Thomas McDermott on Climate Bill

A guest post by Thomas McDermott
Climate change is a real and significant threat to human welfare, particularly in the poorest parts of the world. While an effective ‘solution’ to this threat will require global cooperation over a sustained period of time, this is no excuse for not acting now to begin the process of reducing our dependence on carbon-intensive activities.
Ireland has a great record of leading the world in initiatives aimed at reducing global poverty. This work should be complemented and reinforced by action on climate change. Ireland could take the lead in demonstrating to other rich countries (and the rapidly developing ’emerging economies’) that reducing carbon emissions can be achieved without jeopardising economic or social welfare. In fact, these goals can be enhanced by such initiatives. This is not only the morally right thing to do, it is also in our interests. Such leadership would help to restore Ireland’s image internationally, which has been so tarnished by the excesses, greed and corruption of our recent economic boom and bust. At the same time, intelligent climate legislation could provide an additional source of revenue for government, while potentially improving our competitiveness over the long-term.
Unfortunately, the proposed Climate Change Bill produced by The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security (and due to be debated in the Dail today, Thursday), will not achieve any of these worthy goals. The proposed bill would legislate for ambitious emissions reduction targets, with the Taoiseach responsible for ensuring that these targets are achieved. The Taoiseach would also indicate what levels of emissions he/she expects each year. How is the Taoiseach to predict annual emissions levels or to enforce any such medium to long-term targets? This is equivalent to imposing legislation that requires the Taoiseach to predict levels of economic growth each year, or somehow to enforce medium to long-term economic targets.
Unless this legislation envisages an entirely new, centrally-planned economic system in this country, I do not see how its objectives can be achieved.
Legislation of this nature will do two things:

1) It provides a convenient sound-bite for politicians to hide behind. It is relatively easy to say “we have proposed/introduced legislation that will force emissions to fall by x% by 2050” etc. without actually specifying how such targets will be achieved (i.e. without having to stand up to various interest groups who may stand to lose from specific climate-related legislation).
2) Such a law obliges the presiding government to make various interventions to attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Crucially, however, it leaves the choice of specific interventions as a purely political decision. How will the government of the day decide how and where to reduce emissions? On what basis? We surely should be sufficiently well chastened in this country by recent experience of political interventions in the property sector (in the form of tax breaks etc.) to understand what a dangerous scenario this type of legislation will create.

We should not allow politicians the convenience of meaningless targets to hide behind, or the opportunity to use climate change legislation as a means of making themselves and their friends better off in the next round of crony-political-economy.

Setting ambitious long-term targets might sound good, but in reality this does not provide any greater certainty to businesses, investors, or consumers, simply because such targets are purely aspirational and are not credible without specific measures to achieve them.

The optimal climate change policy from both an equity and an efficiency perspective is to place a tax on carbon emissions, and allow people to choose the best way for them of reducing carbon dependency. This would obviously have revenue raising potential – revenue that is so desperately needed right now – while any potential threat to vulnerable people could be mitigated by using part of the revenue raised to provide reimbursements to those on low-incomes. Taxes are never popular, but the people of Ireland are acutely aware right now that taxes must rise. In every crisis there lies opportunity. If only we had the courage to embrace this one.

73 thoughts on “Thomas McDermott on Climate Bill”

  1. Swedish presentation to Comhar recently said much the same thing. They seem to have imposed carbon taxes at a number of different rates depending on whether one is in ets or not, selling tradable goods or not etc. Interested in a view on this differentiated application of carbon tax. Revenue recycling element of Swedish carbon tax seemed more transparent than our own but hypthecation not always popular or indeed practical.

  2. Thomas McDermott writes:

    Climate change is a real and significant threat to human welfare, particularly in the poorest parts of the world. While an effective ’solution’ to this threat will require global cooperation over a sustained period of time, this is no excuse for not acting now to begin the process of reducing our dependence on carbon-intensive activities.

    First:
    “Climate change is a real and significant threat to human welfare …”
    Probably correct — we’re done for.

