Sorry, Kyoto Signatories, Emissions Traders, Carbon Taxers, Homo Oeconomicus Won’t Save the Climate – Part 1

By Michael Hoexter

[Part I] [Part II] [Part III] [Part IV]

1. Introduction: Context of Existing Climate Policy

Together, as a world economic system, we are currently on an emissions trajectory to achieve anywhere from 4 to 6 degrees Celsius (7 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit) warming by 2100.  Global average temperature increases within this range mean catastrophe for humankind, with sea level rises of at least 3 meters (10 feet) and a vastly more hostile environment for human life and co-evolved species.  Humanity may be, with these emissions levels either bringing about its own extinction as the effects of the resultant warming set in or, at least, so degrading the conditions of life that very few humans will be able to survive.  We will have to reduce the currently escalating rate of increase of emissions to zero and then over a period of two to three decades reduce net greenhouse gas emissions to zero in order to have a chance of stabilizing the climate and not significantly endanger the welfare of future generations.

These higher levels of warming are not inevitable but over 15 years of climate policy, the policy that would stabilize and decrease the concentration of warming gases, has not been effective or nearly effective enough depending on your viewpoint. Twenty-two years after the UN’s Rio summit, 17 years after the Kyoto Protocol was chosen as the central worldwide policy to curb emissions, and 9 years after Kyoto mechanisms were put into effect, the emissions trading policies of Kyoto have not had a substantial effect on the trajectory of emissions.  While much of the greenhouse gas emissions growth has occurred outside those countries that have instituted an emissions trading system internally, fluctuations in emissions accounted for throughout the world are bound more closely to broad economic and political factors other than the institution of an emissions trading scheme.  More influential than emissions trading have been:  rapid economic growth, relocation of emissions intensive industries like cement and steel, emissions that may escape current accounting regimes, and economic recessions.  China leads recent emissions growth with other rapidly developing countries because a confluence of two of these factors (relocation and growth of emissions-intensive industries and overall rapid economic growth), while decreases in Europe and the United States are largely attributable to recessions plus deindustrialization. Self-congratulation in the US regarding recent decreases in emissions are, in addition, enabled by an under-counting of the effects of fugitive methane from natural gas extraction and distribution networks.

Climate policymakers, if they take their job seriously, have an unenviable task:  the fate of civilization weighs on the success or failure alone of the policy they create and enact.  Climate policy must attempt to change the massive, complex socio-economic and technological systems and land-use trends which sustain high emissions and simultaneously enable the creation of a zero-net-emission society around the globe, within a span of two to three decades.  In addition land-use policy and/or perhaps new geoengineering technology will have to reduce as much as possible, existing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and oceans.

In their design, most existing climate policies selected to deal with climate change were versions of a policy, cap-and-trade, that had been originally designed to deal with a much more circumscribed problem with a fixed set of technical or coal-sourcing solutions: reducing acid rain by the reduction of sulfur dioxide emissions (actually a cooling influence on the climate) from coal-fired power plants.  The policy was initially designed to encourage coal plant owners to install emissions-scrubbing technology via a system of auctioning off tradable pollution permits that would become more limited in quantity and therefore more expensive over time, supposedly creating an effective, rising “price” for emissions.

While advocates for cap-and-trade attempted to attribute reductions in acid rain and sulfur dioxide emissions during the 1990’s and 2000’s to cap-and-trade, the most important contributing factor to reductions has been the practice of transporting low sulfur coal from the Western US which increased in the 1990’s due to freight railway deregulation and resulting cost reductions in transport and therefore the effective price of Western low-sulfur coal to power plant operators in the Eastern US.   With the presence of at least two “off-the shelf” technological or operational options at an affordable cost, the reduction of sulfur dioxide emissions was, in comparison to global warming, “falling-over easy”.  The US federal government has since then introduced direct regulation of power plants which has led to the collapse of sulfur dioxide emissions trading markets.  Despite this recent history, during the period in which the first wave of climate policy instruments were selected, the economists and policy advocates most invested in cap-and-trade continued to repeat the words “market-based” and “cost-effective” attached to “cap-and-trade” or “carbon pricing” enough times to foreclose a critical discussion of its merits and demerits.

2. Betting the World on Self-Interest and Individualism

The central actor in emissions trading (the generic term for cap-and-trade), the motive force for emissions-reduction decisions on a day-to-day basis in the economy, is Homo oeconomicusHomo oeconomicus or “economic man” is the model of the individual economic actor assumed by most economists, especially mainstream neoclassical economists, as well as many participants in the political process of varying backgrounds and ideologies.  Stripped down to essentials, Homo oeconomicus is an autonomous rational calculator of self-interested advantage to him or her, in the language of mainstream economics, a “utility maximizer”.  Homo oeconomicus is only superficially a social animal, contradicting empirical evidence and subjective experience that suggests that people are highly social.  Another way to describe Homo oeconomicus is that it simply an expression of neoclassical economics’ “methodological individualism” a founding assumption that suggests that neoclassical economics is, whether economists are conscious of it or not, an ideological operation more than a description of reality.  Thus theories and policies that assume Homo oeconomicus would tend to overlook social relationships, interactions and the role of institutions and groups.  Resulting from these assumptions, neoclassical economics is a description of a “particulate” economy

In the case of the original emissions trading instrument, the utility-maximizing economic actors (i.e. people and organizations) that were supposed to realize the policy goals, were the owners of power plants, usually power utilities.   The power companies owning coal fired power plants would make decisions to buy permits on auctions or install sulfur dioxide scrubbing technology depending on their own calculations of the relative economic advantages of each move.  The power companies would then have a maximum bid price which represented to them the point below which it was economical to avoid the installation of the new technology; if the price went over that number, that company or plant would then, it was assumed, be prepared to invest in the scrubber.  As it turned out, sulfur dioxide reduction occurred because of the availability of lower sulfur coal from the Western U.S. at a cheaper price rather than the permit auctions incentivizing the installation of emissions scrubbers. Additionally, the new low sulfur coal increases net global warming over dirtier coal as sulfur dioxide emissions, produced by coal impurities, are in fact a “negative climate forcing” (i.e. cooling), so “cleaner” coal fuel leads to slightly greater climate warming overall though less acid rain.

