Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Existential Choices: Mitigation Efforts and the Future of Conservatives

In the last post, I argued that Conservatives and Libertarians run a risk of being proven wrong on Anthropogenic Global Warming. A few really hot years could be prove to be politically disastrously for a climate a AGW right wing. Conservatives have place themselves in this situation by claiming to know that the AGW hypothesis is untrue with a far greater degree of certainty than is possible. Slogans like "AGW is a hoax" and "AGW is a fraud" can and probably will comeback to haunt the right wing.

The hoax argument is at best weak, and reprehensible. The latest attempt by the Climate Audit gang to turn some stolen emails into a scandal has been shown to be without merit by a report of the British The House of Commons’ Science and Technology Committee titled The disclosure of climate data from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, has discredited the hoax arguments based on the email disclosures. The Conclusion of that report stated in part,
The focus on Professor Jones and CRU has been largely misplaced. On the accusations relating to Professor Jones’s refusal to share raw data and computer codes, we consider that his actions were in line with common practice in the climate science community. We have suggested that the community consider becoming more transparent by publishing raw data and detailed methodologies. On accusations relating to Freedom of Information, we consider that much of the responsibility should lie with UEA, not CRU.

In addition, insofar as we have been able to consider accusations of dishonesty—for example, Professor Jones’s alleged attempt to “hide the decline”—we consider that there is no case to answer. Within our limited inquiry and the evidence we took, the scientific reputation of Professor Jones and CRU remains intact. We have found no reason in this unfortunate episode to challenge the scientific consensus as expressed by Professor Beddington, that “global warming is happening [and] that it is induced by human activity”. It was not our purpose to examine, nor did we seek evidence on, the science produced by CRU. It will be for the Scientific Appraisal Panel to look in detail into all the evidence to determine whether or not the consensus view remains valid.
The natural inclination of the right is to adopt a free market, business as usual approach, but given the magnitude of the crisis, a business as usual approach is likely to fail. I noted that the Peel government of the United Kingdom, relied on free market and local solutions to a lesser crisis, the 19th century, the Irish potato famine. This failure lead lead to the death of a million people, and the immigration of another million from Ireland. What would be required of human society to meet the AGW crisis would be an effort similar to the global warming crisis, similar to the effort that was expended by the belligerents during World War II. Global society must be mobilized as if it were going to war.

It should be noted that mobilization during war, is not an anathema for conservatives. Indeed a Conservative, Herbert Hoover, headed the American Food Administration during World War I. In a war time situation Hoover did not flinch at instructing American farmers what they should grow, and how much money they should be paid for their crops. He also exercised influence over food prices in stores, and told the American people what they should eat and when they should eat it. Through Hoover's efforts, the United States was able to feed a large Army and millions of people in Europe. In contrast to the Conservative Peel, whose administration allowed a million Irish die during the potato famine, conservative Hoover's efforts prevented mass death in Europe, due to wartime and post war famines.

It may not be necessary to go to the length that Hoover did during World War I, to fight climate change, but Conservatives and Libertarians should be prepared to do so if necessary to ensure success in the effort to fight climate change. Climate change threatens the national security of the United States, perhaps more than any war time enemy ever has.

The means of achieving success in the effort to prevent anthropogenic climate change should not be the real problem for the right. Rather the problem would lie in the outcome of the crisis sought by the romantic environmentalist. That projected outcome envisions a low energy, low materials future to be achieved by social engineering. My view is that Conservatives would very much wish to avoid such an outcome, if it were possible to do so.

It has been the contention of Nuclear Green that the outcomes typically advocated by romantic environmentalists, would likely turn into a demographic disaster similar to what occurred as a consequence of the Irish potato famine, but without an America to escape too. Further. I believe that such a consequence would be wholly unnecessary and that outcomes that would be deemed far more desirable by Conservatives and Libertarians would be possible. It is thus in the interest of Conservatives to not write themselves out of the mitigation game, and that interest is existential. Conservatives and Libertarians risk the survival of a world in which their ideologies are even possible if they ignore the possibility that AGW is real.

