 2009 Europeans paid about twice what Americans paid for natural gas and coal. If our federal energy taxes roughly doubled the price of both the billion-plus short tons of coal and the 23 trillion cubic feet of natural gas we consume each year, that could partially offset and reduce taxes on petroleum, leaving our overall level cost of energy around the same as Europeans currently pay—while replacing all other forms of government revenue completely.

To keep American industry competitive, the feds should also collect a tariff on goods from countries that don’t implement similar levels of taxation on energy. That unilateral action would do far more to spur responsible energy policy worldwide than well-intentioned but unenforceable international treaties. At the same time it could further reduce energy taxes or help offset the federal budget deficit.

Most sensible people would favor the opportunity to adopt a European level of energy prices in exchange for no government interference with business revenues and personal income: no IRS, no income taxes, no payroll taxes, no business taxes, no inheritance taxes, no government fees.

The obvious pushback

Many will argue that high price signals will encourage energy conservation and alternative energy resources, thus putting government revenues at risk.

Radically reducing energy waste and pollution is one of the fundamental benefits of this proposal.  Reducing the need for military adventures and compromised foreign policy to secure oil are other intended benefits. With the Congressional Budget Office reporting that federal expenditures are now more than twice what was spent in the year 2000, most Americans are also ready to see the excesses of government spending and intrusions into the economy constrained.

As the idea of tax shifting is taken seriously and refined, we can likely find consensus to tax other wasteful or counterproductive activities. With a shift to rational taxation, we can balance our federal budget and pay down our out-of-control federal debt, while more appropriately aligned market forces improve our lives and the environment.

We should begin the tax-shift conversation by recognizing how affordable it could be to align rational revenue policy with sensible market mechanisms that would encourage economic prosperity, job and business growth, broadly shared environmental and clean-energy goals, and the basic principles of personal freedom and liberty that our country was founded upon.

Big changes for big challenges

Minor adjustments to the sclerotic, contradictory patchwork of public policies that have emerged over the decades won’t address the massive challenges that confront our nation. As we face continuing economic stagnation and pass the era of peak oil production, it’s time to get serious about transforming our economy and restoring our economic productivity. We need to rethink the role of government and how we fund it.

It is clear from polls that most Americans are fed up with Congress, the federal government, and politicians from both parties. Everyone hates the complexity, irrationality, and obvious corruption of our tax system, which discourages work, productivity, entrepreneurship, job creation, and almost every other goal and fundamental value that our economy is purported to be based upon.

Think of the productivity gains that would be unleashed if businesses could make decisions based on common sense rather than manipulations of the tax code.

Think of the jobs that would be created if we no longer imposed punishing taxes on working and productive investment, if we eliminated the insane tax subsidies for shifting industrial productivity overseas, and if we eliminated the payroll tax penalties on hiring.

Think of the time, money, and talent that would be freed up if we no longer had to spend countless hours and dollars reporting our personal business to the government. The IRS itself estimates that about 7.75 billion hours of human labor went into completing 2009 tax forms—and that doesn’t include the vast amounts of time and money spent figuring out how to game the system and avoid taxes.

Making the transition

Change this profound couldn’t and shouldn’t happen overnight. We should plan a transition over at least fifteen years, first replacing the most regressive and counterproductive forms of taxation, like payroll taxes, with energy taxes, and then phasing out other forms of taxation while increasing energy taxes. The transition period would give businesses and individuals time to make appropriate plans and investments for the future. The certainty associated with substantial energy taxes would do far more than any other solution being proposed to encourage investment in energy conservation and clean energy.

To minimize the cost, complexity, and impacts of tax collection, energy taxes should be implemented at the wholesale level, at the mine, well, or port of entry. Another technicality that could help ease the transition would be a ratchet mechanism on energy prices. Whenever market forces pushed energy prices up, they would be allowed to rise, but as energy prices declined, energy taxes would rise at a matching rate. This would have the added benefit of discouraging unproductive speculation in energy trading markets.

