Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

McCain on Global Warming

When I got the chance to read it last night, I was disappointed by McCain's speech on global warming, though perhaps not for the same reason that most of the NRO set was.

While I am something of a global warming skeptic (I'm not skeptical as to whether there's been a warming trend, but I am skeptical as to how much of it is the result of human actions, but most of all I'm skeptical about our ability to reduce our emissions enough to help any) I think that many in conservative circles have been too shrill and absolute in their approach to the issue -- fuelled in part by a general suspicion of science in conservative quarters which I do not think is a particularly good thing.

So I had hoped that McCain would bring some needed moderation to the Republican approach to dealing with global warming. He didn't. Instead he fell hook, line, and sinker for the impossible and therefore meaningless posturing which has been indulged in too often by environmental activists.

Before even opening his mouth, he set himself up with some pretty bad symbolism -- choosing to make his address from a wind farm. As if to illustrate the foolishness of this, the wind was apparently not blowing, and so he gave his address standing in front of a bunch of wind turbines busy not generating power. Wind power is one of the classic examples of good intentions and poor thinking. It works well for small scale power generation in remote areas with lots of wind, but it is no way to power a city. Wind farms take up vast amounts of land, they produce inconstant supplies of electricity, and when you fact in the cost of building and maintaining the wind turbines (not to mention the opportunity cost of not using the land for anything else) they're almost universally net losses rather than gains of energy.

The speech itself seemed to take it's relationship with practicality from the setting. McCain's proposal is for a cap-and-trade limit on carbon emissions. In some sense, this is not necessarily a bad idea, but the devil is invariably in the details. I'm skeptical of the whole idea of getting the government into measuring everyone's carbon emissions -- not to mention that the "carbon offsets" that are part of the plan are often simply a way of paying someone to do what they would do anyway.

Further, most of the goals McCain set (return to 1990 emission levels by 2020, get down to 60% of 1990 emissions by 2050) are starkly unrealistic, given that our population is continuing to rise at a pretty decent clip. Taking our total national emissions in 2050 to 60% of the 1990 level would actually be a 75% or greater reduction in per capita carbon emissions.

Some good things were mentioned, such as increasing our use of nuclear power, which we desperately need to do. But this was amidst a swarm of less well thought-out policies. I had wanted to see someone take a responsible yet conservative approach to addressing the global warming issue -- but this does not appear to be it.


TS said...

I agree with conservatives need to stop the knee-jerk anti-global warming-ism. Here's a lenghty but thoughtful column by Ramesh Ponnuru in NR concerning one of the few U.S. senators who know anything about the issue, Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker:


Early on, Corker decided that global warming was one of the top economic issues he would consider during his career. Unlike many other conservatives, he does not deny that the globe is warming. Nor does he spend time on the debate over how much of that warming is man-made. He does not even say that he opposes cap and trade. He presents himself as merely raising concerns about the current version of it. He wants a “more informed conversation” about the bill, so as to get “a better product.”

That may sound like weak opposition. But the concerns he is highlighting could prove deadly to the bill. By abandoning his party’s weakest ground, the insistence that warming isn’t happening, he has enabled himself to take on the weakest points on the other side...

Most senators do not know much about global-warming policy. Senator McCain, for example, is an enthusiastic proponent of cap and trade. He sees it as an alternative to a carbon tax that would raise the price of gasoline, which he wants to lower. Actually, cap and trade would raise the price of gasoline too, and quite significantly, as oil companies passed along the legislation’s costs to consumers.

Most economists, whether they favor cap and trade or not, see it as very similar to a carbon tax in its effects. The major difference is political. Senators know that voters would rebel against a direct increase in energy taxes. Cap and trade is an elaborately disguised version of the same thing. In addition, cap and trade would create more pressure groups with a financial interest in the government’s policy.

Even former senator Phil Gramm, one of McCain’s top economic advisers and a very smart man, does not see how similar cap and trade is to a carbon tax. While campaigning with McCain in New Hampshire, he told me that he does not support cap and trade, but prefers it to a carbon tax because it wouldn’t raise money for the federal government. Actually, cap and trade would raise money for Washington, because it would be auctioning off many of the permits to emit greenhouse gases.

If you accept the estimates that Lieberman and Warner use for the cost of these permits, around $13 per ton of emissions, their bill would have the government raising $1 trillion through 2031. If you use a more realistic estimate — in the EU’s existing cap and trade system, a ton costs $40 — that figure rises quite a bit. The bill stipulates how that money will be spent, and it removes that spending from the normal budget process. Whatever else it is, Lieberman-Warner is a bill to raise taxes and spending.