Even if the decision to source coal from the Western U.S. had occurred due to costs imposed on power plant operators by the cap-and-trade instrument, the analogue between reducing sulfur dioxide emissions and reducing greenhouse gas emissions is strained.  Decarbonizing the electricity sector or the economy as a whole will involve multiple changes and investments that are dependent upon each other by widely dispersed economic actors both public and private.  Simple fuel-switching with existing equipment will not suffice.   For instance, to eliminate global warming pollution in electrical generation, it will require a series of interdependent investments in new transmission that links existing grid coverage areas, new generators, as well as mothballing old generators or alternatively the emergence of new types of supply such as distributed generation which would compete with the utilities participating in the permit auctions.   Less certain would be the development of a new generation of safer nuclear power plants at some point in the future, though this too is inconceivable without government support independent of carbon pricing policy. To eliminate global warming pollution in transportation will involve still more intermediate investments, involving electrical supply to or near the vehicles that will move people and goods.  The possibility that public sector investments would be required in this process, largely unaffected by permit auctions or prices, makes the cap-and-trade policy more of a show than a direct route to a zero-emissions infrastructure.  Furthermore, the requirement now is for us to start building a zero-net emissions infrastructure as this process will take decades.  Contrary to this goal, the incrementalism of cap-and-trade is a recipe for investment in incrementally lower emissions solutions or delay of the building start for zero-net carbon emissions infrastructure.

Emissions trading specifically (as opposed to the carbon tax/fee version of carbon pricing that also depends on the assumption of Homo oeconomicus) rests on a type of self-interested behavior that is typical of our current economic era but is wholly inappropriate to the task of rebuilding the physical infrastructure of society.  With a design inspired by the credulous wonder of neoliberal/neoclassical economists, as they gazed upon financial traders and the supposed efficiencies of financial markets, emissions trading contains within it multiple invitations for take-over by financial traders that have only very short term gains in mind.  The focus on short-term gain of financial traders, a product both of their increasingly parasitic role and lack of engagement with the fundamental businesses from which the financial products they trade derive, contradicts the need for economic actors to focus on large-scale multi-year investments in real assets and long-term benefits of those investments to cut carbon.

While academic economics institutionalizes Homo oeconomicus as “normal” within the precincts of economic theory, to assume people are only self-interested also is one of the more common rules of thumb for assessing the behavior of others that one encounters in business and political settings, beyond the jargon of academic economics or utilitarianism.  This attitude with or without academic justification however, is, in the end, a support for cynicism and widespread sociopathic behaviors in any institutional or business setting, so is ultimately unsustainable as a consistent and universal social philosophy.

Homo oeconomicus, while it seems like a hard-headed “realistic” model or assumption about human behavior, turns out to have shaky theoretical and empirical foundations. Actual cost-benefit maximization as posited by neoclassical theory, i.e. computing all possibilities and picking the most advantageous, as Reinhard Sippel showed via a simple experiment, is an impossibility.   One line of psychological research has shown that people are as likely to be “satisficers” as attempt to be “maximizers” that the tendency to “maximize” is a trait present in varying degrees (i.e. one can have “more or less” of it) not an invariant condition of humanity.  This means that many people will attempt to gain “enough” advantage to themselves but not necessarily try (always vainly) to maximize it.   Furthermore people are not only set on gaining personal advantage but also on cultivating relationships with others, that we are in fact Homo socialis more than asocial hoarders of advantage.  Additionally, people act often, out of concern for others and sometimes even selflessly, though this is not always the case.

These empirical observations have not caused mainstream economists to rethink their models of human behavior that assume utility maximization and methodological individualism.  Perhaps this is because they believe that these models are good-enough approximations of behavior on the level of the individual that nevertheless, in aggregate suffice to make their models of larger scale institutions and phenomena valid.  However, recent history has shown that mainstream economics’ larger-scale modeling is next to useless, especially in dealing with crises.  Only a few economists predicted the Great Financial Crisis of 2007-2008, of which economists should have been well aware if they had not been beholden to dogma and the financial interests profiting off the debt-fueled housing/asset bubble.  In some sense, the assumption that everybody is a “maximizer” naturalizes and excuses the greed and excess that led to the recent financial crisis, thereby making the run-up to the crisis invisible to most economists as it was happening.

While not supported by empirical observation as a universal rule of thumb to describe human behavior, the construct of Homo oeconomicus fairly accurately describes an ideal type and role within monetary capitalism that could be called the “microeconomic accounting” role.  The microeconomic accounting role is that range of mental orientations and observable activities by actors in the private sector, both businesses and households that target as a goal to have a greater monetary income than monetary costs to them over a period of time.  Those who seek to increase the amount of their income over their costs are to a lesser or greater extent pursuing or conforming to the ideal type of the utility maximizer, though there is a wide range of degrees of effort into which individuals and organizations put into this accounting activity, therefore “maximization” is an inaccurate empirical description.  Though within larger businesses there are people who specialize in microeconomic accounting, i.e. accountants, it can be argued that in a successful business many in the organization’s leadership internalize to a lesser or greater extent the microeconomic accounting role.  If the only role or capacity of individuals is believed to be microeconomic accounting, then “greed” is as good a description as any for that individual and organizational motivational system.

