Thursday, April 6, 2017

Climate Crusaders

When Trump rolled back environmental regulations on coal mining many commentators pointed out that the action would not save very many j0bs. After all, they noted sagely, coal is being replaced by natural gas as an energy source. Nothing the Trump administration can do will reverse that trend.

But, if that is true, Holman Jenkins points out, why are Democrats so hell bent on implementing regulations that are, at the least, redundant? Why do they want to be responsible for killing coal jobs? Remember when Hillary Clinton declared that she wanted to kill the coal jobs in West Virginia. How did that work out?

Jenkins writes:

The oddest criticism of Donald Trump’s climate action this week was the claim, mentioned almost triumphantly by every news source, that it would save few coal jobs. The economic and technological forces, especially the flood of low-carbon natural gas from fracking, are just too powerful.

Then why, if you’re a Democrat, put yourself in that position in the first place to take blame for killing coal jobs?

Why use regulation to do what technology and the market are already doing? Jenkins continues:

Of course the news reports are right: “The regulatory changes are entirely outweighed by these technological changes, not to mention the price of natural gas or renewables,” Mark Muro of the Brookings Institution was quoted telling the New York Times .

And also, the rule change-- denounced as the dagger that would kill the climate and the earth and the entire human species-- will have no real impact on any of them.

Jenkins continues:

So potent and large are these global forces that repealing the Obama rules, costly as they are, not only won’t affect coal jobs, it won’t affect climate.

Gina McCarthy, Mr. Obama’s EPA administrator, admitted as much when confronted, during a 2015 House hearing, with the fact that, by the agency’s own climate models, the effect would be only 1/100th of a degree Celsius. Instead, she said success should be measured in terms of “positioning the U.S. for leadership in an international discussion.”

So, the Obama rules would not have impacted the climate by any appreciable measure. Idem for the Trump change. The Obama administration was virtue signaling. It wanted to be on the right side of the climate change debate:

Yes, the relative decrease would be tiny but measurable, though the climate effect would be zip. This is akin to medical researchers claiming a drug a success because it’s detectable in the bloodstream, not because it improves health.

But, you will be thinking, what about Germany? Isn’t Germany leading the way to a greener future, by shutting down its nuclear power plants and expanding its use of renewable energy?

Jenkins points out, strangely enough, that Germany is now producing more carbon dioxide emissions than it did before the new policies. I guess you can’t have it all:

Pile up all the government policies enacted or seriously on the table, and their net effect is zilch. A new McKinsey study, that would be hilarious if it weren’t so sad, points out that Germany’s switch to renewables has been a success by almost every metric except CO 2 output—which is up instead of down.

But then there is the question of cost. Renewable energy is far more expensive than coal or nuclear. The results could have been predicted. Germans have been having more trouble paying their electric bills. More and more of them are having their electricity cut off:

Rising energy prices to support this energy transition have had one measurable effect—more than 330,000 German households have had their electricity shut off in the past year from nonpayment of bills almost three times as high as those paid by U.S. households.

Germany, needless to add, is many greens’ idea of a country “positioned for leadership in international discussions.”

One suspects that the greater sacrifice can be sold as a sign of greater virtue. How strong is your faith? How deeply do you believe in climate change? When the facts say that your belief system has nothing to do with reality, you can think that it's a test of your faith:

No rational consideration, however, will abate the torrent of priestly imprecations hurled by green activists this week at Mr. Trump. The New York Times insists that Trumpian action “risks the planet”—plainly false since nothing either Mr. Trump or Mr. Obama did will make a difference to the planet.

As Jenkins notes, it’s all about religion, not science:

Literally no amount of money dissipated on climate policy is excessive to such people, because their shamanistic status is directly proportional to the social waste they can conjure. In the realm of religion are we called upon to perform symbolic actions whose purpose (and cost) is aimed at testifying to our membership in the elect.

But, some people are profiting from the regulations. More regulations mean more bureaucrats to enforce them. It is about taking power out of the hands of corporate interests and putting them in the hands of government officials. It drains power from the private sector and puts it firmly in the hands of the public sector, whose employees are reliably Democratic voters:

The Democratic Party once had a brain where regulation was concerned, understanding that the ultimate purpose was a net public good, not an in-gathering of power to Washington for the benefit of lobbyists and influence peddlers.


Ares Olympus said...

This blog certainly reads as a true-believer (in our powerlessness?), whatever the climate crusaders are doing right or wrong.

And I'm not sure Clinton was crowing proudly about killing jobs. Just a guess, but surely that was the Republican lies at work. Saying "job killer" 32 times a day might be in the Republican handbook for optimal brainwashing.

