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Responding to Shellenberger & Nordhaus on Climate:

On Monday, Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, authors of Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility, challenged conservatives on global warming in an essay on TNR Online. While some conservatives (including yours truly) have acknowledged the threat of climate change, Shellenberger and Nordhaus wrote, few (if any) had followed through with tangible proposals for meaningful action.

Newt Gingrich and Terry Maple, authors of the conservative environmental manifesto, A Contract with the Earth, responded on Tuesday, arguing for a market-based approach of sorts, based on "bold government incentives," to the threat of climate change. Shellenberger and Nordhaus were not convinced by the Gingrich-Maple argument, and suggested Gingrich and Maple are trying to address climate change "on the cheap," and that won't do.

I contributed to the exchange today, suggesting that Nordhaus and Shellenberger are too wedded to centralized, top-down strategies.

even though Shellenberger and Nordhaus recognize the difference between a politics of limits and one of possibility, they do not seem to comprehend the problems common to all centralized, top-down policy initiatives--regulatory and subsidy-driven alike. In their book and essays, Shellenberger and Nordhaus correctly observe that regulatory approaches to climate change are "economically insufficient to accelerate the transition to clean energy." Yet the "investment-centered" approach they prefer still suffers from substantial limits, not least their preference for a centrally directed system of subsidies. Rather than grapple with the limits of top-down direction of investment and economic activity, they present a false dichotomy between laissez faire absolutism and government direction of investments. . . .

There is certainly a need for conservatives and others to "back up words with action," but not just any action will do. We need innovation-spurring, forward-looking environmental policies, not a repackaging of the centralized mandates and economic controls that have dominated environmental policy for the past three decades. Shellenberger and Nordhaus have helped to initiate this dialogue, but their policy recommendations should not be the last word.

The essay fleshes out some of what I have in mind in greater detail.

My prior posts on Nordhaus and Shellenberger, and their provocative book, are here and here. Meanwhile, while we're on the subject of conservatives and climate change, David Roberts rounds up the latest comments from the GOP presidential candidates on global warming policy.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Nordhaus & Shellenberger on Break Through - Event & Webcast:
  2. Responding to Shellenberger & Nordhaus on Climate:
Smokey:
The UN is positively salivating over the $trillions it expects to get as a result of its unproven morphing from "global cooling" ---> "global warming" ---> "climate change." What better way to put their money grubbing fingers deep into American workers' pockets, than to tax the air we breathe?

If human caused global warming [AGW] was a fact, both Al Gore and the UN's IPCC would be willing to engage in an open, moderated debate. But they all refuse, shouting "consensus!" and "the science is settled!" --- while running away from any real debate.

The alarmists won't mention it, but 2007 was the coolest year in the last century.

There is way too much bogus hype over this issue, from the UN/IPCC on down. The claim that carbon dioxide is a potent greenhouse gas has been falsified through the peer-review process. In other words, CO2 can not cause global warming. Where does that leave the Gorebot's claims?
1.31.2008 7:44pm
Cold Warrior:
One fine development in conservative circles over the last few months: people are beginning to sever the link between adherence to Kyoto and concern over global warming. To be against Kyoto does not mean that one is a global warming denier; it means that Kyoto is, all in all, a pretty lousy way of dealing with a serious concern.

I think most people are tired of the Al Gore vs. Rush Limbaugh style phony debate. Which is why I was also glad to hear McCain talking about global warming in last night's debate.
1.31.2008 7:44pm
Cold Warrior:
No sooner do I click "post comment" than I see that "Smokey" beat me to the punch, proving that not everyone is ready to let go ...
1.31.2008 7:45pm
Randy R. (mail):
Glad to see that even George W. Bush and Newt Gingrinch have joined the bandwagon of loony leftists who hate America!

Snarkiness aside, I am well beyond debating the issue with people who still claim that climate change isn't occuring. There is too much evidence.

But the issue is, what to do about it? China has recently provided for $160 billion to develop alternative fuels, with the goal to be independent of oil and coal within ten years. They have planted millions of trees. All the new huge developments are designed with plenty of public transit, and most major cities will be linked by maglev trains within 15 years so as to reduce the need for air travel. They also require higher fuel economy from their cars than we do.

