Category Archives: Michael Hoexter

Explaining the Conflict between Obama’s Climate Policy and Obama’s Energy Policy – Pt. 2

By  Michael Hoexter

Explanation 5: Washington Consensus Climate Policy Proposals are Politically Hard to Explain, Disproportionate to the Challenge, and Underestimate Government’s Role

The frustration with Obama of many in the established green movement revolves around the assumption that if he is serious about climate, why then, they think, doesn’t Obama simply adopt or fight for their favored policy instruments or revive a version of the 2009 Waxman-Markey bill. There is an unfortunately somewhat naive and unfounded consensus among parts of the Democratic Party and in established green groups that serious climate action involves a policy centered around something like the Kyoto Protocol cap and trade system or a carbon tax. A very large body of discourse in the established climate policy milieu contains advocacy and analysis about why the US has not become a party to the Kyoto process. Additionally, there is, confusingly for outsiders, a rift between those who favor a carbon tax/fee versus those who favor an emissions trading instrument (cap and trade). While U.S. politicians, especially the reality-challenged Republican Party, are currently shying away from any meaningful climate policy for largely the wrong reasons, climate policy is not the well-defined choice and proven path that green groups and many left-of-center Democrats would like politicians and the public to believe that it is.

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Explaining the Conflict between Obama’s Climate Policy and Obama’s Energy Policy – Pt. 1

By Michael Hoexter

With the Obama Administration recently publishing a frightening report on the effects of climate change, the National Climate Assessment 2014, contradictions in Obama’s orientation on climate and energy are placed in higher relief.  As part of the publication of the NCA2014, Obama took the time to meet with regional weathermen to discuss the contents of the report.   Apparently, Obama did not think or did not want the public to think of him and his Administration as lightly skimming over the dire warnings in the report as an afterthought.

In the meantime, we have experienced a pivotal moment in the discovery of the present and future effects of climate change, with current ice melting patterns ensuring with a high degree of certainty that the West Antarctic Ice shelf will detach and deliver anywhere from 1 to 3 meters rise in sea levels over a 200 to 500 year period or perhaps sooner.  So, talk of rising seas is, to those who heed the science, given much greater weight.  No one has worked out the policy implications of this still relatively distant future event, except that adaptation to climate change in or migration from the world’s very populous low-lying areas becomes a more concrete reality.

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Sorry, Kyoto Signatories, Emissions Traders, Carbon Taxers, Homo Oeconomicus Won’t Save the Climate – Part 4

By Michael Hoexter

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

8.  Effective Climate Policy:  A Massive Commitment of Public and Private Resources

The long list above of features of an effective climate policy may fail the requirement that some would place on documents such as these that they be short and easily absorbed from a momentary scan of the page.  Perhaps at a future date, I or someone else will produce a shorter summary of what would go into effectively transforming the energy basis of society and maintaining and developing civilization beyond its current state.  However when the scale of the challenge is taken into account as well as the stakes involved, I believe the length of the mere sketch I have produced here is warranted.

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Sorry, Kyoto Signatories, Emissions Traders, Carbon Taxers, Homo Oeconomicus Won’t Save the Climate – Part 3

By Michael Hoexter

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

7.  Outline of An Actually-Effective Climate Policy

Actually-effective climate policy, which might be called a comprehensive climate and energy policy, then has the following components:

1)    National Carbon Mitigation Plan:  National carbon mitigation plans (reduce emissions of greenhouse gas emissions to zero or below) commissioned by individual governments that outline the high-level designs of a zero-net-carbon infrastructure for projected 2050 energy and transportation demand in a particular nation.  Such plans should assume no technological breakthroughs but deployment of existing technologies or foreseeable successor generations of these technologies.  For each nation these plans will look quite different depending on existing infrastructure, natural resources, cultural preferences, and geography.  The plan will include targets for carbon mitigation via land use changes and energy conservation.  Such climate plans should include alternative technological and land-use scenarios which would also estimate the carbon emissions required to build those various scenarios.  A scenario with the highest likelihood of success (defined below) would be chosen first with regular check-points built-in for progress as well as preparation for fall-back scenarios in case of bottlenecks closing down paths and new developments opening up new paths.  Such a plan will need to be built around durable social values, ensuring its resilience to both natural and man-made challenges and changes.  In-built into planning would be a “no-regrets” policy, if in the face of well-tested innovations, substantial changes will yield a better social and environmental outcome.  However, implementation of the plan cannot be shelved or delayed on the basis of speculative claims of improved outcomes by pursuing new and untried innovative technologies.

