The only thing we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic. So if what I say now seems to you to be very reasonable, then I have failed completely. Only if what I tell you appears absolutely unbelievable, have we any chance of visualizing the future as it really will happen.

- Arthur C. Clarke (h/t Brin)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Cheer Up Huh?

Boy have we lost. The Christian Science Monitor is running Watts on that obscure physicist who is the new Martin Luther.

All we get is a few witty repartees, which is easy given how witless the stuff is we is reparteein'.

In the American Scholar, Milan Ilnyckyj summarizes Laughlin thus:
"Laughlin commits an error comparable to to seeing a baby driving around on a bulldozer and saying 'There's no need to worry; that bulldozer will be just fine.' "
And at Kloor's, ThingsBreak summarizes the burgeoning pixie dust movement perfectly.
Pursuing clean energy on its own isn’t going to keep coal in the ground. What is the proposed mechanism by which the “breakthrough” scheme accomplishes this? If they don’t have one, they should just explicitly acknowledge it. If they have a mechanism, they should articulate it, so that people like me will become evangelicals for them. ...

I’m ripe for conversion, Breakthrough people. Help me help you. How, absent a price on carbon or staggeringly distorive subsidies does a clean energy fund keep coal in the ground?
Amen, brother. What we are looking at is not a position, it's a posture. It may have legs politically. These days, God only knows what doesn't. But it doesn't actually solve any problems.

The only "breakthrough" would be if some unconstrained energy source was made cheaper than coal. But we don't need any "breakthrough" for that. All we have to do is stop subsidizing dirty energy. The technology for that is already in place at the IRS and respective revenue departments in other countries. Just move the extrenalities from the general public to the user. The net economic impact is zero and those nice conservative proven market mechanisms kick in like a charm. Hello?

Hello? Are you still there?

27 comments:

jivlain said...

Hmmmmmm, I remember the CS Monitor as having quite a good environment section. Which I note that this piece was not published in.

Dan Olner said...

Nonono, it's all fine: over here in the UK we're putting a lot of our chips on carbon-capture-storage. Admittedly, no-one's actually produced a working example yet, but that shouldn't stop us basing our entire climate and energy policy on it, right?

skanky said...

@Dan my favourite part of that strategy is the ban on coal fired power stations...except for those that leave a bit of space to put the CCS equipment when it's available for installation.

Antiquated Tory said...

And our President Klaus is comparing climate science to Communism again.

Sam said...

Michael,

many thanks to you and yours for keeping the light on the Breakthrough Institute argument. I spend a lot of time at RPJ's blog trying to keep him honest and to let other readers know that the Breakthrough crowd has only half of the solution. Cheaper clean energy, improved efficiencies, energy for the impoverished, and market-signal carbon pricing all go hand in hand to mitigate climate change threats. Without any portion of that short list we are in trouble. RPJ repeatedly accuses opponents of magical thinking, but that is what I find the Breakthrough approach to be. I have just discovered how high the German ecotaxes are - between $45 and $90/tonne CO2, and they have been in place for over 10 years (enacted 1997 to 2002 explicitly to reduce fossil fuel consumption), and the economy is doing great. I am not sure why the German counter-argument to the Breakthrough anti-carbon-price points do not nullify that point, but perhaps the world IS flat, on second thought.

Dean said...

Thanks for crystallizing how I see the Breakthrough prescription.

As to your other point, I wonder if ending subsidies is really enough. Are all those other countries that are building countless coal-fired plants subsidizing them as much as the US is? Or is their "subsidy" that they don't have any clean air regulations, so they are building like we did 60 years ago.

Ken said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ken said...

Sorry for the duplicates. The interface was returning errors and I had no way to know that it was also accepting the post

Michael Tobis said...

Thanks, Ken, we get it. We just happen to know more about it than you do.

I just deleted three copies of a submission from "Ken" quoting the text of this Heartland page in its entirety.

It is the splash page for an article entitled "Mankind Has an Insignificant Impact on the Climate of Planet Earth" which I don't particularly recommend. I think the whole thing is mostly link spam anyway, so I put a nofollow in the above link for people who don't want to take my advice and avoid it altogether.

Ken showed no signs of having read the present article. Flushed.

Neven said...