Now, most of this is "top down" planning, but at least it is addressing the issue until something better comes along, and the Chinese gov't has officially stated that climate change is happening, they are a major contributor to it, and they are taking steps to combat it. Perhaps those Chinese Communists are really just doing all that because they hate China and want the US to beat them as a superpower, but I suspect they really just have self-interest in mind. And it's far more than our gov't has done.

We in the states are dithering until the most perfect solution that will cost us nothing and will inconvenience no one is developed. In other words, we will be dithering until our coastlines are swamped.
1.31.2008 8:02pm
Smokey:
Cold Warrior:

You gotta be quicker on the draw than that! [i keed!]

Anyway, it is not that I have to 'let go.' I just see this issue through the lens of a 30+ year engineering career, with an emphasis on temp/humidity measurement working in a major metrology lab. Our standards are traceable to NIST [formerly the National Bureau of Standards], and are extremely rigorous. I'm not trying to argue, but if possible, to educate.

First, all the alarmists' gloom 'n' doom arm-waving neglects to point out that current temps - and projections - are well within the parameters of natural climate variability [and the planet's climate always fluctuates].

Next, even scientists within the UN/IPCC disagree. Where's the consensus? And hundreds of scientists -- more than the number actually signing off on the IPCC -- have come out against the global warming/AGW hypothesis. Also, over nineteen thousand scientists [19,000+] have signed on to this refutation of the global warming scam. Should they be entirely discounted because someone just can't let go of their ill-founded belief in the unsubstantiated pronouncements of Al Gore?

Finally, the noaa was forced to backtrack on its temperature record, when it was pointed out that numerous temperature dataloggers were located over asphalt parking lots, next to air conditioning exhausts, etc. In other words, as urban areas built up, the dataloggers recorded artificially higher readings. Following correction of the data, it is evident that there has been no unusual warming.

Dr Fred Singer is a climatologist and the founding director of the U.S. National Weather Satellite Service. He recently wrote on this subject in Hillsdale College's publication, Imprimis. He does a good job of explaining what's going on.

There are literally trillions of dollars at stake regarding "climate change." The UN actually wants to tax the air we breathe, and it's based on extremely shaky 'science.' Before we hand the UN a blank check, would it not be wise to demand proof of their assertions? And remember:

"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary... The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false-face for the urge to rule it.''

~~ H. L. Mencken
1.31.2008 8:33pm
The General:
The boldest proposal would be that the government and industry coordinate to build a GIANT WEATHER CONTROL MACHINE. At least that would be a tangible way to view these attempts to change the damn weather, which is what all this global whining comes down to. Then we could vote on what we think the ideal temperature should be.
1.31.2008 9:08pm
Kazinski:
It is clear that their aren't any politicians that are serious on climate change. None, nada, zilch, unless you count Bill Clinton. He hit the nail on the head:

"We just have to slow down our economy and cut back our greenhouse gas emissions 'cause we have to save the planet for our grandchildren."

Even he is being timid, rather than come up with a stimulus package, we should be trying to drive the economy into a deep depression. People got so much money floating around in their pockets that 5 dollar gas isn't enough to get them to take a bus and .25kwh electricity isn't enough to get them to switch to fluorescents and turn the thermostat down to 55.

I'll know people are are serious about global warming when they slap a 100% tax on airfare, $5 dollars on gas, and kick up the cost of electricity to .50kwh. That ought to kickstart us into a depression. And as a bonus we'll take the rest of the world down with us.

We could also add an energy VAT that taxes the amount of energy added to products at each stage of production, then we can tax stuff coming in from overseas too, and ding them for the energy it takes to ship halfway around the world. That ought to pull the rug out from under the world economy.
1.31.2008 11:39pm
Curt Fischer:

Randy R.: China has recently provided for $160 billion to develop alternative fuels, with the goal to be independent of oil and coal within ten years.


For China to be independent of oil and coal within ten years seems an absurdly impossible dream.