    Second:
    “An effective ’solution’ to this threat will require global cooperation over a sustained period of time …. ”
    Totally wrong.
    Global cooperation on the climate change front is a pure, castles-in-the-air fantasy because of the logic of externalities. There are approx. 200 nation states in existence and while all of them will quite happily indulge in holier-than-thou lip service to climate goals (cosmeticism), NONE of them will sacrifice themselves when it comes to shillings and pence. Least of all smaller countries, such as Ireland. Small countries are natural free riders. We’re talking about ‘the tragedy of the climate commons’. Witness the Copenhagen climate summit disaster of December 2009. If that doesn’t convince people of the utter futility of ‘global warming prevention’, nothing will.

    The facts of the matter are this: CO2 generating fossil fuel resources are finite and the thirst for them is so great that they will be extracted until such time as it is no longer economical to do so in purely market terms (i.e. regardless of negative externalities). So if Ireland in some moralistic frenzy reduces its consumption on altruistic grounds, some other country will increase ITS consumption. Of course some day we will reduce our CO2 generating activites to zero anyhow — when we’ve run out of ‘ancient sunshine’.

    Thirdly:
    “[T]his is no excuse for not acting now to begin the process of reducing our dependence on carbon-intensive activities …”

    There is only one excuse for not acting now but it has virtually nothing to do with global warming. It has everything to do with peak oil.

  3. Richard/Thomas

    The comments are commendable and idealistic but is it really “smart” for Ireland where we are right now (all known to readers of this blog)
    – public spending that we cannot afford
    – owing untold billions to support our “systemically” important errant banks.
    – Add to this the reality of high unemployment, poor job prospects for graduates, emigration.
    – Poor competitive position due to high input costs for service and utilities.
    – Trapped in high-value Euro

    In summary we are in a very, very deep crisis and it is time surely to think outside the box and act in the interest of our citizens.

    We saw with the bank crisis how trying to do “the right thing” for external benefit has led us to brink of solvency. Why then should we continue our self-flagellation by applying carbon taxes. These will:
    – Reduce economic activity by hitting disproportionately hitting small business and self-employed (in contrast to public secotr emplyess such as academics)
    – Reduce competitiveness for our larger multinational sector.

    Lets turn this carbon tax on it head…..Think outside the Box….

    Instead of applying a carbon tax, do the opposite – REDUCE the level of tax on fuels (and therefore electricity) to a level closer to the USA. This would instantly:

    – Lead to increased economic activity and provide a welcome boost to consumers
    – Leading to an increase in tax revenue (including bring NI drivers back across the border to the Republic) as activity increases
    – Improve our competitiveness for both multinational and indigenous and service sectors (particularly in comparison with the UK our nearest competitor)
    – Provide the economic conditions needed to enable business to start hiring again.

    The UK, with dwindling oil, has committed to a nuclear power strategy and will be unlikely to follow us – so this could be a short to medium-term competitive advantage for us against our closest trading neighbour. They might find our strategy annoying but ,well, needs must.

    Before you all howl “what about” let me answer some of the obvious ones:

    What about climate change, Kyoto, Copenhagen etc…
    “No problem” as the late father of our current Finance Minister liked to say. Just Scrap SEI and use half the €60m euro saved to fund some scientists to review the literature and collate our case regarding the uncertainties with AGW. Many people in UK and USA are already sceptical about AGW so we would not be as unpopular as some would make you believe – it can be done. See my previous posts as to why this is defensible and in the bigger scheme of things Ireland is irrelevant anyway.

    Now is not the time to be paying penal climate taxes as an example to the rest of the world. (how many countries have fudged on their Kyoto commitments?)

    What about the future, peak oil, shortages etc… well lets do some deals with the devil and encourage the oil companies to explore in our waters on condition that we are guaranteed supplies of hydrocarbons at cost price as a result. This should suffice our small populace until someone else develops some fantastic hydrogen or other renewable energy technology –then we can pick the best of those as the coming decades unfold – without the need for subsidies from the Irish taxpayer.

    What about our colleagues in the EU etc…lets point out that the Euro straitjacket was our undoing (alright just a little!) and we have no option unless they want to give us some really “free” money instead. We can state this is a “temporary” (say 5 year) measure only.

    Who will join me in the Five Year Negative Carbon Tax Crusade?

    Your Country Your Call!

  4. Thomas writes:

    Ireland could take the lead in demonstrating to other rich countries […] that reducing carbon emissions can be achieved without jeopardising economic or social welfare.