I have argued for much of the last three years that a nuclear powered future would be most consistent with Conservative goals, and would allow for the avoidance of the undesirable consequences that the solutions supported by romantic environmentalists would bring. There is a plausible case that global oil production is near peaking, and that at the very least, global oil production will not keep pace with increasing demand for oil by new car owners in India and China. As it is the costs of imported oil is a huge burden on the American economy, a burden that cannot be ignored. The huge cost of imported oil can only lead to the long term ruin of the American economy if the homaging is not stopped.

The cost of imported oil has been a major an increasing burden to the American economy for some time. the electrification of surface transportation in the United States makes economic sence, whether or not you acknowledge that climate change is an emanate reality. Of course, oil companies are never going to acknowledge any of the problems, despite what their own scientists tell them. But conservatives must realize that business executives often don't tell the truth if it is in the interests to tell lies. It is also in corporate interest to employ ideologically
motivated hacks to tell their lies for them. Unfortunately Conservatives and Libertarians have until now proven themselves all to willing dupes of the lies.

There large though largely hidden costs associated with the use of fossil fuels to generate electricity and produce heat. Coal fired power plants produce an enormous amount of pollutants in addition to CO2. Many of the pollutants effect the health of millions of Americans. The cost is not paid by electrical producers and consumers. Instead it is payed by employers, consumers and the federal government in the form of added insurance premiums, and by sick people and their families in the form of added medical costs, lost wages, suffering and heart ache. Conservatives and Libertarians have expressed concerns about the cost of health care, yet not so concerned that they are willing to stop environmental pollution from fossil fuel use, that contributes to health care cost.

Natural gas use must be included in this issue. Natural gas carries with it, radioactive radon that can cause cancer. There is a sort of tasit conspiracy by the left and the right to hide the problem of radon in natural gas from the public.

Thus the savings in health care costs that would be reaped from a successful AGW mitigation effort would go a long way to paying for the cost of the mitigation effort, and the increased strength of an American economy, no longer shackled by the cost of imported oil would increase the prosperity which Conservatives and Libertarians seek.

My argument for the last three years, has been that advanced nuclear power would offer a technological fix that would lead to the best possible outcome from Conservative and Libertarian perspective. That outcome would require the least amount of social engineering, and by relying on technological fixes. Thus Conservatives and Libertarians have a stake in AGW mitigation, whether or not they recognize it, and the future of the sort of society that they both would like to see, rests in no small measure in their participation in the social negations that will proceed the determination of the direction that the mitigation efforts take.

I must add that I consider myself a Liberal, but a Liberal who believe that the current generation of Conservatives and Libertarians have something to offer, if they would stop fighting the AGW concept, and sign on to the mitigation effort negations. Their failure to do so would only bring existential disaster to themselves, and to their society.


Jim Baerg said...

I think it worth noting that Milton Friedman, an economist who is generally respected by conservatives, advocated pollution taxes as the best way to get people to cut emmisions of such pollutants as SO2.

Similarly a CO2 tax would deal with the climate problem with a minimum of social engeneering.

Charles Barton said...

Jim, than you for your comment very helpful comment.

Soylent said...

It's not at all clear to me that the irish potato famine is a clear-cut failure of free market policies.

The british conquered Ireland, several times in fact, and confiscated vast tracts of fertile land from irish catholics; giving it to british noblemen and soldiers who acted as absentee landlords. I believe high rents for tenants and the retched british corn laws that pushed up the price of grains(collectively called corn in common parlance at the time) takes a large share of the blame for the driving the irish towards potato mono-culture for their internal consumption and for Ireland being a net exporter all through the potato famine.

The british also turned away private charity; including ships full of donated food from america and monetary donations, including £10 000 from a sultan of the Ottoman empire because it exceeded that donated by the british queen which would have been a political embarassement. Back then this was serious money; a 1 pound coin was 7.3 grams of gold and 1 lb of barley would have cost less than a pence before milling(240 pence in a pre-decimalization pound).

I'm not ideologically opposed to the idea that free markets can cause bad outcomes, for some definitions of bad; especially when a large, unowned, common resource is involved.