A quick Google scan revealed articles saying that China was investing ~$100 billion / yr in coal-fired power plants, and that in 2004 the New York Times viewed their pledge to derive 10% of their electric energy from renewable resources with skepticism.

Now comes a China independent of oil and coal within ten years? To do so they would need to take the unusual steps of cancelling their partnership with Saudi Aramco, reversing their skyrocketing dependence on foreign oil, informing the US DoE that its estimate of Chinese coal demand increasing by 50% is wrong, and ending the boom of putting one new coal-fired power plant online every week.

Doesn't seem likely to me.
2.1.2008 5:32am
Brian Mac:
"The claim that carbon dioxide is a potent greenhouse gas has been falsified through the peer-review process. In other words, CO2 can not cause global warming."

If satire died with Kissinger getting the peace prize, then you've just killed off parody. But seriously, don't you think it's weird that the authors didn't publish their earth-shattering finding in, say, a semi-respectable journal, or even a journal full stop? Or does the mighty Gore control access to all of those?
2.1.2008 8:31am
rarango (mail):
I see GW as an empirical issue--temperature rises can be measured and compared statistically with historical records. That whole process seems to me to be totally transparent (assuming the issues that Smokey raises about measuring sites is resolved). The causes and solutions are much more problematic.

One thing strikes me: if global warming is an issue, why are millions of people not moving from endangered coast lines? Should flood plains be withdrawn to account for rise in sea levels? Should thos living in those areas have their flood insurance cancelled? Should the government issue flood insurance?
2.1.2008 10:00am
J. F. Thomas (mail):
The alarmists won't mention it, but 2007 was the coolest year in the last century.

I love how by changing just a couple words this fact becomes so much more significant than it really is. 2007 was the coolest year this century (which of course is only seven years old).

See how you have to lie to make global warming disappear.
2.1.2008 10:34am
Andy Freeman (mail):
> Should the government issue flood insurance?

No, but that question has nothing to do with AGW.

Govt flood insurance lets people live places where the costs exceed what folks are willing to pay. Why should the rest of us subsidize their desire to live in a flood plain or where they're going to be wiped out by ordinary weather?
2.1.2008 10:36am
J. F. Thomas (mail):
"We just have to slow down our economy and cut back our greenhouse gas emissions 'cause we have to save the planet for our grandchildren."

It's nice to take someone's partial quote to make it sound like that they are making the exact opposite point they were really making.
2.1.2008 10:48am
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Govt flood insurance lets people live places where the costs exceed what folks are willing to pay. Why should the rest of us subsidize their desire to live in a flood plain or where they're going to be wiped out by ordinary weather?

Flood insurance is part of a nationwide comprehensive flood control policy. It is far from perfect, but along with providing flood insurance it also prohibits or severely limits construct and requires floodproofing in flood prone areas, things that private insurance just couldn't do. Also, much of our vital infrastructure, (ports, agriculture, pipelines, oil fields and services, etc.) are in flood-prone areas. It may be nice to imagine a world where nobody lives in areas prone to flooding or does so at their own risk, but without the port of New Orleans, how are you going to get the grain crop of the entire midwest exported, and the oil from the Gulf of Mexico (and much of our imported oil) distributed to the rest of the country?
2.1.2008 10:55am
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Dr Fred Singer is a climatologist

Another lie. He is an electrical engineer and physicist.
2.1.2008 11:00am
rarango (mail):
He is an electrical engineer and physicist. absolutely true, however his CV also indicates over 40 years of professional work looking primarily at atmospheric study with his first paper on climate change came in 1989. He just might know a little bit--and I am positive he knows a lot more than me about atmospheric issues. (of course he cant be trusted because he is funded by oil companies--better get that in)
2.1.2008 11:26am
J. F. Thomas (mail):
He is an electrical engineer and physicist. absolutely true, however his CV also indicates over 40 years of professional work looking primarily at atmospheric study