    Oh dear, this post requires thorough, systematic, sentence-by-sentence fisking.

    You CANNOT reduce fossil fuel consumption without adverse welfare effects unless you replace it by something else. Solar energy is ruled out in a country whose former native language has 40 words for different varieties of rain and which is under cloud cover when, occasionally, the rain stops raining. Wind energy might meet 20% of our ELECTRIC energy requirements but the embedded energy is massive and intermittency poses near-insoluble problems. Nuclear energy might be a deus ex machina but it makes the Greens wet their pants because they lack the brains to understand the nature of relative risk.

    For further reading:

    http://www.withouthotair.com/

  5. “Climate change is a real and significant threat…”

    The hysteria that was provoked by the CRU fraud and IPPC lies is misplaced. Sure, tackle pollution, but please stop harrassing us with your propaganda.

    One word: Climategate.

    One site: http://www.wattsupwiththat.com/

  6. JeromeK,

    Full marks except perhaps for your global warming skepticism.

    The point is that regardless of the reality of global warming and regardless of its potentially disastrous consequences, there is nothing that can be done about it in a world consisting of 200 independent political actors (nation states), all of them passing the buck to one another. They may talk the talk but they won’t walk the walk.

    Thomas’s sermonising is symptomatic, appealing as it does to the highest instincts — a sure sign of moral decay.

  7. @Tony Rooney:

    ‘Watt’s up with that’ is overly ideological — most of the posters there wouldn’t acknowledge AGW even if palm trees started growing in Greenland.

    I would recommend Roger Pielke JR’s blog for a more balanced view:

    http://rogerpielkejr.blogspot.com/

  8. @ Thomas

    I agree that a bill which only set a long term target and appointed the Taoiseach responsible for deliver it would not be much of an improvement on the status quo.

    That’s not, however, what the proposed bill would do. The primary objective of the bill is actually quite the opposite of what you seem to believe (setting long term targets) – it is about setting shorter compliance periods or “budgets” which would coincide with electoral cycles. You seem to believe that the Bill would empower the Taoiseach to bring forward measures on an ad hoc basis (he already de facto has this power), the Bill would do the opposite. It would empower a new expert body, the climate change commission, to propose 5 year budgets to government. The basic parameters of the budget would be set within the context of a 2050 target, and the annual review would serve to monitor implemention.

    When you discuss a carbon tax, you do so without acknowledging that Ireland introduced a carbon tax in budget ’09. In any case many of the cheapest emissions reduction potential will not necessarily be delivered by a carbon tax, at least not at a level which would be politically acceptable. Take energy efficient lighting for example: usually investment will have a 1-2 year payback, cost-negative, yet it still doesn’t happen. Weird, eh? So carbon tax – necessary yes, sufficient, no.

    In fact the reality, like it or not, is that there are a whole series of discrete sector-specific measures which are currently introduced in an ad hoc manner, and the climate bill would devolve many of these decisions to an expert body which would evaluated proposals side by side, on the basis of equity, cost-efficiency, budget period targets etc.

    Finally all proposed climate bills are different, and in fact the government’s climate bill may (will I’d say) be very different from this one.

  9. I’ve said it here a dozen times. We need nuclear energy. The Greens are the new Socialists and are just as interventionist and arrogant. We no more need a new tax than a hole in the head.

    Apart from its incredible efficiency as a power source, nuclear is the cleanest of the developed power industries. It is also very cheap. At 2.3c per Kw/h it is as cheap as chips. Not only costing us less but providing Ireland with a valuable commodity to export; cheap power. Lest we forget we have 600 million people living on our doorstep. Nuclear presently serves less than 10 percent of these.

    But before we can do anything we need to clean up this economic disaster. There is only one way to do this. We liberalize. Reduce our State by sixty -seventy percent and reduce our taxes down to ten percent of current levels. To start with. No more VAT, No more employment taxes. No Stamp duty,VRT, Excise, No Corporation tax or income tax. No semi-States, No toll roads. No state airports or airlines. No unemployment benefit and no state health services. Education – also brought fully into the private sector.

    As for TV licences. What a joke!

    We can find an equitable tax, probably based on property which meets the needs for funding of a much smaller state.

    Were we to make these radical changes , we would very quickly be off and running, like a bat out of hell. Nuclear power to follow in ten years.