Ken Green, how much money does Heartland pay you, if I may ask?

Steve Bloom said...

Let's not forget tyhat a major form of subsidy is the avoidance of having to pay for the health impacts of pollution. See here for yet more evidence.

Steve Bloom said...

Was that indeed Ken Green? If so perhaps his funders should be informed that he's got too much time on his hands.

joe said...

From a 2005 Pembina Institute report:

"...the Government of Canada provided the oil and gas industry with $1,446 million (2000$) in subsidies in 2002. The increase in subsidies between 1996 and 2000 was 33%. Total expenditure between 1996 and 2002, inclusive, was equal to $8,324 million (2000$)."

http://pubs.pembina.org/reports/GovtSpendingOnOilAndGasFullReport.pdf

They now estimate that total federal subsidies are around $2 billion/year. Hmm.

"Suncor Energy Inc., Canada’s largest oil company, had a second-quarter profit of C$480 million ($464 million)..." (29 July 2010, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-07-29/suncor-says-it-posts-second-quarter-profit-on-increased-prices-production.html).

Time to end subsidies for oil and gas.

Michael Tobis said...

While I'm not especially imprssed by Ken Green I doubt that this particularly tiresome troll is him.

The google IDs do not match.

GRLCowan said...

Dan Olner says, regarding carbon capture and storage,

Admittedly, no-one's actually produced a working example yet,

It has been done on a significant scale inadvertently, at zero marginal cost.

Dr. Schuiling estimates that pulverizing and dispersing mantle silicates on purpose, using outcroppings that are not otherwise valuable, will cost about ten times less than end-of-pipe sequestration methods that bury fluid CO2.

Will Olner please help this information propagate at least as often as he has spread contrary information in the past.

(How fire can be domesticated)

Lewis said...

'What we are looking at is not a position, it's a posture.' Michael, unless you learn to make your enemy your friend, also, I can't take you seriously. There is no profit in these so called 'climate wars', especially when we agree on most things and only want to oppose cant. Let us agree to come down from our high horses and, amidst 'beer and sandwiches', by pass the political buffoons that we both hate. How about it?

Steve Bloom said...

Let's cut to the chase, Lewis: How much CO2 reduction on what timeline?

Steve Bloom said...

Michael, see also this piece of junk from the Beeb. Notice how facts get sacrificed to narrative. That'll show those snooty boffins, say the media. :(

Steve Bloom said...

Oops: piece of junk

Michael Tobis said...

"facts sacrificed to narrative" is a very good way to put it. Let's try to keep that one.

Steve Bloom said...

OK, this cheers me up. OTOH I'm sufficiently cynical as to not underestimate the fossil fuel industry's determination to emit lots more CO2 unless the rest of society agrees to pay for their sunk cost.

David B. Benson said...

According to Eli, the APS fired off a missive to one A. Watts.

skanky said...

"piece of junk"

The BBC science reporters are (apparently - it's according to the Telegraph[1] so I'd take it with a pinch of salt) now required to quote deniers in all the "AGW" reporting to provide "balance". No mention of it in other science stories, nor in non-science stories though.

Of course the irony of that article quoting Delingpole shouldn't be lost on anyone.

[1]-http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/bbc/8060211/BBC-told-to-ensure-balance-on-climate-change.html

skanky said...

Just to clarify, when I said "non-science" I meant economics, arts etc., history, etc. I realise the religion paragraphs tucked away at the bottom are theoretically non-science, but one wonders whether there will be some who will attempt to use it to complain about evolution stories, etc.

I'd expect those complaints to not get anywhere, but it's another example of the BBC giving itself another chance to self-chastise.

gravityloss said...

Steve, that's interesting: casting instead of slicing silicon.

Why do they have to remove the wafer from the mold? Does the mold have to be made from an expensive material and can't just be left on?

Steve Bloom said...

gl, this is basically the same process as computer chip production, and IIRC the molds are quite expensive. But perhaps some sort of liner material (that would become part of the chip) is involved; that would be an obvious approach to solving the breakage problem.

Hank Roberts said...

CSM shut down their green blog earlier this year, as noted here:
http://scienceblogs.com/stoat/2010/10/who_ya_gonna_read.php


Dunno what's left on CSM's environmental side.