Working at the National Weather Satellite Service (where he was a satellite guy) makes you no more a climatologist than working at KFC makes you a chicken farmer.
2.1.2008 11:41am
rarango (mail):
Working at the National Weather Satellite Service (where he was a satellite guy) makes you no more a climatologist than working at KFC makes you a chicken farmer. Cute, but hardly accurate, JF. He was in the Sat service from 62-64; I was looking at his 20 or so years as Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Virginia—as well as the fact he first published on GW and Climate change in 1989. Take a harder look at his CV, my friend. His credentials look pretty impressive to me—YMMV
2.1.2008 11:53am
Smokey:
J.F. Thomas:
Dr. Fred Singer, Climatologist, The Competitive Enterprise Institute [source] {Scroll down, names are listed alphabetically]
Leftists always play the ad hominem card -- as if that makes them right. In fact, when someone attacks a person rather than the science, that means they lack any real argument. Other than, "Bu... But... But, Al Gore said..."
2.1.2008 12:08pm
rarango (mail):
Smokey: giving our friend Mr. Thomas the benefit of the doubt, he may not understand how academia works. One receives a PhD is some overall field, say physics. The course work usually requires mastering at least two field areas within physics, one of which is included in the dissertation. You are, however, tested on both field areas. Once in a faculty position, a researcher can expand into other fields, normally by researching and publishing in those fields. And there are some fields like Oceanography and Climatology, that really require mastering several field areas to fully understand them. It is one's subsequent research and publication record that establishes one's expertise--not the original PhD content.
2.1.2008 12:49pm
Lonely Capitalist (mail):
The latest climate data I saw said that unusual sun spot activity may mean we are entering a new "little ice" age.

HA! Won't that put egg on the face of all those alarmists! We'll all need to drive Hummers and switch to dirty coal fired power plants to save the planet.

Seriously, if it turns out the weather will cool dramatically in the next few decades, how will the leftists want to control our lives to save us from that?
2.1.2008 12:52pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
I was looking at his 20 or so years as Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Virginia—as well as the fact he first published on GW and Climate change in 1989. Take a harder look at his CV

You seem to have a reading comprehension problem--he was a professor of environmental, not atmospheric, science, at UVA.

And Smokey--your link does indeed claim that he is a climatologist, which is rather odd since he doesn't even claim to be one on his own CV. I could claim to be Pope and put it on a website. Doesn't make it true.

You might want to recheck the definition of ad hominum. Pointing out that you are lying is not an ad hominum attack. You lied about 2007 being the coolest year in the last century and you are lying about Singer being a climatologist (as does your link).

I am constantly called a liar on this site. Get over it.
2.1.2008 1:01pm
rarango (mail):
JF: You are indeed correct that it was environmental and not atmospheric science department--but did you read his speciality areas within that department? Did you look at his publicantions? Ozone depletion and greenhouse warming. And here's another clue for you: environmental science normally includes the atmosphere as a subset. If you have a terminal degree it must be a JD because you have absolutely no concept of academia and what a PhD is nor how to evaluate a CV. You keep denying Dr. Singer's obvious expertise through you thoroughly ridiculous hair splitting.
2.1.2008 1:12pm
rarango (mail):
oops--PIMF: last line in my 1:12: you = your.

And another helpful hint for Mr. Thomas: You might want to look up the Department of Environmental Science at UVA: it is was is called an "interdisciplinary" department and it specially includes graduate course work in climatology and atmospheric sciences. And as I have now decended into the pig wrestling phase of interaction, I will cede the sty to Mr. Thomas.
2.1.2008 1:21pm
Piano_JAM (mail):
Randy R:Snarkiness aside, I am well beyond debating the issue with people who still claim that climate change isn't occuring. There is too much evidence.

The point is not that the climate is not changing, the point is whether man is the main cause and if there will be some catastrophic change due to man's actions. There is no proof of this. Computer models are not PROOF. I create models everyday for a Fortune 5 company, but my models PROVE NOTHING. The predictions from Hansen, et al modes are currently falling apart as previously noted, 2007 was a cool year, and we have not had a year hotter than 1998.