The current neoliberal political-economic orthodoxy attempts to deny that there is any other type of accounting, or really any political-economic decision-evaluation process, beyond microeconomic accounting.  The advocacy and practice of fiscal austerity, the current and most aggressive version of neoliberalism, denies that what might be termed macroeconomic accounting, the budgeting and political-economic decision-making process of monetary sovereigns, exists.  Macroeconomic accounting, a political-economic process that occurs in legislatures and among government executives, must at some point in the business cycle take into account or react to among other things the limiting case of the paradox of thrift.  Allowing for the paradox of thrift, in which the simultaneous impulse to save by private actors leads to a shortfall of demand, households and businesses alone striving to follow the microeconomic accounting ideal, i.e. maximizing income and minimizing costs to themselves, cannot effectively govern the economy as a whole or create prosperity.

While advocates of austerity and neoliberalism promote the belief that there is nothing but microeconomic accounting and demand that governments use the accounting rules of businesses and households, they inevitably, if they seek to run a sound economy, must break with their ideology in practice, if not in theory.  As governments around the world discovered in the Great Depression and only temporarily after the Great Financial Crisis, a monetarily sovereign government cannot afford to follow the rules of microeconomic accounting.  After an initial period of “Keynesian” emergency measures after the Great Financial Crisis, the dogma of fiscal austerity was deployed in the US in 2010 to prevent a thorough re-learning of the lessons of the Great Depression, i.e. that governments must manage capitalist economies actively via fiscal and monetary policy or the result will lead to collective ruin.  The austerity drive has so far been relatively successful in preventing this re-learning while simultaneously imposing needless suffering and protecting the ruling financial industry elite from accountability.

The deficiencies of mainstream neoclassical economics are numerous and not all can be easily traced to the unrealistic assumption of Homo oeconomicus, or the denial by many influenced by neoclassical economics of the necessity for a macroeconomic accounting by governments, distinct from the financial operations of businesses or households.   But it is safe to say that there is enormous institutional inertia in economics as attachments to assumptions and models have led it become an otherworldly affair.  Most mainstream economists operate with assumptions that divorce them from the realities of the economy, leading to the profession’s aforementioned disastrous performance in predicting economic crises as well as leaving the profession almost completely unprepared to face the upcoming climate catastrophe.  However this has not yet diminished the influence of mainstream neoclassical economics in one or another of its versions, including neoclassical environmental or climate economics, upon government policy.  Economics, unrealistic and unsuccessful as it as a descriptive or predictive science, remains the master discipline of how government policy is structured, for a variety of reasons too involved to go into here.

An outgrowth of the assumption of the human being as Homo oeconomicus is the accompanying assumption by economists and economic policymakers that markets are the “natural state” of the economy.  In the past 40 years, the idea that markets represent the core of the human condition itself has been promoted by the neoliberal political-economic philosophy, which is a worldview that is based in part on assuming human beings are essentially or in practical terms Homo oeconomicus.  In neoliberalism, markets are viewed to be infallible while government is considered to be the nexus of fallibility.  In following the neoliberal philosophy, various policymakers, nominally from different parts of the political spectrum, have slowly and/or rapidly undermined the integrity of government institutions and sought to replace them with “market” institutions or “public-private partnerships”.  The central neoliberal policy idea is that goods and services are of necessity better delivered by the private sector rather than the public sector.  Originating from the right-wing in the 1970’s and 80’s, neoliberalism is now the dominant government philosophy in most political parties from the Right to parties that used to be of the Left.

Despite its political dominance, neoliberal leaders have a wretched record of management of the economies of the developed world, leading currently to mass unemployment and income inequality not seen in 80 years or more.  The net effect of neoliberalism has in these economies been the hegemony of private finance and the banking sector over the economy at large.  Neoliberalism has proven to be largely blind to the needs of the “real” economy, meaning manufacturing and delivery of services with the exception of encouraging the development of bespoke and high-end services that target those with high incomes, an outgrowth of rising income and wealth inequality.  Neoliberalism only cemented its political dominance and therefore complete dominance over economic policy in the 1990’s when parties of the nominal left, including the U.S. Democratic Party and the British Labor Party, became controlled by factions committed to neoliberal ideology.  These “socially liberal” neoliberals sought in one way or the other to emulate the right-wing founders of neoliberalism in their economic policies.  Electorates thus since then have had little or no choice between political parties in terms of their fundamental economic orientation, as fanciful and ineffective as that orientation has turned out to be in terms of improving overall social welfare.  By creating “two flavors” of neoliberalism, public sphere debate on fundamental economic issues largely disappeared and neoliberal policy could be implemented unchallenged and leaders held unaccountable for its actual success or failure.

It is then a particularly unfortunate confluence of events for humanity that during the time when climate policy was first formulated and implemented that neoliberalism with its accompanying reliance on neoclassical economics and its “Austrian” sibling-tendency, were and are the dominant political-economic ideology among policymakers.  To act on climate change means instituting large qualitative and quantitative changes in the physical infrastructure of society, the domain of the “real” economy.  Neoliberalism has prove itself particularly inept in developing manufacturing and infrastructure as the critical elements in these areas are usually functions of government industrial policy or public spending on infrastructure.  These are areas which neoliberals claim are better served by private actors in supposedly “free” markets, an economically erroneous idea that serves as cover for reinforcing the relative power of speculative financial elites over government and over society at large.  Additionally, “free trade” ideology interferes, in the Anglo-American world at least, with attempts of governments to build up or preserve manufacturing assets.