    Problems solved.

  10. @jc
    “In any case many of the cheapest emissions reduction potential will not necessarily be delivered by a carbon tax, at least not at a level which would be politically acceptable. Take energy efficient lighting for example: usually investment will have a 1-2 year payback, cost-negative, yet it still doesn’t happen. Weird, eh? So carbon tax – necessary yes, sufficient, no.”

    That’s just nonsense.

  11. @George
    Ireland has three levels of the carbon tax too: normal rate, zero rate because in ETS, zero rate because greenhouse-intensive exporter.

    A domestic carbon tax on ETS emissions would not reduce emissions (in the EU) but would cost money.

    A carbon tax on the production of traded goods and services would just send these activities abroad. Global emissions would not fall. The appropriate tax would be on the consumption of such goods.

  12. If we are going to invest in the “smart” economy, we could do worse than train engineers in how to build and operate Thorium reactors.
    As for the article the opening statement says it all. Climate Change is not a real and significant threat but an unproven hypothesis that has been hijacked for political and financial purposes.

  13. All the usual arguments are being trotted out.

    Ireland’s contribution is negligible.

    By extension, my contribution to the death rate is negligible so I may as well kill off my enemies. Equally, Ireland could just set up a gold refining operation and flush the mercury-laden effluent into the South Atlantic since the contribution would be ‘negligible’.

    Like all developed economies, Ireland’s contribution is in fact much greater than average on a per capita basis.

    Game theory suggests the problem cannot be solved.

    As with the negligible contribution argument, game theory suggests we should commit whatever crimes we can get away with. Human beings are not the infinitely selfish robots of game theorists simplifying assumptions and history and politics are full of examples where people cooperate instead of sneaking personal advantage at the expense of the common good.

    Climate change is more complex than any other scientific problem.

    There are two components to this: the basic picture and the fine-grain detail.

    The basic picture is very, very simple and warming was the first thing suspected when it was discovered CO2 levels were rising. All subsequent observations have confirmed this to be the case.

    As regards fine detail, assume it’s impossible to predict climatic changes beyond the general addition of energy to the atmosphere which basic physics says must occur; this is the strongest form of ‘scepticism’. Climatic changes will therefore occur but of unknown nature and degree. However people settle preferentially in the most habitable regions. Regardless of the specific changes that occur, climatic shifts must then shift — or possibly drastically reduce — the areas amenable to economic wellbeing away from the regions where people actually live.

    In actuality, the area of uncertainty surrounding the actual climatic shifts that will occur is narrowing all the time.

    Weren’t the scientists warning of a new ice age in the 1970s?

    Um… no.

    It will all happen in poor countries far away.

    In that case, then, climate change is an unpredictable hypothesis that will occur predictably at a safe distance. Conclusions such as this are in any case based on the most superficial analyses full of guesswork.

    Even accepting this claim as correct for the sake of argument, anyone who believes the developed world can escape blowback from this is living in fantasy land. If Germany could be extracting grain from the Ukraine at bayonet point on 29th Oct 1918 only to be making common cause with the bolsheviks a week later, then chaos in the tropics can transfer to the temperate regions and it can do so quickly. The tropics are furthermore home to two nuclear powers and numerous other nuclear-capable nations such as Brazil.

    It’s all a hoax to get science funding/boost a green energy lobby etc.

    So long as actual evidence isn’t required, any desired conclusion about human society can be proven by inventing a suitable conspiracy. This idea is less plausible than theories about 9/11 being a US plot.

    Somewhat ironically, the well-funded denial campaigns of Exxon, the Kochs etc have been carefully documented. Many of the participants, such as Fred Singer and Sallie Baliunas have been impicated in previous corruptions of science such as assaults on the link between tobacco and cancer or CFCs and ozone layer depletion, complete with documentary evidence now in the public domain.

    While struggling to pick holes in the IPCC, ‘sceptics’ ignore frauds in there own camp like Ian Plimer and Bjorn Lomborg and transparent propaganda like ‘The Great Global Warming Swindle’. This is a very peculiar sort of scepticism unknown to science or even to lexicography.