Further, if you feel you have PROOF, I would like to inform you that you are eligible for $125,000 prize from Junkscience.com.
2.1.2008 1:23pm
Kazinski:
JF Thomas:
It's nice to take someone's partial quote to make it sound like that they are making the exact opposite point they were really making.

Oh he went on to say that there would be lots of economic activity with alternative energy and green technology. Anyone that knows anything about economics, knows that it is production that matters, and all these green technologies may divert economic resourses from other activities, but they will increase the cost of production of both basic necessities and luxury goods.

No, Bill had it right the first time. The stated goal is to reduce our carbon footprint by 80% by the end of the century. To do that we will have to reduce our standards of living by about 50%.

If we are serious about Global Warming the era of world travel is over. The era of international trade is over. The era of Al Gore flying around the world on his private jet talking about how bad the problem is while making it worse is over. But its a bunch of crap to say we can reduce our carbon footprint by 80% and it is win-win. If we are going to buy into the solutions that will be necessary to actually meet the goals that are being set, then we all have to be honest about what the costs are going to be.

The worst thing that can happen is to go into it half-assed and lower our standards of living 20-40% but not actually make any difference in global warming, it would be better to do nothing and at least maintain our current prosperity.
2.1.2008 4:00pm
ed (mail) (www):
Hmmmmm.

@ Randy R.

"They have planted millions of trees."

Utter nonsense. China? Land of Incredible Corruption?

Capital where the pollution is so bad the marathoners and cyclists in the next Summer Olympics are planning on wearing **breathing masks**?

Oh yeah. They're the bloody epitome of environmentalism.

They're also the #1 seller of carbon credits. Which shows what a joke that is.
2.1.2008 5:13pm
Barbara:
I notice that Al Gore's true believers call names, but they never cite sources.
2.1.2008 10:29pm
Nimrod:

No, Bill had it right the first time. The stated goal is to reduce our carbon footprint by 80% by the end of the century. To do that we will have to reduce our standards of living by about 50%.

It's not just standard of living, it's just plain human life as well. Some people say "it's just money" but poverty necessarily equals more death. When GDP goes down, WTP (willingness to pay) goes down which affects VSL (value of a statistical life). In short, people become less willing to spend money on public safety and welfare programs because they are less willing to spend money to save random unknown people from death. As a result, more people die due to accidents, poor health regulations, etc., because people are less willing to fund the things that prevent those deaths.
2.2.2008 11:47am
Smokey:
J.F. Thomas:
"Pointing out that you are lying is not an ad hominum attack. You lied about 2007 being the coolest year in the last century and you are lying about Singer being a climatologist" [my emphasis]
Actually, I had made that time-line mistake due to reading one of the many sources I linked to too quickly. Does that make me a "liar"? JFT then excuses his constant insulting of other posters by claiming:
"I am constantly called a liar on this site. Get over it."
Who constantly calls JFT a "liar"? His complaint comes across more like 'projection.' Really, I can't recall anyone who denigrates and insults other commenters as much as J.F. Thomas routinely does. For example, J.F. Thomas recently told another poster:
"You, sir, are despicable human being who has no idea of the sacrifices that our all-volunteer military is being forced endure (more than any since World War II) for selfish bastards like yourself..."
[J.F. Thomas has never served in the military.]

It should also be noted that degrees in climatology began in the mid-1980's. Dr Singer received his degrees before that. If JFT has a problem with the government's treating of Dr Singer as a climatologist when he was the founding director of the U.S. National Weather Satellite Service, he should argue with them.

That relates to a problem with J.F. Thomas and most other global warming True Believers: they issue their unsupported opinions, and then expect everyone to accept their beliefs as fact. They rarely provide cites or links to back up their belief systems. Why is that? Maybe it's because their belief in AGW/global warming is a matter of religious faith to them, and they feel the need to proselytize to the rest of us.

[Word of warning: Do not try to use facts with the True Believers of global warming; they make radical islamists look like slackers.]

If JFT would provide citations backing up his unfounded opinions, we could have a real discussion, based on the merits. Without cites, his personal opinions are nothing more than fevered arm-waving, akin to the crazed belief system of Scientologists.
2.2.2008 7:22pm