3. Government and the Moral Force of the Human Community

In banishing government from its model of the ideal society or economy, neoliberalism lames the ability of a nation, or humanity more generally, to act according to its own accepted moral precepts, community norms, and best practices.  The effort to separate markets from government oversight during the neoliberal period has led to a weakening of the ability of the broader community to enforce laws, leading to regulatory failures in a number of economic sectors, most noticeably in the financial sector.  Neoliberalism assumes the formal distinction between “economics” and the original term for the discipline, “political economy”, in which a combined economy plus the polity/government were the objects of study of the process by which human beings transformed materials from the earth for their own benefit.  While the notion of “economics” as a separate or successor discipline to “political economy” has been inscribed in the current terminology used in academia and the public sphere more generally, this decision and social practice are now resonating in ways that have unforeseen consequences for humanity.

If we assume, more realistically, that there is as a fundamental social construct, a “political economy” and a related academic discipline, the role of politics and the ethical ideals that may motivate political actors and political movements are much more likely to be included in a description of the functioning of the economy.  If instead, as we are in current discourse, dealing with “economics” and an economy that is intellectually isolable from politics and the ethical strivings of people, then the ethical element of human community life and the economy is isolated from how we think about economics and design economic or climate policy.  Critically important, real-world economic decisions are made in political institutions that have profound effects; many of these decisions are based on interpretations of ethical principles filtered through the degree to which that government is corrupted by the influence of monetary gain for officeholders, this level of corruption itself an expression of the ethical priorities of a society in practice.  While the concept of political economy may mislead some into thinking that the economic aspect of the political economy is precisely malleable to political will and purely the practical expression of ethical ideals, which it isn’t, the specific points of integration and articulation between the polity and economy should have a home in the social sciences and in public discourse.

But the moral challenges of regulating a fair and equitable economy pale in comparison, though are by no means replaced by, the ethical challenge of climate change where the current and immediate past generations in the developed world have endangered the viability of the world for future generations and, more immediately, for many of those in the current generation in parts of the developing world.  As has been the practice of policymakers and pundits, deploying interpretive frameworks from neoclassical “economics” isolated from an understanding of the role of political institutions and the ethical bases of the community which then becomes the actual practice of climate policy is itself an ethical lapse or violation as well as an exercise in futility.  The ethical violation of mistaking climate change for a (narrowly neoclassical) economic problem is one that is perhaps difficult to notice as we have been told that “economics” is a social science and therefore an accurate description of reality.  However what is taken to be scientific or semi-scientific “economics” is for a number of reasons explored here and elsewhere not as reliable a depiction of reality as is assumed, even without our taking into account the immediate crisis and danger posed by our disruption of the earth’s climate.

(You can access a complete PDF of this multipart series here.)

25 Responses to Sorry, Kyoto Signatories, Emissions Traders, Carbon Taxers, Homo Oeconomicus Won’t Save the Climate – Part 1

  1. if governments truly must be managed as if they were households, then America needs to go out and get a second job, maybe handle Canada’s government evenings and weekends

  2. Sometimes there are reasonably easy courses of actions to take. Worldwide deep soil carbon sequestration is probably the fastest and easiest way to initially slam on the carbon breaks. Misguided agricultural practices are responsible for about half the carbon in the atmosphere. I wrote about it on IVN http://ivn.us/2013/12/31/farm-bill-save-earth-fix-health-care-create-jobs/. I believe there is a vast majority in favor of a healthier food supply, and action to stem climate change. It is crony capitalism’s oligarchs and plutocrats that stand in the way. All roads lead to electoral reform.

    • Michael Hoexter

      Jonathan,
      Thank you for the link and suggestion. There is a lot more we can do to sequester carbon via land use changes and yes, our agriculture policies are broken from a whole bunch of different perspectives. As I argue later on in this piece, there are a series of changes that we need to be working on simultaneously to address climate change. There is no one silver bullet, but sequestering carbon in forests, soil and building materials (via increased use of wood) are very important, though no substitute for reducing the carbon intensitivity of our economies. In future revisions, I may pay more attention to soil carbon

      Prior to any technical fixes, there needs to be a commitment by governments and the population, to make changes. No one technical or process change is going to “do it all”.

  3. Robin Green

    I strongly disagree with this article. Cap-and-trade where the cap is ambitious and science-based (and by this I do not mean the EU’s scheme, whose cap is woefully inadequate) is a truly radical, efficient and highly effective plan that is deeply unsettling to many vested interests, which is why the Koch Brothers and their cronies have opposed it – and all other effective plans to limit carbon emissions.

    Indeed I would go so far as to say it’s an essential component of, perhaps even the driving force behind, any truly effective policy response to fight climate change – of which we’ve had none at all implemented so far! Sorry, bicycle lanes and recycling schemes and so forth don’t really make a dent – the problem is just way too big! It’s a global problem which needs global, radical solutions.

    What are the policy alternatives, really? A carbon tax? It’s basically the same thing, but less efficient, and far to open to unscientific special pleading (not that cap-and-trade isn’t, but at least it’s objective – cap at X million tons, that’s more or less what you get, evasion and exemptions aside). Personal cap-and-trade? A non-starter, it’s just adding pointless bureaucracy and marketisation to a good basic idea. Massive regulation and power plant shutdowns? Not efficient, not politically feasible, and there’d be massive whining from just about everyone, individuals and businesses, like you wouldn’t believe – it would dwarf the whining about acid rain mitigation, which actually cap-and-trade did a great deal to stop, as the businesses found it wasn’t the end of the world as they’d claimed.