  14. “While an effective ’solution’ to this threat will require global cooperation over a sustained period of time, this is no excuse for not acting now to begin the process of reducing our dependence on carbon-intensive activities. ”

    This thinking is soooooo dangerous. “Global cooperation” means power in the hands of a few over the many. This means suffering for the many while the few live very comfortably. There has been an evil prominence given to civil government (few) over the other governments of life (many)(individual, family, faith ). Man cannot resist abusing power.

    It has been “global cooperation” (unfettered statist power into the economies of the world) that has done the most environmental damage throughout history.

    No, the answer to making the world a better place physically and spiritually is the separation of power into the many spheres of governments in order to restrain corruption. The civil government must be separated from economics (job cuts of the non producers) and establishing true justice (the one revealed and natural law) in just courts. (that will be the day the earth smiles)

  15. @Carolus

    I agree a ‘global solution’ will not be easy. But again, this is no excuse for not acting now.

    Your point about solar energy in Ireland is a straw man argument. The point of a carbon tax is that you let people (or ‘the market’ if you prefer) decide how best to reduce carbon dependency.

  16. @ JeromeK and @Carolus

    Yes in an ideal world we would be cutting taxes and maybe increasing government investment spending, in an attempt to recover from a deep economic recession. However, as you point out, this is far from an ideal world. We know that taxes must rise. All forms of taxation damage our competitiveness. However, a carbon tax is likely to be less distortionary than say increasing income taxes.

  17. @Tom McDermott,

    Interesting piece. It appears we’re both working in the same area, though coming at the subject matter from very different angles.

    As discussed on a previous thread, the Energy & Climate Change Committee’s Bill is going nowhere. I guess it’s only fair that those parliamentarians who put so much hard work into devising it should have their day out in the Dail, and no doubt it will be light relief to all TDs to have something other than our dastardly fiscal predicament to discuss, but it’s a side show. further, given the likely remaining working life of the present Dail, it hardly looks like there will be sufficient time for the Government’s own Climate Bill to get beyond a second stage reading, if that. If there’s going to be a legislative initiative in this area, I think it will fall to the next government to bring it forward.

    I’m not sure that it’s a straight choice between legislation of the kind respectively proposed by the Committee or the government to date or revisiting carbon tax as the most suitable mechanisms to engineer changes in lifestyle habits so as to reduce overall carbon emissions. That’s a political choice and there are a range of other policy options available to policy makers who must also keep a keen eye on the pulse of their electorate. Right now, the public have lost interest in climate change for a variety of reasons. As environmental NGOs admit – and Channel 4 had an interesting debate on the whys and wherefores of this during the past week – they’ve lost the argument with the public.

    Even if carbon taxes provided the silver bullet solution – and I for one am not convinced of that – public acceptability is essential to successful imposition. Climate taxes impact on different cohorts of the population in different ways – for instance, rural dwellers will pay more than inner city urban dwellers because of lifestyle factors and accessibility to services etc. Arguments based on morality, or climate dogma, won’t cut it either.

  18. @ Richard

    “That’s just nonsense.”

    No Richard it is borne out by any MAC curve I have ever seen, extensive consumer behavior surveys, and the great majority of the literature. It is further the position of the International Energy Agency etc.

    The obstacles to investment include principle-agent issues (why would landlord invest in expensive lighting when he won’t pay bills?); asymmetric information (do we really believe that purchaser has full information on current and future electricity prices, their own usage patterns, the relative efficiency factors, and expected lifetime of various options?); uncertainty (will the homeowner live in that house to reap benefits of investment?) etc etc.

    Of course if you set a carbon tax at €150 per tonne, it would overcome these issues, but that’s not going to happen.

    So the religious devotion to the market can sometimes be misplaced. Dogma isn’t usually sufficient to resolve complex issues.

  19. Oil is abiotic. It is created from CH4 from the original make up of each of the planets. Methane is observed seeping from all the planets. We have masses of reserves as the wells capped fill up again, over time! The Russians know this and Thomas Gold borrowed their work. It suits the biggest industry in the world to pretend that it is in short supply, like water!

    Water is not in short supply either. (We gain water from Helios, in the form of Hydrogen combining with atmospheric ozone)

    The climate has been cooling since 1998. The aim is to curb China and India and to create trading in carbon, for fraud purposes.