You always have to ask; "as opposed to what?". Government has a long and sordid track record with many miserable failures. When do you use government and when do you not?

I wish libertarians would get over their pretense that tragedy of the commons or externalities in general do not exist. These are often cases where a government-like entity has to be involved in some shape or form(mind you, there are also some tragedy of the commons' created by government refusing to allow ownership of a resource to be private, but you can't bloody well privatize something like the atmosphere).

I'd want to see a very simple, direct tax on carbon; something that fits on the back of a napkin, not a multi-thousand page proposal filled with loop-holes, exemptions and subsidies. The government doesn't need to usurp a bigger share of the economy so make the tax revenue neutral by abolishing other taxes(e.g. VAT).

If you don't apply the tax to exports, you do not put your country at a competitive disadvantage and it therefor allows you to unilaterally adopt a carbon tax for all internal consumption including imports. Your exports get a carbon tax applied to them if the importing country adopts a carbon tax similar to your own. It doesn't even necessarily have to be done at the federal level in the US; because it can be done unilaterally without hurting exports it might be doable on the state level.

While I personally would like the government to pick nuclear as the winner; allowing them to pick winners and losers to that extent opens the door to allow greenie-weenies to pick all but useless solar panels as the winner. At most I could see the government doing R&D for a wide variety of things, in particularly high pay-off, low odds ideas(think DARPA).

crf said...

I don't think the world war analogy fits totally.

The war was a huge separate burden from typical societal concerns. With climate change, the problem in inseparable from them, because it largely stems from them. Wars have a beggining and (in rational societies) an end. Keeping a reasonably stable climate is a multi-generational task, and one that will never end so long as human society thrives.

Carbon taxes and (preferably negotiated at the WTO) border tax ajustments are one big part of the solution.

Basic science education is a neglected problem.

Government guarantees or direct financing are going to be needed, I think, domestically and internationally. Perhaps not right away, but at least they shouldn't be rejected out of hand (as some libertarians and conservatives may wish), and should be planned for. We cannot worship markets, we should respect, control, and use them effectively.

Where the world war analogy fits is that this is a world-wide problem, and the burden for fighting it must fall to all those capable (the sentiment expressed in the US food administration poster). And it is an urgent problem, like the war was, with no honour in sitting it out.

DocForesight said...

So the British House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has done their 'investigation' - not of the science, but of the email 'leak' and the contents therein, and found no evidence of wrong-doing.

Fine. Let's see what happens in Mexico City come December. Which countries will sign on to a binding agreement to limit their economy and energy/electrification progress in light of the exposure of UN IPCC documents and reports?

As more research is conducted and the layers of the 'onion' that comprises global climate and its varying influences becomes more well-known, a rational - rather than emotional - response will become clear. Until then, 99.95% of the atmosphere remains CO2 free.

Remember, its anti-nukes who are your true nemesis, not Conservatives.

Charles Barton said...

Doc, I am not your enemy either, I am only suggestion that a mid course correction is in order, if Conservatives are going to get what they want. By the way, we appear to have broken a heat record in Knoxville today. Look out for a mighty hot year.

DocForesight said...

Charles, I do not consider you an "enemy" and apologize if that word incorrectly describes the disagreement we have on AGW.

Just as not all Liberals are pro-AGW, not all Conservatives are "skeptics". I am skeptical because of the undeniable enormity and complexity of global climate and the obvious inability of computer models to accurately account for the variables - water vapor and cloud formation, as two examples - in their projections.

The use of the "precautionary principle" would not stand the scrutiny for bridge construction, so why employ it here?

As to the warmth in Knoxville, I am reminded that localized weather events do not lend themselves to broad generalizations of global climate. I did not engage in the caterwauling about the unusual snow events in DC this winter as evidence of no GW/GCC.

Charles Barton said...

Doc, I did not argue that a hot spell in Knoxville proves AGW. As I stated I have not the slightest idea why the Bermuda arrived so early in spring this year, as I indicated in my post. This is about perceptions. If we have a cold winter people say, AGW is not happening. With several hot years, people will not only say it is happening, they also might start getting frightened. This is when the existential problem begins.


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