    The obvious reason why cap-and-trade has not been very effective in the presence of deindustrialisation and the rise of China is that we need to expand cap-and-trade to include China and other major emitting countries. It can be done, but the West needs to get off its high horse first and recognise that as the biggest per-capita emitters, we in the West need to bear our fair share of emissions reductions. It is not an argument against cap-and-trade, but an argument that, to repurpose an old phrase, “cap-and-trade in one country does not work”.

    The mechanism by which long-term public investment and planning will be married with cap-and-trade – and it works, as shown in the example of the UK – is quite simply, democracy. Governments will see that they need to plan ahead for when the cap is lower, or face an angry populace saying “Why didn’t you plan ahead and invest?” Though neoliberalism is in the ascendant, we are not living in an Ayn Rand novel. People still recognise the need to invest in infrastructure like roads and electricity distribution systems, and so they will recognise this need when it comes to green investments.

    And with cap-and-trade as the overall guiding policy, governments will also tend to only make the investments that they really need to make, rather than heavy-handedly imposes regulations on things that don’t need to be regulated so specifically. And if the incentives created for the private sector are still not sufficient, you can also front-load the cap trajectory to front-load the emissions reductions more, which the EU should be doing anyway, taking advantage of its low economic growth. (Of course it should also stimulate economic growth, but that is another story.)

    Of course if the steps we need to take become obvious and uncontroversial to deal with the problem most efficiently, we can switch to regulation later, but it is far too early to say that – for one thing, geoengineering ideas must be given serious consideration, given the challenges we face, unpalatable though it may be. The point that solving global warming is much more complicated and difficult than dealing with acid rain is an argument FOR market-based solutions like cap-and-trade, not against, because we need a hefty dose of human ingenuity here.

    Distributional effects on the poor are a serious concern, but we must also remember that the revenue raised from cap-and-trade presents an opportunity to cut taxes and/or increase spending on public services benefiting the poor. Remitting all or some of the revenues back to the population on a per-capita basis, so that those who use less than the average amount of resources will be better off than they are now and only those who use more than average will be worse off, as done by the last Australian government, is also an option.

    • Michael Hoexter

      I get the sense you haven’t read the entire piece, which is available as a PDF (the snarky recycling schemes comment was a giveaway) at the bottom of this first installment. As well as here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/216604685/Homo-Oecnomicus-and-the-Climate

      Once you have had a chance to read it and show signs of having absorbed at least some of it, I will try to engage with your ideas regarding cap and trade and its adequacy or inadequacy.

  4. Together, as a world economic system, we are currently on an emissions trajectory to achieve anywhere from 4 to 6 degrees Celsius (7 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit) warming by 2100.

    That’s not what the latest IPCC AR5 draft accepted March 30, and released March 31, 2014 says. It says 1 to 3.5 degrees C. http://ipcc-wg2.gov/AR5/report/final-drafts/ Figure 1-4.

  5. The solution to Climate Change is nuclear power. If you can add numbers together that has been obvious for a very long time. Nuclear is opposed by irrational fanatics, that for the most part couldn’t solve an algebra problem, much less understand nuclear power technology. There is almost no chance that America will lead the way in this, that role is going to be filled by China. China already has 30 reactors under construction and that number is going to increase substantially in the next couple of decades. Just last week China began construction of their ‘variant’ of the Westinghouse AP1000 reactor, the CAP1400 (1400 MWe versus 1100 MWe). Westinghouse was so desperate to get the first AP1000 built (which will be completed this year in China) that for an order of 4 reactors, they turned over 70,000 pages of technical documentation and the rights to develop the CAP1400). That reactor (and an even larger variant up to 1700 MWe) is likely to be built in the hundreds, both in China and for export. The air pollution from coal plants in China (never mind fears of climate change) are driving this. Subsequently, more advanced designs, high-T gas reactors and molten-salt reactors will take over, again led by China.

    And it isn’t carbon credits or any of that bullshit that is going to get this done. It’s political leadership (in China) that realizes this is the most cost-effective and environmentally sound way to build a modern industrial economy. Along with national will within China to make their country great.

    • Michael Hoexter

      I am for a renewed nuclear program that focuses on new designs that are safer. However because they are newer they need to be tested. Ultimately our first lines of defense are things that most nuclear advocates are not as enthusiastic about: energy conservation, energy efficiency, carbon sequestration, renewable energy. The timeline for nuclear plants is long, some of which probably can be shortened and some of which is necessary, especially if new designs are being developed.

      But even if we were to go “all nuclear” and assumed the plentitude of cheap power that nuclear advocates talk about, transportation would need to electrified which is a massive infrastructure transformation project. So this is not a “drop in”, “snap of the fingers” solution, as some less-than-honest nuclear advocates claim.

  6. David G. Mills

    “Together, as a world economic system, we are currently on an emissions trajectory to achieve anywhere from 4 to 6 degrees Celsius (7 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit) warming by 2100.”

    Except that it is well known that for the last 17 years there has been no warming whatsoever. The latest excuse is that all the warming of the last 17 years went somewhere in the ocean which of course it hadn’t done before. And this year the antarctic reached an all time high in ice cover. Global ice really has declined very little in the last 30 years, despite the arctic decline.

    So I am calling for a moratorium on climate alarmism. Maybe just for a few years. If the temps pick back up, I will listen again. But it is time to get some better proof of future catastrophe than the last seventeen years have given. And for the record I am progressive and I hate the Koch brothers. I have just grown weary to the global warming talk. I am also afraid the progressive movement will one day be made to look like utter fools if we don’t just chill for awhile. What if we have another seventeen years of no warming? How many times can we cry wolf?