  20. @jc,

    One of the reasons why the general public have become so turned off by climate change is the dogmatic approach of climate campaigners, the zealotry that admits of no uncertainties and is abusive of anyone who raises any uncertainties. A good local example of this in practice is what passes for discussion on ‘Think or Swim’, with which I understand you are familiar.

    At this stage in the issue cycle, the debate is turning to solutions and their relative costs to individuals and society is increasingly relevant. So the economists move centre stage. Is it fair to accuse them of free market ‘dogma’, if they can support their preferred solutions with evidence? I agree with you though on the light bulbs thing – why buy something that costs, at minimum, two euro when the old style bulb only costs 80c? When household budgets are very tight, as they are for a lot of people, 1 euro 20c matters a lot more than caring for the enviornment. It’s the price of two extra tins of catfood.

  21. @ Veronica

    We don’t agree on light bulbs. Why buy something more expensive?

    Well because in general a CFL will last 8-15 times longer than a incandescent, and because they are at 3/4 times as efficient the homeowner recoups his/her initial investment within a year in most case.

    So that’s two free tins of cat food every year over the average lifespan of a cat.

  22. @Veronica,

    Shame about those lightbulbs (though I’ve spotted some research that indicates they may not be as good as they’re cracked up to be as people use more of them to get the same amount of light). It meant that your eminently sensible observations up to that point could be ignored by a leading representative of those who would profit most from bearing these obervations in mind.

  23. @jc,
    Ah yes, except one can only spend what one has in one’s purse today and a hungry kitty is hungry when it’s hungry, and unbearably noisy about it to boot, and doesn’t give two spots about the long term economics of two theoretical free tins every other year of its life. In short, it’s about what people can immediately afford to pay. Same reason why sales of expensive renewables heating systems are plummeting since the end of the boom – payback over X number of years is not all that relevant when immediate cash is very tight and the future is uncertain.

  24. @Adrian K

    [G]ame theory suggests we should commit whatever crimes we can get away with. Human beings are not the infinitely selfish robots of game theorists[‘] simplifying assumptions

    You’ve complained of my brevity before but in this case I really can surmise quickly: you’re wrong about this. The rationality assumption does not imply we should commit crimes or that we’re infinitely selfish robots. It implies that people have a weak preference ordering over their preference set, or, “between any x and y, the consumer/agent/company/person prefers x to y, y to x, or is indifferent between both.” If you always prefer Pepsi to Coke, you are rational. If I always prefer Coke to Pepsi, I am still rational. If you always prefer altruism to greed, you are rational. If I always prefer greed to altruism, I am still rational. There is no assumption behind people’s actual preferences, just assumptions that they are ordered. Indeed how people form their preferences is something economists have hardly looked into. That’s something I have a problem with and would like our profession to research further. But it’s simply incorrect to state we assume people are infinitely greedy robots.

    The microeconomics bible is “Microeconomic Theory” by Mas-Colell, Whinston and Green. Its ubiquity is such that in my department, the winners of the annual faculty vs PhD students sports day win the “Mas-Colell Cup”. They devote the first three chapters, 100 pages or so, towards discussing rationality, preferences and choice. Please go and read them.

  25. @ Paul

    Link to research please.

    @ Veronica

    The mind boggles.

    Kittens everywhere rest assured: the EU will have finished phasing out incancesdents by 2012, overcoming the market failure and saving consumers hundreds of € in the process. I was only using this as an obvious example of market failure, it actually applies to all investment in energy efficiency.

    Instead of fatalistic moaning about consumers’ high discount rates and using it as an reason for preserving the status quo, what constructive people in government and industry are exploring is how up front financing issues can be addressed to facilitate necessary investments, thereby driving economic recovery, reducing emissions etc

  26. Speaking of CFL lightbulbs, here’s an alternative to spending money on expensive ad campaigns encouraging energy saving….

    Why don’t we have 5-10 people with 4 exercise bikes each that have lightbulbs and electricity meters attached who scour the schools in the country giving talks on the basics of electricity. As they are talking 4 students could notch up 1 kWh on the bikes and the ins and outs of an ESB bill can also be explained. This could take place for one hour during a normal-scheduled religion or Irish class.

  27. @ Tim

    “As they are talking 4 students could notch up 1 kWh on the bikes…”

    That’s at least a couple hours hard cycling! Fun idea though.