Change this fundamental would affect every American. Inevitably, the winners and losers will lobby madly to turn a simple idea into the complicated sausage making that is the hallmark of Congress. But if we insist that its simplicity and transparency are critical to its success, perhaps a bold proposition like this could gain enough support to overcome the corrupting influence of lobbyists.

Why tax fossil fuels?

Energy is the lifeblood of a modern economy. The highly concentrated energy available from fossil fuels is a precious resource both for us and for future generations. Unlike metals or other materials that can be readily recycled in a prudent society, once mined and burned, fossil fuels are gone forever. They shouldn’t be squandered but rather husbanded wisely, as higher prices would encourage. Balance of trade deficits, compromised foreign policy, pollution, the cost of military entanglements, and other challenges resulting from our fossil fuel addiction offer clear reasons to focus taxation on fossil fuels. It is far past time to put a fair price on the costs of the traditional energy industry’s “economic externalities.”

Arguably, irreplaceable fossil fuels that have taken millions of years to form should be considered common resources that provide benefits for the common good. Although we begrudgingly accept being forced to pay such taxes today, government funding through the confiscation of the fruits of citizens’ work and investment is actually far less rationally or morally justified.

Finding broad-based consensus

We all need to overcome our fear of sensible change. This proposed tax shift represents a real test for clean-energy advocates, environmentalists, and political liberals, conservatives, and libertarians to all match our rhetoric with good policy solutions. Are conservatives really willing to effectively promote liberty, economic efficiency, and fair free markets? Are liberals able to admit that like so many federal policies they have supported, our convoluted tax system is completely failing to meet their progressive goals? Are libertarians able to admit that there is a role for government and that collecting taxes rationally is better than the corrupt irrational system of taxation we have today? Are environmentalists ready to support policies that are economically sensible? Are clean-energy advocates ready to compete in a fair marketplace rather than begging for government subsidies? Rather than blaming others for our nation’s problems, we all need to focus on finding solutions sensible enough to garner broad support.

Let’s start taxing waste and pollution instead of punishing people for working, creating jobs, and making productive investments.

Let’s try real market-oriented solutions and restore the economic competitiveness our nation enjoyed before every aspect of the economy was micromanaged by the government and manipulated for tax reasons.

Let’s encourage conservation of our limited fossil fuel reserves so we don’t impoverish our children, grandchildren, and planet with our profligate waste.

Let’s fundamentally reform the American economy with a government funding system that doesn’t undermine the most essential ideals and principles of our national heritage.

Let’s support an idea bold enough, simple enough, and compelling enough to actually work.

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Rogoff Calls For A Carbon Tax

Harvard economist Ken Rogoff asks Can Good Emerge From The Gulf Oil Spill?

Rogoff, the author of This Time is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly, calls for a large and direct carbon tax suggesting that:

“a carbon tax is far more transparent and potentially less prone to the pitfalls seen in international carbon-quota trading”.

He starts his editorial suggesting:

“Perhaps it is a pipe dream, but it is just possible that the ongoing BP oil-spill catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico will finally catalyze support for an American environmental policy with teeth. Yes, the culprits should be punished, both to maintain citizens’ belief that justice prevails, and to make other oil producers think twice about taking outsized risks. But if that is all that comes out of the BP calamity, it will be a tragic lost opportunity to restore some sanity to the United States’ national environmental and energy policy, which has increasingly gone off track in recent years.”

Most serious people realize that the complex financial shenanigans in Cap and Trade proposals, like the multi-thousand page health and financial reform packages coming out of Congress, are rife with counterproductive details written by lobbyists. As Rogoff suggests, our country is ready and waiting for politicians to create strong, direct, simple and unambiguous solutions to the problems we face. Hopefully, as he suggests, the massive oil spill in the Golf of Mexico might encourage to get serious about meaningful solutions like the direct carbon tax he advocates.