    • Tony Emanatian

      “What if we have another seventeen years of no warming? How many times can we cry wolf?”
      David, your focus is too narrow. This link includes research links

      http://www.skepticalscience.com/no-warming-in-16-years.htm

    • David G. Mills: “I am also afraid the progressive movement will one day be made to look like utter fools”

      Me too.

      I think that a combination of: activist-environmentalists-scientists + governments always looking for an enemy to fight in order to rally the masses + a progressive movement that abandoned critical thought on this issue = Anthropogenic Global Warming / Clmate Change has been totally oversold. There so much more uncertainty in the science than the public is told. It’s very possible, maybe likely, that natural forces dominate the system and render human’s contributions insignificant. Further, even if our CO2 emissions do warm up the world, it is not clear at all that a warmer world with higher CO2 concentrations will be a net-negative.

      I just today came accross a quote that somes up how I’m feeling:

      “Humans are a tough and adaptable species. People live on the equator and in the Arctic, in the desert and in the rainforest. We survived ice ages with primitive technologies. The idea that climate change poses an existential threat to humankind is laughable.” – Richard Tol

      • Michael Hoexter

        JK,
        It seems you are also attracted to the denier narrative of erasing humankind’s impact on the world that sustains us and the species we depend upon.

        Humans are dependent on thousands of co-evolved species. We are currently endangering many of them that may not have the advantages that humans have in terms of our tool use and homeostatic mechanisms. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140226074522.htm

        The question remains: why avoid that humans are the dominant species on the face of the earth currently and in so being create unintended consequences for us and co-evolved species? It seems like the obvious, Occam’s razor kind of conclusion given what we already know about chemistry, physics and biology… With the awesome power of our minds and tool-making capacity comes responsibility…can we shoulder it or will we shirk it?

        • Michael Hoexter,

          Thanks for the response. I’ve spent the past year or so trying to understand the major arguments coming from the scientists on both sides of this issue. In my honest layman opinion, I believe the weight of the evidence is on the side of the skeptics, and that weight is growing. Also, much like MMT economists are marginalized by the mainstream, it’s my impression that skeptical climate scientists are also being marginalized by the mainstream.

          With that said, I absolutely support functionally financed public purpose. If I was in charge, I’d be having our currency issuing government invest a lot of money in renewable energy R&D and technology, and in building the requiste infrastructure to bring it up to scale and online nationwide.

          What I will not do is demonize and scapegoat fossil fuels. I will not in good conscience lie about what I believe to be true in order to push my preferred political agenda(s).

          Fossil fuels are the lifeblood of our modern world that is so nice to live in. Most humans throughout our history lived in conditions that were ‘nasty, brutish, and short’; and a billion+ people today still live in such conditions. I look forward to the day when renewables can provide our energy needs, including the billions who still live in harsh conditions. In the meantime, I’m thankful that we have fossil fuels and will continue to support their usage; esepcially because I think the science in support of AGW-CC is wildly exaggerrated.

          • Michael Hoexter

            JK,
            How is it “wildly exaggerated”? Almost all data points to the effect of human-caused GHG emissions as being the significant factor in climate changes from, let’s say 1900 or 1950 to today. How do you account for those changes? This is hard data, not speculation…

            MMT is not better economics because its findings run (mostly) contrary to the neoclassical mainstream…it’s better economics because it better fits the data… Contrarianism does not truth make…

            • Michael Hoexter,

              Ok, e.g. …

              CO2’s warming effect is logarithmic. Here is the IPCC on this point: “It has been suggested that the absorption by CO2 is already saturated so that an increase would have no effect. This, however, is not the case. Carbon dioxide absorbs infrared radiation in the middle of its 15 mm band to the extent that radiation in the middle of this band cannot escape unimpeded: this absorption is saturated. This, however, is not the case for the bands wings. It is because of these effects of partial saturation that the radiative forcing is not proportional to the increase in the carbon dioxide concentration but shows a logarithmic dependence.”

              For more on CO2’s logarithmic effect, see here:
              http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/03/08/the-logarithmic-effect-of-carbon-dioxide/

              In my experience most people don’t know that CO2 is not the main concern for catastrophic warming. The primary concern is positive feedback loops, primarily involving water vapor. The paragraph before what I just quoted: “The so-called water vapour feedback, caused by an increase in atmospheric water vapour due to a temperature increase, is the most important feedback responsible for the amplification of the temperature increase. Concern has been expressed about the strength of this feedback…”
              https://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/tar/wg1/044.htm

              A major point made by skeptics of AGW-CC is that we really don’t understand the water vapor feedback loops. I think that we’ve only begun *modelling* clouds in the past 10 years or so. 10 years!!!… and models 🙂 … It’s a dynamic and chaotic system, and our understanding of it is elementary. Hell we can’t predict the cloud systems with any accuracy past a few days, and climate scientists are building models as if they can predict cloud systems decades from now. Ludicrous. That alone warrants skepticism of future projections.

              Back to feedback loops. If Earth’s climate was dominated by positive feedback loops then it’s likely Earth’s climate system would have spiraled into runaway warming or runaway cooling sometime during the past hundreds of millions of years. The reality is likely that negative feedback loops dominate the system. If this is the case, then there is no basis for concern about catastrophic runaway warming. And even if our CO2 emissions lead to moderate global warming, as I insinuated in an earlier comment, it may actually be a net-positive for humans and the world. Life thrives in warmer areas. And CO2 is plant food. Did you know that Earth has been getting greener? Maybe more plant food has something to do with it?
              http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/GlobalGarden/

              I’ll leave it here for now. There are so many aspects that warrant skepticism. You pick the scary scenario – e.g. extreme weather, ocean acidification, rising sea levels, extinction of species, etc. – each one has been exaggerated.