  28. @MarcusOC

    Maybe I wasn’t clear enough. I actually meant 1 kWh between them i.e. 0.25 each – that should be possible in an hour?! ;O)

  29. @ Paul

    The research to which you link suggests that increasing the efficiency of lighting is going to increase human productivity, or greatly reduce demand for power (less likely according to the author).

    I’m completely baffled how you could conclude from this research that:

    a) “I’ve spotted some research that indicates they may not be as good as they’re cracked up to be”

    even better

    b) “as people use more of them to get the same amount of light”

    I would be particularly interested in your explanation for B. How exactly can a more efficient product which produces more light per unit of power input be somehow “used more to get the same amount of light”? Would that not make it less efficient?

    Is this something to do with Emaon Ryan’s nefarious influence again?

  30. Adrian K

    Some well-made arguments re responsibility; but I admit (perhaps selfishly) that I am more concerned about immediate impact of carbon taxes on me and my family and friends and indeed on the Irish people than a hypothetical future risk to a third world family who has not even been born yet.
    I am sorry for my vested interest but in fairness, most calls for these taxes emanate from (public sector) universities/quangos and/or “smart” economy interests. Most of us have some angle to grind!

    Thomas
    Re Need for Taxes; Actually in more normal economic times, I would support a carbon tax for reasons you outline.
    But yes, we are in dire crisis, and reducing the level of taxes on energy would boost activity and bring in external revenue – so overall tax yield (IMHO) would be higher.
    Remember if you raise carbon taxes, you must admit it will have a dampening effect on economic activity and therefore on sales/transaction and income taxes. (a bit like negative feedback in a climate model ;-). Particularly hard hit would be areas like manufacturing (ie costs for multinationals), transport, tourism, retail and even some services.

  31. @Veronica:

    payback over X number of years is not all that relevant when immediate cash is very tight and the future is uncertain.

    Spot on. And as to energy-saving lights, another problem is that when you turn them on, they make the room look darker (I’m not being sarcastic) — they seem to suck photons out of the environment.

    I’ve opted for halogen lighting, the use of which hasn’t yet been criminalised by the Church of CO2 Reduction. Expensive, but at least they’re not a health hazard and an insult to the eyes.

  32. Tim Morrissey writes:

    Speaking of CFL lightbulbs, here’s an alternative to spending money on expensive ad campaigns encouraging energy saving….

    Nice. Actually, the irony is that CFL lightbulbs don’t, ultimately, lead to a reduction in energy consumption. That’s because the energy people save on CFL is simply used elsewhere — people just leave their lights on longer, or spend the money saved on something else. It’s called the Jevons paradox. You can read about it here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jevons_paradox

  33. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.

    The Green (red) propaganda machine is rapidly running out of fuel. It has fooled the world on DDT, Nuclear energy (Chernobyl), GM food (Starving Africa), Melting Ice caps/glaciers, polar beer extinctions, hockeystick lies, CRU lies etc, etc, etc.
    The Green agenda is now firmly the Red socialist agenda, communism by the back door.
    I’m all for a discussion on energy sustainabilty but spare those of us, who bother to to even scratch the surface, the indignity of shuving man made global warming down our throats.

  34. @ Carolus

    You make some very categorical statements. Aside from a wiki article outlining the very interesting theoretical insights of Mr. Jevon, to you have any evidence for your assertion that CFLs don’t save energy?

    The studies I have read for heating systems and thermal efficiency put the bounce back at around 20%, depending of course on economic circumstances (it’s higher for the fuel poor). I would assume the bounce back for lighting would be less. As they are four times more efficient that normal bulbs, I would assume that they would have to be left on for about 32ish hours a day.

    I threw a few CFLs up in my rented apartment there a few years ago and I find that I haven’t been tempted to install a chandelier as yet either.

  35. @Enda H

    I didn’t have the general case in mind when I wrote the post. The game-theory objection to the possibility of a climate deal is predicated on the assumption that nations will follow the narrowest definition of self-interest.

    You say this isn’t a necessary assumption — fair enough, let’s look at either case. Either it’s assumed nations will follow the narrowest definition of self-interest or they won’t.

    You say the the latter assumption is possible under game theory. Certainly, but this case is trivial for this debate. If so, then the game-theoretic objection to a climate deal no longer apply.