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Videos On Sensible Climate and Energy Policy

The media page for the Price Carbon Campaign has several great videos available that explain from a wide variety of perspectives why a simple clear revenue neutral carbon tax is the best solution to climate, economic, environmental, employment and national security challenges that are all interrelated. Another important video is “The Huge Mistake” by attorneys Laurie Williams and Allan Zabel which explains clearly why the solutions generally favored in Washington really are a huge mistake. Then there is this good summary of the issues.

For those who care seriously about these issues and do not want to see wasteful and ineffective solutions substituted for clear simple and real solutions, spending an hour or so watching these videos could be a great investment of your time. It would also be great for every member of the senate to watch them all prior to taking a position on legislation.

These videos provide compelling video regarding the fundamental problems of the  convoluted corporate welfare schemes like the Kerry Graham Lieberman bill now making its way to the senate. With clearly far better bipartisan bills already drafted, like the Cantwell Collins “Carbon Limits and Energy for America’s Renewal (CLEAR) Act” and the Inglis Flake Lipinski  “Raise Wages, Cut Carbon Act”, we can only hope that these clear messages of common sense have more impact than all the special interest lobbyists that generally drive policy in Washington.

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Climate Politics

To assure sustainable prosperity, we need the market place to account fairly for the long legacy of subsidy and economic externalities that distort energy markets in favor of incumbent polluting industries. We need to establish public policies that enable such accounting in a direct, transparent and dependable manner.

I have long been an advocate of a tax on incumbent energy resources. There are compelling national security, economic and environmental reasons for a revenue neutral tax that shifts taxation away from productive activities like creating jobs, and instead taxes polluting, non-renewable energy resources. Such a strategy could win broad based support across the political spectrum.

But I believe the focus on climate change, favored by many in the environmental movement, is a significant liability in the political effort to create sensible energy policy. Recently, my apprehensions regarding such focus have been proven well founded.

When it comes to addressing climate issues through public policy, there are a wide spectrum of views which, while not supporting the recent policy orthodoxy of climate politics, are not based on denial of the issue or its potential ramifications. Many people recognize that current politically favored solutions to climate change would not only be ineffective, but could potentially create worse problems then those they are intended to address.

Those advocating for complex convoluted public policy responses to the threats of climate change have seen serious setbacks over the last few months, not the least of which was the failure of the Copenhagen conference to achieve any meaningful results.

It is also becoming more clear recently that the science of climate change is being heavily influenced by political agendas. But contrary to the concerns of many in the environmental movement that it is “right wing” interests which are corrupting the science, it appears that it is largely those pushing an agenda of climate change alarmism who have had the most significant influence on the scientific reporting.  Crony capitalists have been more than willing to go along as the politics of climate have been co-opted by Wall Street interests and others who stand to benefit immensely from the convoluted economic distortions embedded in solutions to climate change now favored by many politicians.

Especially since the release of e-mails and other documents from the University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit in November, the press and public have become more skeptical on the issue and there have been increasing numbers of questions raised regarding the quality of the UN sponsored 2007 IPCC Fourth Assessment Report on Climate Change.

Respected conventional news outlets of all political persuasions, many of which have in the past been supportive of an aggressive climate policy agenda, have been publishing articles and editorials with titles like: Climate change: this is the worst scientific scandal of our generation ClimateGate: Was Data Faked? , How Climate-Change Fanatics Corrupted Science , The Death of Global Warming , UN wrongly linked global warming to natural disasters , Conning the climate: Inside the carbon-trading shell game , Alarmists’ credibility melting , How Wrong Is The IPCC? and What happened to global warming?

Though here in the US the traditional press has been less prone to cover the story than in Britain, Australia, India and elsewhere, there is increasing controversy regarding many of the core findings in the 2007 IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, which won its authors the Nobel Prize along with Al Gore. Of most concern in the report are elements of the Summary for Policy Makers.