              • Michael Hoexter

                JK,
                Your comments here are an interesting study in the psychology of denial. You have made a hash of the climate science and misattributed to other people concerns and ideas that they don’t necessarily have. You are persisting in creating a narrative that is a narrative of denial out of the various pieces of climate pseudo-science that is heavily filtered through the spin of denialists like Anthony Watts. There is a website that regularly debunks his approach, if are sincerely searching rather than seeking to reinforce your preconceptions:
                http://wottsupwiththat.com/
                Also this website gives a good overview of the features of climate denial, many of which your comments show evidence:
                http://watchingthedeniers.wordpress.com/six-aspects-of-denial/

                More specifically:
                1) You don’t seem to have much of an appreciation of the basic climate science and are viewing this through your anxious and/or manipulative filter. You misconstrue what a forcing is and seem to assume or hope for a counter-forcing for the positive forcings such as greenhouse gases and decreased albedo of the earth’s surface.
                2) Your getting hung up on water vapor is an example of how you don’t understand forcings and the physics of the atmosphere very well. Any specific quantity of water vapor in the atmosphere has a half-life of a few days at most while the greenhouse gases have half-lives in decades…a single molecule of water vapor therefore has a low life time increase in the amount of infrared radiation it absorbs as opposed to one methane or carbon dioxide molecule.
                3) Positive feedback loops are a concern for climate scientists and the public who is worried about global warming but you are persisting, oddly, to insist that this is the only or primary concern. The simple persistence of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere creates sufficient warming to endanger many species and threaten our livelihoods. Pumping via fossil fuel combustion much of the fixed carbon into the atmosphere or oceans is simply an extremely bad idea, a bad idea which you are resisting acknowledging for personal or pecuniary reasons.
                4) You are forgetting that logarithms are not necessarily assymptotic…you are assuming they are but an increased concentration of carbon dioxide does still increase warming, even if each molecule of carbon dioxide has a lesser effect as concentrations go up. We have earth’s geological record as well as observations of Venus to back this up.

                Finally, I think you should “check with yourself” about why you feel the need to play amateur sleuth in these matters. It is good to be skeptical in science but these people that you are following are not skeptics but obfuscators who are “skiing” a narrow line through climate data to come to the conclusion that we should do nothing about our habit of pumping all the fossil carbon into the atmosphere and ocean. Skepticism is fact-based and would necessarily account for the mass of data that points to anthropogenic warming.

                Also, you may, falsely, believe that there is something called “certainty” in science…but you find when you actually do science that it is only degrees of uncertainty that we are talking about. Deniers play with the popular belief that there is something called “certainty” in science and attempt to make the theory of anthropogenic global warming to appear to be motivated and idle speculation rather than accepted science backed by the vast majority of the data collected.

                • Michael Hoexter,

                  Thanks for the response. I appreciate you taking the time. What I don’t appreciate is the insults and insinuations. I prefer to stick to the issues, but note how many times you spoke about me:

                  “You have made a hash of the climate science…”
                  “You are persisting in creating a narrative…”
                  “You don’t seem to have much of an appreciation of the basic climate science…”
                  “You misconstrue what a forcing is…”
                  (there are many more)

                  I admitted in an earlier comment that I am a layman. I may be wrong, I may be naive, but my skepticism is sincere. Also note that not once did I say anything about you or your motives. I encourage you to treat skeptical positions as worthy of consideration. Win with the facts if you’ve got them, not by belittling the opposition.

                  Was something incorrect in the analysis at the WUWT link I provided? I’m receptive to counter arguments and facts. I’m not receptive to saying that Watts is a spin denialist (personal attack).

                  I went to the Wotts Up With That you provided… Here are some choice quotes from the opening paragraphs of the first few posts there:

                  97% of pictures are worth 1000 climate words (first post)
                  “Anthony Watts posts a profound intellectual insight from his favourite denialist blow-hard, Lord Monckton.” (personal attack)

                  A pointed question (second post)
                  “Anthony Watts asks a pointed question and proves that he has a pointy head.
                  “What is the perfect temperature of Earth?” This is one of those “answer that!” questions that merely reveal the stupidity of the person asking it. I’m not even going to dip a toe into the cesspool of ignorance that drives it.” (personal attack)

                  White House science adviser attacks Roger Pielke Jr. for his Senate testimony, Pielke responds with a skillfull counterstrike (third post)
                  “Is this truculent hubris, or just plain old Dunning–Kruger syndrome? You can decide, but I’ll just whisper this to Anthony: “skillfull” is spelt “skillful”. I know, I know, it takes a lot of fingers to keep track of the “l”s” (personal attack)

                  I’m not impressed. The Six Aspects of Denial exhibits the same behavior. These types of websites appear not so much concerned with the science, instead they appear concerned with belittling those who disagree with them.

                  To your More Specifically’s..

                  1) Can you explain to me what a forcing is and importantly, how I misconstrued it?

                  2) If I seem hung up on a water vapor it’s because I quoted the IPCC as saying that it is the most important feedback for amplification of warming. I don’t understand the importance of the half-life point that you made. Can you elaborate?

                  3) You said: “The simple persistence of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere creates sufficient warming to endanger many species and threaten our livelihoods.”

                  The persistence of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere creates sufficient warming for life to exist. Whether or not more greenhouses gases will be a net-negative or net-positive is unknown. So far the only place that catastrophy has occurred is inside computer model projection. In the real world, we cannot attribute any serious harmful effects of a warming world to our CO2 emissions.