Here's the NYT article with the quote from Mark Muro. Coal Mining Jobs Trump Would Bring Back No Longer Exist
“However way you spin it, gas and renewables are going to continue to replace coal,” said Nicolas Maennling, senior economics and policy researcher at Columbia University and an author of the automation study.

“And in order to stay competitive, coal will have to increase automation,” he said. “What Mr. Trump does will make little difference.”

Myself, I didn't see regulating CO2 as a pollutant made much sense, or about the same sense as calling H2O a pollutant since it is a greater green house gas. But every conservative economist will say a carbon tax is best (and get rid of the ethanol subsidies, and farm subsidies too), and a revenue neutral carbon tax is possible, even if you give every taxpayer a $5000 refund at the end of the year, that'll mean Trump's jet fuel and Gore's 1MW house all will pay more, and people like me who choose to ride a bike or take mass transit can reduce our taxes further.

And of course it should be a no brainer that the U.S. should ban selling coal to other countries, whether because we might need it someday, or because it is still an extremely environmentally destructive process outside of the CO2.

I admit a few years ago I thought high energy prices might be more powerful than any carbon taxes would be in encouraging conservation and alternative energy, but prices came down with the fracking boom and the Saudi's trying to break the fracking budgets oil cheaper than fracking production costs. So we've still got more oil company bankruptcies ahead before the Saudis can finally start ratching up prices again by reducing their pumping.

But it still seems hard to predict. The whole world has been running economies on new debt, which increases demand for oil, so even a slight global slowdown can reduce oil demand, and keep prices down a few more years.

Anyway, while coal, oil, and gas prices are low, it should be a no brainer that we can afford a carbon tax. And if we can't do that, we're basically admitting our economy is doomed when prices rise again by the diminishing returns of taking the harder fossil fuels last.

And learning how to live without coal seems essential to our future. If Trump wants to send humans to Mars, a world which even if it had billion year old coal beds would be unburnable for a lack of free oxygen, and temperatures -100F and half the solar radiation, Mars is 1000 times harder to survive than earth, so why not send some astronauts to Greenland or deathvalley where living is easy in comparison.

Someday I might trust humanity has a viable future for 2100, but I see no evidence such faith is warranted. We're just clever children living off a one-time inheritence so far.

David Foster said...

It is true that (in the US) it now makes more economic sense to build a gas-fired than a coal-fired plant (for one thing, you can use combined-cycle turbines, which are more efficient, for another thing, the materials-handling problems are greatly simplified)...but the reality is that there are a lot of coal-fired plants operating now, representing billions of dollars of capital investment which in turn represent vast amounts of human labor.

Trump's less-hostile attitude toward coal means that these assets are likely to get an extended lifespan, which is of considerable economic value and not only to coal miners.

The tradeoffs are different in other countries, because natural gas cannot be shipped as easily and inexpensively as oil or coal.

trigger warning said...

I'm thankful the world has Germany. All Americans should be grateful we have their Teutonically grim determination for garishly exhibitionistic conspicuous piety. From afar.

If Western women must be raped by Muslim "youth", and the elderly must shiver in the cold due to grid instabilities, no nationality is more deserving.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Climate Change is religious dogma, requiring faith in miracles, exegeses of sacred UN texts, and dismissing unexplainable historic climactic anomalies as irrelevant phenomena. Climate had changed before the growth of homonid populations, and without the presence of the automobile, air conditioning and other human comforts. The only solutions offered to counter the Climate Change apocalypse are government regulations, population control and increased government revenue. We've heard this many times before. Everyone must do more with less except government officials, bureaucrats and social justice activists. Indeed we are told these high priests, clerics and evangelists are the only hope for Gaea.

It is interesting that so many Americans cannot recognize the fact that Climate Change is a leading Democrat Party issue because it advances their agenda of more government, more taxes, more regulations and more social justice activism fueling and fueled by the same. All claim moral superiority because of their parroted viewpoint on an issue that is at once so dizzyingly complex that they could never hope to understand it, and also in the next breath is so simple as to unify all climate and environmental science around the disastrous abundance of a single molecule all green stuff on Earth needs to survive. How elegant. Even quaint.

Yet these activists chant with absolute dogmatic certitude that human beings are wrecking the planet with carbon dioxide, and others (persons who seem to uniformly meet the Left's criteria for political enemyhood) must suffer. All in the name of "Science says..."

Crusaders indeed. Groupthink invites skepticism. Follow the money.

Sam L. said...

Not to mention, vegetation loooooooooooooooooooooves carbon dioxide. Makes 'em grow big and healthy!

trigger warning said...

In fact, CO2 is a foliar fertilizer.