It has been reported than when asked in advance of publication to review the draft of the summary for Chapter 9  which attributes global warming to man made causes, Dr. Andrew A. Lacis, a climate researcher at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies had this to say:

“There is no scientific merit to be found in the Executive Summary. The presentation sounds like something put together by Greenpeace activists and their legal department. The points being made are made arbitrarily with legal sounding caveats without having established any foundation or basis in fact. The Executive Summary seems to be a political statement that is only designed to annoy greenhouse skeptics. Wasn’t the IPCC Assessment Report intended to be a scientific document that would merit solid backing from the climate science community – instead of forcing many climate scientists into having to agree with greenhouse skeptic criticisms that this is indeed a report with a clear and obvious political agenda. Attribution can not happen until understanding has been clearly demonstrated. Once the facts of climate change have been established and understood, attribution will become self-evident to all. The Executive Summary as it stands is beyond redemption and should simply be deleted.”

Dr. Lacis suggestion was unfortunately rejected. It is now coming out that significant portions of the IPCC report were not based on peer reviewed science at all and several findings of the report have been confirmed to be erroneous.

Public support for action on climate change is waning.  A study from Yale University offers an interesting analysis of attitudes on the subject. The Pew Research Center shows climate change being a very low public priority.

A good friend of mine and passionate advocate for climate change policy action suggested that:

“The surveys and editorials are interesting reflections of public opinion, but they don’t undermine the science.  Don’t forget that a little over half of Americans don’t believe in evolution either.”

But contrary to Al Gore’s proclamations and the views of many people I respect, the science is not settled. Some evidence of that is the Petition Project, which claims the signatures of 31,486 American scientists who have all endorsed a petition that states:

“There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gasses is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate. Moreover, there is substantial scientific evidence that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide produce many beneficial effects upon the natural plant and animal environments of the Earth.”

Dr. Judith Curry, the Chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology recently wrote:

“No one really believes that the “science is settled” or that “the debate is over.” Scientists and others that say this seem to want to advance a particular agenda. There is nothing more detrimental to public trust than such statements.”

Personally I feel absolutely certain that humans must be having some influence on climate, just based on the scale of influence that 6.8 billion people have on everything on the planet. Very few people would disagree with that premise. But clarifying how the many human and natural factors impacting climate will interact, how those factors will manifest themselves in complex climate systems, how significant our human influence will be and whether changes will have positive or negative impacts on agriculture and other critical aspects of human society, are all determinations that unfortunately are outside any clear understanding or real consensus in the scientific community at this time.

Perhaps most significant of the recent clarifications regarding the science of climate change has been the BBC interview with Phil Jones, who was the director of the University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit.

When asked: Do you agree that from 1995 to the present there has been no statistically significant global warming: Dr. Jones answered a qualified “yes”.  In details supporting his answers, he showed that the warming trend from 1995 to 2009 of 0.12 degrees centigrade per decade is matched by the cooling trend of 2002 through 2009 of -0.12 degrees centigrade per decade.

In discussing the warming periods:1860-1880, 1910-1940, 1975-1998 and 1975-2009 Dr Jones states clearly that:

“the warming rates for all 4 periods are similar and not statistically significantly different from each other.”

When asked : when scientists say the debate on climate change is over, what exactly do they mean – and what don’t they mean? Dr. Jones answered:

“It would be supposition on my behalf to know whether all scientists who say the debate is over are saying that for the same reason. I don’t believe the vast majority of climate scientists think this. This is not my view. There is still much that needs to be undertaken to reduce uncertainties, not just for the future, but for the instrumental (and especially the palaeoclimatic) past as well.”

His answer on the so called Medieval Warming Period from 800–1300 AD makes clear that current levels of scientific understanding of historic climate data can’t determine conclusively if warming trends since the industrial revolution are unique or unusual.

