Belmont Club

No Free Lunch

Eliot Negin at the Huffington Post is alarmed at the apparent ignorance, not only of the Republican Presidential candidates, but of the press toward the greatest danger of our age. No not the economy, but Global Warming, AKA Climate Change.

Not to let the Republican presidential hopefuls off the hook, but one reason they have largely ignored global warming is because journalists haven’t pressed them on it, especially during the televised debates. I can’t say that I have watched all 23 of the debates that have occurred so far. But I have seen a number of them, and I have read the coverage. As far as I can tell, other than a brief mention about climate science during a debate in early September, moderators have abdicated their responsibility to address one of the most critical issues of our time.

Of course, for most Americans today, the biggest issue is the economy. It reminds me of the 1992 campaign, when then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton challenged President George H.W. Bush. To keep the Clinton campaign focused, lead strategist James Carville hung a sign in Clinton’s Little Rock headquarters that said, in part: “The economy, stupid.” Although the sign was only meant for internal consumption, “It’s the economy, stupid” became the de facto slogan of the Clinton campaign.

The difference today is we know a lot more about the threat of global warming than we did two decades ago. We know that, next to a nuclear war, it poses the most significant long-term threat to not only our economy, but to the future of the planet. So it would be fitting to update that 20-year old sign to read “Climate change, stupid” and hang it on the stage during not only the presidential candidate debates, but during the debates for all candidates running for office this year.

Negin should hesitate, on the basis of the precautionary principle, before using the word ‘stupid’ so liberally in his own article.  Focusing on economics is not necessarily a sign of retardation. He himself makes the link between Global Warming and economics, warning of dire consequences to Newt Gingrich’s Georgia unless his warnings are heeded. Since connections admittedly go both ways,  any “Climate change, stupid” sign he wants to hang on the Republican podium can in justice be matched by a reciprocal request to post banner proclaiming “it’s the economy, stupid” in the office of his own NGO.

The two issues are related and interact with each other.

Not even its advocates claim that protecting the world from Global Warming is cost free. Preventing the evil of fossil fuels has meant rejecting an oil pipeline from Canada to Texas. It may mean not developing shale hydrocarbon resources, such as a giant field in California four times larger than North Dakota’s.

It most certainly means not being able to hire the workers who might have worked on those projects.  Even the Green’s political allies understand this tradeoff. “The Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) left the BlueGreen Alliance on Friday, citing a disagreement with the group’s members over the Keystone XL pipeline.”

“We’re repulsed by some of our supposed brothers and sisters lining up with job killers like the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council to destroy the lives of working men and women,” LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan said in a statement.

Lift a glass then and remember with affection, the job you might have had.

Note the phrase “working men and women” used by the union. They may be blue collar workers, but it’s poor salesmanship to diss people who mostly drive cars they can’t park for free in Las Vegas unlike the owners of electric cars, for under Nevada state law, electric cars can park without paying.

And who owns electric cars? Why those who can afford them as they do not come cheap. Nissan’s studies show that “electric car buyers usually have higher incomes, so the higher price tags for the cars typically haven’t been an issue for those looking for an electric car. Leaf owners are in the top 15 percent of households with regards to income, according to Nissan.”  Price is apparently no object to the users of electric cars. So it only makes sense to exempt them from parking fees.

The New York Times describes “the gold rush in subsidies for clean energy”. It writes, “halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, on a former cattle ranch and gypsum mine, NRG Energy is building an engineering marvel: a compound of nearly a million solar panels that will produce enough electricity to power about 100,000 homes.” At what cost? But never mind, the tab is being picked up by the taxpayer. The NYT continues:

The project is also a marvel in another, less obvious way: Taxpayers and ratepayers are providing subsidies worth almost as much as the entire $1.6 billion cost of the project. Similar subsidy packages have been given to 15 other solar- and wind-power electric plants since 2009.

The government support — which includes loan guarantees, cash grants and contracts that require electric customers to pay higher rates — largely eliminated the risk to the private investors and almost guaranteed them large profits for years to come. The beneficiaries include financial firms like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, conglomerates like General Electric, utilities like Exelon and NRG — even Google …

States like California sweetened the pot by offering their own tax breaks and by approving long-term power-purchase contracts that, while promoting clean energy, will also require ratepayers to pay billions of dollars more for electricity for as long as two decades.

There are a number of scientists who question, on empirical grounds, whether the Global Warming models are accurate, or even whether they reflect known causal relations. It is not unreasonable to suggest that the question of Global Warming ought to be periodically revisited, like any other scientific theory, instead of being used as semi-immutable truth, the basis for billions of dollars of climate engineering, energy subsidies and the costly regulation of people’s lives that go right down what kinds of light bulbs they can licitly buy.

Europe, for example, has enacted Directive 2002/91/EC, which is “moving towards new and retrofitted nearly-zero energy buildings by 2020 (2018 in the case of Public buildings), and the application of a cost-optimal methodology for setting minimum requirements for both the envelope and the technical systems”. Somebody’s got to pay for that.

And that someone is going to be the consumer and taxpayer. A study by Sheffield Hallam University in the UK concluded that “building zero carbon homes is too costly and difficult in the current economic climate” based on a survey of 20 developers who “almost unanimously expressed concern about the uncertainty surrounding the zero carbon standard, which all new homes must meet from 2016.” Since the developers are going to pass the cost on to the customers, this reflects a belief that homeowners simply won’t be able to afford it.

A developer from South Yorkshire, who wished to remain anonymous, said: ‘Right now there’s no way we could deliver our business if zero carbon was a blanket requirement. You’re looking at houses here that we sell for £85,000 for a two-bed, there’s no way you could build a house and operate a business if you were delivering code 6.’

Indeed the sheer size of the Green gravy train creates a potential moral hazard which makes it all the more imperative to listen to skeptics, to the people who have to pay the subsidies, to those who have to fork out the higher prices for this program.  For surely there is a potential conflict of interest in touting the Green agenda when one benefits from it.  Ordinarily such touts would be called lobbyists or interest groups.

If those who must pay the higher costs want to pay them, then that is indication of value.  Those who benefit from the Green spending are less convincing in proclaiming it will save the planet. They would say that, wouldn’t they?

Thus the issue cuts two ways. The advocates of action to combat Global Warming must compete for resources used to feed, clothe, shelter and defend humanity. If environmentalism has an economic impact, so do Global Warming programs have an effect on how well — or whether people live.


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