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Sorry, Kyoto Signatories, Emissions Traders, Carbon Taxers, Homo Oeconomicus Won’t Save the Climate – Part 2

By Michael Hoexter

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

4.  Existing Climate Policy Is Lacking a “Drive Axle” Between Ethical Impulse and Policy Implementation

The decision in the 1990’s to turn over climate policy to market mechanisms, in particular emissions trading, was framed by supposedly “objective” economic assumptions based as outlined above on the idea that people are essentially, Homo oeconomicus, i.e. act in practice as if they do not consider, among other things, the moral dimension of life, are “utility” maximizers and are essentially divorced from their community of context or the community of all human beings more generally.  The Kyoto Protocol and its various progeny including the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme (EU-ETS), the Northeastern US Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and California’s AB 32 cap-and-trade system, all “hand off” implementation of the intention to reduce climate change to a constructed carbon permit market, layered above the real markets for goods and services.

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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.

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Degrees of Responsibility for Climate Catastrophe

By Michael Hoexter

The climate crisis is an event with such profound personal and broadly social moral implications that many shy away from discussing the crisis itself let alone its ethical aspects.  Via our society’s use of fossil fuels we are, if our combustion of these fuels remains unchecked and in addition we further destroy the carbon fixing capacity of natural systems, destroying almost all wealth, the likelihood of their being future civilizations, and even the possibility for existence for future generations.  To continue ignoring climate change and effective climate action is definitely an après moi le deluge stance, an expression of callousness and self-absorption unsupportable by moral justification.  Morality and ethics is here not an exotic preoccupation of a select group but a basic reality-check:  does what we are doing make sense and promote the general ends to which these activities are devoted?  How do we assess our own agency and role and those of others, in events that are occurring around us and will with very high likelihood exacerbate in the future?

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President Obama, Are You Going to Detonate the World’s Largest “Carbon Bomb”?

By Michael Hoexter

January 31, 2014

Dear President Obama,

I campaigned for you in the primaries and general election of 2008, write about the economics of climate change, work in the area of energy efficiency and renewable energy, and am a climate activist in Northern California.  I am writing you to appeal to your highest ethical values and best understanding of scientific reality to deny approval to the Keystone XL pipeline project as well as deny approval to retrofits and new construction of other cross-border pipelines, such as the Alberta Clipper line which will enable more economical exploitation of the Albertan tar sands oil deposits.  The Albertan tar sands were described by the climate scientist James Hansen as the largest “carbon bomb” still untapped by the fossil fuel industry, which if exploited mean “game over” for a climate hospitable to human beings and our civilization.

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Malign Confusion about Growth, Economic Growth or “Degrowth”: Which Way Forward? – Pt 3

By Michael Hoexter

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

Variation in Fossil Fuel Dependency Among Developed Countries and Degrowth

As action is required today and in the near future, though, it is reasonable to assume that production will be organized via some form of a capitalist organization of firms and the motivation of economic actors to achieve monetary profits/savings.  In the period of transition to a new energy economy, the government sector and budget will play an enlarged and leading role in financing and regulating the transition.

Targeting net degrowth over a period of years, perhaps a decade, might or might not inhibit the development of the “greener” sectors of the energy and transport economy exactly because these sectors have to play “catch-up” in the area of infrastructure.  The most secure way to build out these sectors in terms of minimizing technology risk, is to deploy renewable energy generators, some on a vast scale, heavy and light electric rail infrastructure, electric road and other grid-tied systems not dependent on advances in battery technology or availability of moderately scarce elements like lithium.  These systems require as construction materials emissions-intensive steel and concrete on a very large scale.  Innovations may cut these emissions substantially though in the foreseeable future not completely.   Various commercial interests are claiming they have a breakthrough on the energy storage or generation side which would diminish the need for these investments but currently there is no certain alternative to the creation of some massive earthworks.

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Malign Confusion about Growth, Economic Growth or “Degrowth”: Which Way Forward? – Pt 2

By Michael Hoexter

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

“De-Growth”:  A Serious Proposal

Lately, climate scientists have stepped into the gap where economists have generally feared to tread and have suggested that intentional “de-growth” is the only hope to stop the rising emissions associated with economic development and growth.  No news to anyone who follows developments in climate science, the earth’s climate is facing tipping points beyond which a recognizable human civilization will be almost impossible to maintain due to the expansion of inhospitable or entirely uninhabitable climate zones, destruction of existing human settlements by water and weather, and the destruction of co-evolved species (including food) upon which we depend.  The target of a maximum of 2 degrees Celsius rise in global temperature has been chosen as a difficult-to-achieve but also permissive target, which some think should be 1.5 degrees or less.  One way or the other global warming gas emissions, still on an upward trajectory, need to be reduced and the current upward trend reversed almost immediately.   Climate scientists understandably have been impatient with the response of the social sciences and policymakers to the threats they see present and emerging.

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