Recently, Tom Ward, the publisher of the Valley Breeze, a local newspaper here in Rhode Island, published an editorial entitled Inconvenient truth. In it, he suggested that:

“Climate change, formerly known as ‘global warming,’ is a fraud. The science is junk.”

One member of an environmental organization I am involved with issued a call to respond suggesting:

“Some might say its hopeless to answer such extreme positions, but the far right-wing repeats similar stuff every day on cable, talk radio and the like.”

I pointed out to the group that while his rhetoric is harsh, the important conclusion of his editorial is something we can all largely support when Mr. Ward suggests:

“As Americans, we must embrace energy conservation in the short term, and generate more home-grown nuclear, natural gas and wind power in the longer term, to keep our money here and create tens of thousands of well-paying jobs. With those goals achieved, we can power our cars and trucks with U.S.-made electricity and natural gas, and stop sending $800 billion a year overseas, money that funds our enemies.”

While I strongly disagree with Mr. Ward regarding nuclear power (a subject for another posting), I fully agree with him on conservation, wind energy and on using natural gas as the critical transition fuel on our way to a clean energy future.

If the environmental community embraced the energy independence, national security, economic development, employment and balance of trade arguments that Mr. Ward champions, we could be much further along in addressing the challenges of climate change than we are today.  Instead of condemning them, we should be reaching out to potential strong policy allies like Mr. Ward who, like most Americans, would favor rational energy policy.

As I have suggested here before, everything that Mr. Ward argues for could be achieved through a Pigouvian tax on non-renewable energy resources.  That solution would actually be effective in directly and immediately curbing carbon dioxide emissions, unlike the leading solutions being pushed in Congress. If we all embraced the idea that such tax should be 100% revenue neutral, offsetting payroll taxes and income taxes that discourage job creation and working,  Americans of all political persuasions would support such solutions as prudent economic, jobs  and tax policy.

It is not smart politics to be looking for enemies among our potential friends. Rather than blaming the “right wing” or “a well-funded disinformation machine” for the lack of progress, we should take responsibility for the narrow partisan political strategy of the environmental community on these issues.

If the climate change rhetoric from the environmental community were less extreme, it wouldn’t provide such tempting targets for ridicule and harsh criticism and we wouldn’t see the backlash we have. We don’t need to blow the scariest possible outcomes for climate change out of proportion in order to gain broad based political support for effective measures to curb carbon emissions. In fact, overblown climate rhetoric from the environmental community has significantly set back political prospects for sensible energy and climate policy.

The IPCC  has done significant disservice to those concerned with climate change by becoming an imprudent advocate rather than the professional scientific organization that it was chartered to be.

Environmental scientist, James Lovelock is the author of the original “Gaia Hypothesis”, the theory of how the earth’s interrelated feedback mechanisms act as an integrated single organism. He has been described as “The Prophet of Climate Change” . He offers some important perspective:

“I think you have to accept that the skeptics have kept us sane — some of them, anyway. They have been a breath of fresh air. They have kept us from regarding the science of climate change as a religion. It had gone too far that way. There is a role for skeptics in science. They shouldn’t be brushed aside. It is clear that the angel side wasn’t without sin.”

Phil Jones, Andrew Lacis, Judith Curry, James Lovelock and other reputable climate scientists have come to realize that it is best to clearly and honestly present known facts along with the uncertainties surrounding this very complex science. Its about time the rest the environmental community does too.  We should accept  the political reality that with current levels of actual scientific understanding and consensus, most rational people would be reluctant to totally transform the world economy or create the worlds largest derivatives game for Wall Street in convoluted schemes like Cap, Trade and Offset.

I expect that acknowledging the scientific uncertainties regarding the long held beliefs of many of my friends in the environmental movement may result in some calling my integrity and intentions into question. The best answer I can offer them is that unlike those supporting ineffective convoluted answers currently favored in Washington, I am serious enough in my concern on these issues to advocate for policy solutions like H.R. 2380, The Raise Wages, Cut Carbon Act that puts an immediate, real and dependable price on carbon emissions. That bipartisan legislation would also address our economic and unemployment problems as well as our energy and environmental concerns and it wouldn’t add a penny to our monstrous federal debt. That’s the kind of solution the vast majority of Americans would support and that credible politicians should also support if they are really more serious about solving problems than they are about handing out pork to their special interest benefactors.