States would get emission permits too. They would be expected to sell them and then use the proceeds to promote energy efficiency, mass transit, and the like. Corker asks: If Congress is not willing to spend all this money directly on mass transit, what’s the point of doing it indirectly? Other, that is, than to disguise the wealth transfers taking place?

Corker has been nearly alone in raising these points. “The level of understanding around this issue in the House and Senate is lower than any issue I’m aware of,” he says. Even on an issue as complex as health care, he notes, elected officials have “some practical experience.” They rarely do on energy policy.

Corker plans to offer several amendments to the bill. He wants any money raised by auctions to be returned to taxpayers. He thinks that other energy subsidies should be cut. If we are setting up a quasi-market to determine how energy sources should be used within our emissions goals, he asks, what is the point of spending money on particular energy sources as well? And he will support other Republicans as they make the case for relying more on nuclear power. If the amendments pass, he says, he will have improved the bill. If they do not, he will have educated people about its drawbacks.

So far, both conservatives and liberals have approached global warming as though it were a culture-war issue rather than an empirical one. Whether one “believes in” global warming has been treated as a theological dividing line. But determining whether it exists, and how bad it is likely to be if so, should be only the beginning of a process of figuring out a response.

Liberals want to jump directly from “it’s a problem” to draconian reductions in carbon emissions. Over the last few years they have labeled those who doubt the existence of global warming “denialists” (an allusion to Holocaust deniers). Now those who concede it but balk at cap and trade are being called “the new denialists.” But the existence of trade-offs can’t be shouted away — and it won’t be if Senator Corker has anything to say about it.

Anonymous said...

He is better than Obama is about all the enthusiasm I can summon up for "Green" McCain

Foxfier, formerly Sailorette said...

The thing that annoys me the MOST is that in every test of the actual effect of higher CO2 on plantlife, etc, the plants *grow better* to an amazing degree with up to 300% more CO2.

"suspicion of science"?

I haven't seen it-- a lack of assumption that indications are truth, yes, but not really a suspicion of any real type.

Anonymous said...

Global warming is a fact and human activities are causing it. But it does NOT therefore follow that we should be trying to stop it. Several reasons:

1) Weaning our economies off fossil fuels will take decades and cost trillions of dollars, and by the time we get there global warming will be a done deal anyway.

2) China and India will never, ever agree to reduce their fossil fuel consumption - meaning global warming will go forward in spite of the best efforts (and the most expensive efforts) of the west.

3) Rather than spending staggering sums of money in a futile effort to stop global warming, it would be better to spend smaller, somewhat less staggering sums to help those countries that will be most affected by rising sea levels: Bangladesh, the various Polynesian islands, etc. This is certainly what they would prefer, and would give a much better ROI in terms of human development.


Darwin said...


While I'm less sure that we can be certain that human greenhouse gas emmissions are the primary driver of recent warming trends (it could be that they're just a mild exaccerbation on trends we'd have anyway), I'd otherwise completely agree with your analysis.

More broadly, we have no particular right to expect that the earth's climate won't change in ways that are inconvenient for us. So it seems to me that we'd be best off responding to changes in climate rather than trying to control them.

It's a lot easier to help people on low-lying Pacific islands than it is to actually control the sea level.

Darwin said...


Yeah, clearly higher CO2 temperatures (and also usually warming climate) are great for plants. So there's a balance going on, but I'm not clear that increased plant triving will in turn reduce the CO2 back to levels that will avoid climate effects that are out of the rather normal range we consider "normal" for civilization. (Of course, part of the difficulty here is that both global temperature and CO2 levels have varied over Earth's history --and a number of these completely "natural" situations that have existed in the past would arguably be pretty catastrophic for human society as currently run. Not to say that we couldn't adapt, but things would certainly change.)

As for suspicion of science...

It seems to me that particularly because of the evolution controversy (as typified by the glowing reviews several conservative publicans gave to Expelled) there is a tendency on the part of conservatives to simply ignore as "propaganda" scientific results that we don't like.

However, that's not unique to us by any standards. Liberals have a history of ignoring and denouncing scientific findings they don't like -- recent studies regarding relative cognative ability within populations, behavioral differences between the sexes, etc. being recent examples that spring to mind.

