Finding Common Ground

Climate change advocates are making extreme predications about the future in order to promote extreme environmental policies.  Climate skeptics challenge the climate orthodoxy and there is no movement towards reconciliation.  

This dynamic has been going on for 20 years.  If democrats win the White House and Senate, the status quo will change and not for the better.  Proposals by the democrat candidates are extreme and predicated on achieving zero emissions by forcing fossils fuels from our energy budget.  They are betting that be implementing even some of their policies and rejoining the Paris Accord, they will be able to move a new global agreement forward.  

That is a triumph of hope over experience. China. India, and other developing countries will not abandon their economic aspirations unless bribed to do so and the developed world cannot afford to pay the price that would be involved. And, the US cannot afford the forced abandonment of fossil fuels called for by most democrat candidates.

Policies predicated on fossil fuels being the problem assign high probabilities to IPCC estimates of climate sensitivity and natural variability. But prudent risk management policy would not ignore significant uncertainties and base a course of action on estimates that have not been proven to be robust and on political assumptions that require nations to act against their self-interest.

Over the past decade, US CO2 emissions have declined by roughly 14% while global emissions have grown by about 14%.  We know the CO2 emissions are growing, are mainly the result of burning fossil fuels, and that atmospheric concentrations warm the planet but the warming effect is not linear.  What we don’t know with a high degree of certainty is how much of the current warming is manmade and how much is natural.  We also do not adequately understand climate sensitivity since the range for doubling CO2 has remained a factor of 3.

Uncertainty doesn’t mean doing nothing.  It means that we focus on reducing the uncertainty as much as possible and take prudent and economically sensible steps to hedge against it.  But hedges aren’t free. Investing in modular nuclear reactors allows for the orderly replacement of coal fired power plants with a source of power that is not intermittent.  And, natural gas should be the alternative of choice until nuclear can become more cost effective.  Unforced advances in automotive technology can further reduce CO2 emissions from mobile sources.  Increase R&D on battery technology for both mobile sources and wind and solar storage.

The forced obsolescence of buildings, infrastructure, and mobile sources to achieve zero emissions by 2040 or some other near term arbitrary date would be enormously economically wasteful.  In all likelihood the needed turnover couldn’t happen that quickly and the emission reduction here would be at least partially offset by increases in other nations like China and India.

Developing countries will use coal as the fuel of choice unless developed countries provide mechanisms for them to adopt newer energy technologies.  Technology transfers will not only address emission concerns but also help these nations climb the economic latter faster.

The Global Commission on Adaptation has just released a report on the adaptation imperative.  While many of its suggestions may not prove cost-effective or practical, the report should help guide those investments that do make sense, such as “early warning systems for floods or heatwaves, constructing infrastructure to withstand a changing climate, improving agriculture techniques that could boost cereal yields, investing in making water resources more resilient and protecting mangroves to fortify coasts from storm surges.”  We should also change coastal building codes and adopt Dutch measures for protecting against sea level rise.

The notion of finding common ground will not appeal to progressives and environmental activists but the alternative of being stuck with the status quo should be even less appealing.  Members of Congress would do well to remember Henry Clay’s admonition that “Politics is not about ideological purity, or moral self-righteousness, it’s about governing. If you cannot compromise you cannot govern.”

Finding common ground on climate change would certainly benefit the science establishment and begin the process of reversing polarization.

The New Road to Serfdom

Senators Sanders and Warren are battling for the heart and soul of the progressive wing of the democrat party by making outlandish promises.  Neither claims to be a socialist, Sanders says he’s a democratic socialist whatever that is, but their proposals and philosophy certainly have the trappings of Socialism.  Their basic philosophy is to promise programs that guarantee individual security and deliver on those promises by increasing government authority over all aspects of life and the economy.

Senator Sanders has just introduced his Green New Deal with a price tag of $16 trillion over 10 years.  This is on top of Medicare for All, free tuition, family leave, and expanded social security.  Depending on whose analysis is used, the cost of these promises has to exceed $4 trillion annually.  The Federal Government’s budget for this fiscal year is only $4.4 trillion.

The appeal of these proposals is mystifying because taxes on everyone would have to significantly increase. The Sander’s tax plan would raise $15.3 trillion over the next decade, according to the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center (TPC).  Even if you believe these calculations, which should be taken with a lot of grains of salt, the net result is a growing national debt and more taxes for everyone. According to the Tax Foundation, the average tax rate for the top 50%in 2018 was 15.6%–the bottom 40% pay no federal taxes. To raise an additional $4 billion, tax rates would have to double.

Many of the Sanders Warren supporters may not be aware of Friedrich Hayek’s 1939 book the Road to Serfdom which he wrote as a warning to the “socialist intelligentsia of England.  Before casting their votes in either primaries or the general election, progressive democrats should read Hayek’s book  because it explains the reality of the socialist promise.  The history of past attempts at national economic planning is sobering.  Germany and Russia in the 1930s in addition to Great Britain demonstrated that the effect of national planning is a loss of personal freedom as well as the rule of law. Britain’s Lord Chief Justice warned of a new despotism “exercised by a thoroughly conscientious and honest bureaucracy for what they sincerely believe is the good of the country.  But it is nevertheless an arbitrary government …”

The historian, Jon Meacham, defined the American soul as “ the belief in the proposition, as Jefferson put it, that all men are created equal.  It is therefore incumbent… to create a sphere in which we can live, live freely, and pursue happiness to the best of our abilities. We cannot guarantee equal outcomes, but we must do all we can to ensure equal opportunity.” A government that can being into reality the progressive promises of Sanders and Warren is a government that will have to restrict the freedoms to live freely and pursue happiness.  That is the trade-off that is involved in supporting the Sanders-Warren progressive plans.  While it is unlikely that all of these proposals will be enacted if the democrats win the White House and control Congress, some will in some form.  That is the larger problem.

Implementing any of these proposals or scaled down versions will require ever more regulations and a larger bureaucracy. Regulations will be administered by federal bureaucrats; not angels who would administer them with total fairness and benevolence. Individuals have their own agendas and enjoy decision making power. Hayek warned, “That means …even a strong tradition of political liberty is no safeguard if the danger is precisely that new institutions and policies will gradually undermine and destroy that spirit.”