All the reasons Tom Ward cites in encouraging our nation to move to a clean energy economy have been more than adequate inspiration to spend my career doing green building and renewable energy work for the last three decades. Terrorism funded by our exported petro-dollars, pollution, the economic mess our oil dependency has helped cause, the war in Iraq and our other military adventures to secure oil supplies,  and all the other symptoms of our fossil fuel dependency are plenty of inspiration for good policy.

Effective public policy response to climate change and all those other challenges would be clear, simple and easily understandable by everyone so that everyone participating in the economy can anticipate impacts and respond in rational ways.  All these inter-related issues are too important for the typical corrupt political horse trading between politicians and lobbyists we have come to expect from Washington. We need real leadership at the grass roots level advocating for sensible policy.

Rational climate policy wouldn’t be based on adding vast new convoluted complexities to the economy that are easily vulnerable to the distortions of Wall Street’s financial engineering manipulations. Nor would they be based on legislators and bureaucrats anointing winners and losers in the economy. Instead we need the kind of policy that directly puts a real and dependable price on the “economic externalities” that are currently hidden subsidies for incumbent energy industries – a revenue neutral carbon tax.

Its far past time for everyone concerned with potential climate change to seek out alliances around sensible energy policy by focusing on the issues that all Americans can readily agree on.  We should align our political agenda with those who are more concerned with other issues like the economy, jobs, trade deficits, national security, terrorism and our government’s unsustainable ballooning levels of debt and unfunded liabilities. Effective solutions to climate concerns can also address all those issues and should be politically framed to do so in a manner that appeals across traditional political boundaries. This shouldn’t be a partisan or politically divisive issue. We need a broad political coalition which will only be achieved by being far less dogmatic about our politics.

The most prudent and sensible advice I have seen regarding the politics of climate policy is from Mother Jones magazine, which quotes a perhaps unexpected ally, Republican pollster Frank Luntz:

“It doesn’t matter whether you call it climate change or global warming,” he said. “The public believes it’s happening, and they believe that humans are playing a part in it.” In fact, Luntz warned that if Republicans continue to dispute climate science it could hurt them politically. Instead, he said, the GOP should be engaging in the debate over how to solve America’s energy problems……….

Luntz suggests less talk of dying polar bears and more emphasis on how legislation will create jobs, make the planet healthier and decrease US dependence on foreign oil. Advocates should emphasize words like “cleaner,” “healthier,” and “safer”;  scrap “green jobs” in favor of “American jobs,” and ditch terms like “sustainability” and “carbon neutral” altogether. “It doesn’t matter if there is or isn’t climate change,” he said. “It’s still in America’s best interest to develop new sources of energy that are clean, reliable, efficient and safe.”

Luntz’s polling suggests  The First Rule of Fighting Climate Change: Don’t Talk About Climate Change.

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Realistic Skepticism About Copenhagen

In his editorial, “Climategate and Copenhagen: History as farce”, Robert Robb discusses exactly the core issues at stake in the current climate debate. They are not about denial of climate change or of human impacts to climate change, but rather about the extent of those impacts, and most importantly about the validity and wisdom of the proposed “solutions” like Cap and Trade”

After discussing the recent “Climategate” e-mails Robb suggests:

Even before these revelations, there were reasons to be circumspect about what was known about the effect of industrialization on global climate. There is, first of all, the hubris of believing that human beings can concoct a series of mathematical equations in a computer model that fully duplicate the interactions within the earth’s atmosphere…….