Foxfier, formerly Sailorette said...

Darwin- I don't think the greater plant growth will reduce the CO2, nor do I think that the failure for it to do that would be *bad*; just the opposite.
Given that geologists are looking at the metaphorical clock and saying "it's about time for an ice age" I rather hope and pray that we *can* cause some sort of global warming--it's much easier to adapt to things getting warmer than to deal with a lack of food.

Most of the reviews of Expelled that I read which complemented the movie were aware that ideologically-based censorship is a bad thing, especially in science-- where you're supposed to just slaughter the other side's *arguments* if they're wrong.
That has nothing to do with the scientific support, that's basic common sense, especially for conservatives who are, ah, not over-represented in colleges.

Frankly, I'm mostly bothered that you felt the need to single out one side to criticize--although you admit that both sides do it, thus making your complaint more against politically motivated abuse of science instead of any kind of "conservatives are suspicious of science" thing.

Darwin said...

Frankly, I'm mostly bothered that you felt the need to single out one side to criticize--although you admit that both sides do it, thus making your complaint more against politically motivated abuse of science instead of any kind of "conservatives are suspicious of science" thing.

Fair enough.

I guess the two motivating factors there are:

1) I expect the other side to be wrong, while it annoys me when I open up National Review and find an article dealing with science which either seems to clearly get things wrong, or to be pushing the facts farther than they should really got. Whereas, if some feminist insists that a paper discussing sex differences is "sexist", I'll probably never even read her work, and if I do, I'll just be re-affirmed in my disagreement with her.

2) I've more often found attacks on "the science establishment" and accusations that major bodies of research are "fraud" in conservative quarters. When leftists attack scientific results they don't like, they often just contradict them and claim that "everyone knows" that science supports their own position instead. So at a basic level, liberals tend to assume that most scientists agree with them (even when in fact their politicy proscriptions do not stand up to scientific scrutiny) while conservatives tend to assume that most scientists are against them. This is not for no reason, since demographically speaking professional scientists do tend to lean left.

As for expelled, it's a bit much to get into here. I do agree that there's a need not to enforce intellectual orthodoxy at the expense of following real results and conducting real debate. But there's also a point where someone is persuing a theory so quixotic that unless he can present some pretty startling results, he does indeed get ignored. This doesn't just happen in regards to evolution, but I can think of some areas of physics where people eventually get themselves shunned because they persist in following theories which most scientists agree are wrong. (The small but passionate cadre of cold fusion supports comes to mind. And I believe there are also some odd anti-big-bang theories hanging around and some rather odd cosmologies that are considered fringey.)

Foxfier, formerly Sailorette said...

I've more often found attacks on "the science establishment" and accusations that major bodies of research are "fraud" in conservative quarters. When leftists attack scientific results they don't like, they often just contradict them and claim that "everyone knows" that science supports their own position instead.

So one argues that they're wrong, even willfully so, and the other just claims they're wrong and everyone knows it?
And both assume that their view is true?

Sounds like the right/left profile in a nutshell.

I'm also curious what you thought of Derbyshire's "review" of a film he neither saw nor researched on the accusations against, supposedly in defense of science?

Darwin said...

I'm also curious what you thought of Derbyshire's "review" of a film he neither saw nor researched on the accusations against, supposedly in defense of science?

I got into the spirit of the thing and didn't bother to read it. :-)

Derb has got seriously annoying on any topic touching on religion. I've read his stuff on the corner, but I pretty much checked out of reading any of his articles that touched on anything vaguely religion related.

From watching the preview of Expelled and reading a few reviews (a couple by scientists and a couple by conservatives) I decided I wasn't interested in watching the film, and so at that point I mostly checked out. To the extent that it sounds similar to the "we're being silenced" stuff that I've read from ID folks in the past, I'm not real impressed. But since I wasn't going to see it I mostly checked out of the commentary.

Foxfier, formerly Sailorette said...

I got into the spirit of the thing and didn't bother to read it. :-)

*chokes on drink* Win!

And yes, he is reminding me of some of my evangelical-atheist friends. ;^p

If you have an interest in film-making related skills, you want to see it-- I seriously wish my old English teacher were still teaching, he'd be showing this CONSTANTLY.

Dry topic, but VERY well done; enough information for the geeks, but entertaining enough for the rest.

And from my POV, has all the right enemies-- any film that has THAT many knickers in a twist must have SOME damning information, or they'd just sue for slander.