                  4) I understand that each additional CO2 molecule in the atmosphere has a warming effect. The question is: how much? A point made in the WUWT link is that the additional warming from CO2 alone isn’t much (not including positive feedback loops). I’m not going to search for IPCC quotes right now, but IIRC, a doubling of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is projected to cause about a 1-degreeC increase in average global temperature. Again the concern is positive feedback loops. That’s why they are so important for whether or not we need to be concerned. 1-degreeC is no cause for alarm.

                  Finally) Please spare me the advice. I’m interested in counter arguments and facts.

                  p.s. Have you spent considerable time at Watts Up With That? If not, give it a chance. I think it’s a fine website, with thoughtful posters and commenters.

                  • Michael Hoexter

                    JK,
                    You are still playing climate scientist and now you are asking me to play climate scientist, in response to you, against my own inclinations to allow climate scientists to do that work. Somehow, in your argumentation, the effect of increasing concentration of a gas into the atmosphere and oceans is lost… if you are losing that very basic principle of chemistry in your account of what is going on, I cannot take any further steps in discussing your questions. In terms of argumentation, you are not using Occam’s razor…i.e KISS. (BTW you have conveniently edited out ocean acidification in your claims re effects of increased CO2…just for your own self-0bservation)

                    I would recommend the website “skepticalscience” over your overuse of Watts’ website. Re: Forcings, here is a good primer:
                    http://www.skepticalscience.com/empirical-evidence-for-co2-enhanced-greenhouse-effect-advanced.htm

                    There is no insult or dishonor in you paying attention to your own cognitive biases and interests. I have pointed out some likely ones given your gravitation to denial rather than the consensus of climate scientists, the NAAS etc. If you see me pointing these out as an insult, that is a problem in itself, as in life one is confronted with situation after situation where one has to take account of one’s perspective and limitations in one’s expertise. If you consider that unwanted advice, I’m sorry but you are missing the basics and putting yourself in the role of a natural scientist without the training or a basic respect for what those people do. Claiming this is insulting, is, whether you like it or not, used as a ruse by many deniers to avoid confronting the obvious and their own limitations (which we all have in one area or another).

                  • Michael Hoexster,

                    I’ll make a few comments and then be done.

                    I hope in the future you’ll engage AGW-CC skeptics without all the condescension. It’s rude to talk to me as “playing climate scientist” like I’m a naive child who doesn’t belong at the grown-up table.

                    Maybe you should apply this to yourself: “There is no insult or dishonor in you paying attention to your own cognitive biases and interests.”

                    Ultimately time will tell how this plays out. History is full of examples where the scientific consensus gets overturned. I will not be surprised if AGW-CC is looked back on, 50 years from now, as odd and foolish. My reading of this situation is that the skeptics will probably end up correct. i.e. the next few decades will occur without any extreme warming, or anything other climate catastrophe…. the global average temperature will either continue to warm moderately as it has been since coming out of the Little Ice Age, or it will stay relatively stagnant as it been for almost two decades, or it will cool slightly. No big deal. Really we should be focused on strategies for adaptation in both directions. Earth will continue to cycle through coolings and warmings as it has throughout it’s history.

                    I’ll conclude with a quote by Phil Jones from the Climategate emails. Btw, I assumed these emails were nothing much until I started reading them a few months ago. If you haven’t, dig in. See for yourself.

                    Phil Jones, Director of the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) and a Professor in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia:
                    “If anything, I would like to see the climate change happen, so the science could be proved right, regardless of the consequences. This isn’t being political, it is being selfish.”

        • Michael Hoexster,

          Are you censoring/deleting comments?

          Earlier today I responded to you and it was awaiting moderation. Now my comment is no longer awaiting moderation and also is not below your comment.

          • No Michael is not censoring or deleting comments. Comments are moderated on a time permitted basis by the admin staff and not the authors. Your comment from 12:21 was approved and appears in the comments. Return visits do not always register comments awaiting moderation.

            That being said, NEP does retain the right to remove or not approve any post that is deems inappropriate. Also, we use spam filters and there have been instances of legitimate posts being blocked/deleted once processed by the filters.

            • Thanks for the clarification, Devin.

              Is NEP policy to allow all comments that are polite and on topic?

              • Generally.

                If someone is polite and on topic but insists on using NEP as a platform to try to push their agenda that does not align with NEP, then it will not be allowed.

                Without saying, attacks are never tolerated.

    • Michael Hoexter

      David,
      Even though you sound as though you might be open-minded to data, it seems like you have tended to accept as fact deniers ways of jiggering the data to make it appear as though warming is not occuring, more than that of the majority of the climate science field that accepts AGW as established fact. The problem starts with starting your time-series at 1997-1998 which was an very strong El Nino year. El Nino is part of natural variability. There is a longer term oscillation the PDO, which has been biased “cool” over the last decade and despite that we have had the warmest decade in recorded history.
      http://www.weather.com/news/science/environment/no-hiatus-pause-global-warming-climate-change-heres-why-20140109

      We are probably facing a very strong El Nino year this year, and we will see where 2014 lines up… It may not be as hot as we suspect it will but already it is pretty darn hot (with the exception of the eastern half of the lower 48 states).
      http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/service/global/map-percentile-mntp/201312-201402.gif

      Bottom line, in a system like the climate, we don’t see a linear and continuous change in temperatures even as we are pumping more GHGs into the atmosphere, which will with extremely high likelihood continue the warming trend (with the natural variability factored in). Of course, there can be other natural forcings introduced, for instance a series of very large volcanic eruptions which will darken the sky for years. But why avoid the obvious that increasing concentrations of warming gases and biasing the earth’s carbon cycles towards greater atmospheric concentrations will NOT lead to warming over the medium- and longer- term.