Then there is the inconvenience of counter-indicative trends. The emails reveal frustration with not being able to explain the global cooling that has been going on since 1998. But that is not the first uncertainty. There was a much longer cooling trend from the 1940s to the 1970s. So, for a fairly large portion of the industrial age, global temperatures have been going down, not up.

He goes on to the responsible perspective on all this:

That is not to say that greenhouse gases are not something to worry about. We know that the pre-industrial age atmosphere worked. We know that emitting greenhouses gases produced by industrial age activities changes the atmosphere. And we know that as the developing world industrializes, greenhouse gas emissions will increase, on the present course dramatically.

Even most climate change skeptics agree that greenhouse gases interact with the atmosphere in ways that tend toward higher global temperatures. The disagreement is mostly over the magnitude of that influence compared to other influences and natural variations in climate, and the advisability of various policy options to address it.

He goes on to address all the very real reasons that Cap and Trade is doomed to fail in its intended climate impacts as it has already proven to fail in Europe. Robb supports the responsible solution favored by economists across the political spectrum as well as those serious about climate solutions like NASA scientist James Hanson – a revenue neutral carbon tax.

A revenue neutral carbon taxes don’t involve massive giveaways to corporate campaign contributors or allow regulators to manipulate the economy to favor campaign contributors, so the unfortunate political reality is that no real or effective solutions for limitting carbon emissions are likely to be considered, no matter what one thinks about the risks of climate change.

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James Hanson On Copenhagen

Newsweek is out with a good interview of world famous NASA Climate Scientist James Hanson regarding Copenhagen and the recent release of controversial e-mails from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia.

Hanson brushes off the significance of the dust-up over the e-mail release:

Do the e-mails indicate any unethical efforts to hide data that do not support the idea of anthropogenic global warming or to keep contrary ideas out of the scientific literature and IPCC reports?

They indicate poor judgment in specific cases. First, the data behind any analysis should be made publicly available.  Second, rather than trying so hard to prohibit publication of shoddy science, which is impossible, it is better that reviews, such as by IPCC and the National Academy of Sciences, summarize the full range of opinions and explain clearly the basis of the scientific assessment.

On the question of Copenhagen and current US policy , Hanson is even more clear:

How serious a setback would it be if no agreement on a climate treaty is reached in Copenhagen, where 192 countries are meeting starting Dec. 7?

It’s not a setback at all if it allows a careful reassessment of what is needed. The cap-and-trade scheme [that the Copenhagen negotiations were working toward] is just not going to be effective at controlling greenhouse emissions. Political leaders have to realize that the fundamental problem is that fossil fuels are the cheapest form of energy, so they will continue to be burned unless we put a gradually increasing price on carbon emissions [through a carbon tax]. That’s a much better approach than national goals for emissions reductions, which will probably not be met.

What do you think of the climate bills now before Congress?
They’re disasters. We can’t allow the polluters to write the bill, but that’s what happened. What’s needed is putting a price on carbon, not cap-and-trade.

Hanson is even more clear in his editorial about Copenhagen in The Guardian “Is There Any Real Chance of Averting A Climate Crisis?” in which he suggests:

Absolutely. It is possible – if we give politicians a cold, hard slap in the face. The fraudulence of the Copenhagen approach – “goals” for emission reductions, “offsets” that render ironclad goals almost meaningless, the ineffectual “cap-and-trade” mechanism – must be exposed.

He goes on to argue for a simple carbon tax offset by a total return of the tax to the public either through reductions in payroll taxes or “dividends” payed directly to citizens, an approach that has been favored by economists of all political persuasions.

I can’t agree with Hanson when he calls for increased use of nuclear energy, for all the reasons cited here.

But in general, Hanson has it exactly right on how to address climate and energy issues through public policy – put a real price on fossil fuels through the tax system and offset that tax with reductions in regressive taxes like the payroll tax which stifle our economy and discourage jobs creation.

Hanson is absolutely right in his assessment of  on our current policy efforts in Congress and on his hopes for Copenhagen.

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