    History is replete with examples where nations acted otherwise than the former assumption — that countries will alway interpret their interests in the narrowest possible way — predicts. By this reckoning Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada would never have gone to war to defend Poland, wars of religion would never have occurred and there would be no such thing as foreign aid.

    Likewise, the USA would never have gone into Iraq since, whatever the ‘it’s all about oil’ faction say, it had no interest in doing so. The occupation cost more than the US could have ever hoped to extract from the country even if it acted with utter ruthlessness. Neoconservative ideas about a democratic domino effect that preceded 9/11 made them do it.

    Ideas matter, and if the international community sealed a climate change deal in the morning it could with determination solve the problem.

  36. @jc,

    OK, I have allowed myself some poetic licence here. Yes, CFLs save energy. But the Jevons paradox is indisputable: the ‘saved’ energy is consumed elsewhere. Example: you save 100 euros per annum by using CFLs. But then you spend that 100 euros on something else — on petrol, or you buy a pair of Rohan bags (with embedded energy), or whatever. End result: nada.

    But my real objection to CFLs is that they are mandatory. If they were as economical as they are made out to be, people would buy them anyhow. Besides, their lighting quality sucks. They are also a genuine safety hazard on stairways, because by the time they begin to emit light to see where you are going, you are half way down the stairs. They really have no ‘saving’ graces — apart from giving psychological satisfaction to the coercion-obsessed, know-nothing, learn-nothing, Green community.

    As to the CO2 issue, illusion reigns supreme. Anthropogenic global warming is probably inevitable at least until such time as we run out of fossil fuels. And then it’s game over anyhow for most of us.

    After the Jevons paradox, the Gerondeau paradox:

    “We have been reasoning as if the world had an infinite stock of hydrocarbons, which may perhaps have justified trying to limit our emissions by leaving a stable part underground forever. As that is not the case and reserves are limited and will in any case be fully exploited, our efforts no longer make sense. At best, they would put off some emissions for a few months or a few years …”

    from: Climate – the Great Delusion, 2010, by Christian Gerondeau (page 54)

  37. @Adrian K,
    My qualm was that you were accusing economists of imposing structure that wasn’t there and – not to be harsh here – you were doing so because you had little knowledge of the topic. Again I re-iterate my desire not to be rude or dismissive here (and even though I expect you to reply with something akin to your “I don’t care how I come across” remark) but I suggest that your conclusions on game theory are still suggesting a lack of knowledge.

  38. @jc wrote:

    ‘In fact the reality, like it or not, is that there are a whole series of discrete sector-specific measures which are currently introduced in an ad hoc manner, and the climate bill would devolve many of these decisions to an expert body which would evaluated proposals side by side, on the basis of equity, cost-efficiency, budget period targets etc.’

    But is this not arguing for central planning over individual choice. How can a small group, no matter how expert, know what is best for everyone all the time?

    Ignoring the pervasiveness of subsidies nowadays, with individual choice the consumer would sit down and look at how much carbon comes from their various weekly activities and how much they value those activities. From this the cutbacks would be made and then refined over time on their choosing. It may be something as simple as cutting back on red meat but can you imagine the govt going and making life harder for farmers. I know I’ve probably made this over-simplistic but surely this would add to our overall welfare rather than reduce it. No?

  39. @Enda H

    This is better even than the “internalisation of externalities” vs “externalities” distinction-without-a-difference I was treated to by MarcusOC.

    You first add bells and whistles which actually validate my point of view and then abandon the whole argument making vague accusations of incompetence. Personally speaking, when I engage in personal attacks I prefer a direct approach that is at least honest to mealy-mouthed, more in sorrow than in anger homilies.

    The interpretation of game theory offered was valid and, unlike the variants you raise, relevant.

    You’re telling me variants of game theory permit motivations other than profit — fine, as stated I have no problem with this and it alters neither the validity of the treatment nor the conclusions one bit. All I did was take an existing context — the interpretation of game theory that suggests climate change cannot be solved politically — and examine it. It is of limited validity, and leads to no solid objections to a climate deal.

  40. Jaysis. Adrian, I’m sure game theorists the world over are delighted you have no problem with their actual (as opposed to supposed) assumptions. Unfortunately, your analysis is still blissfully naive and lacking any sort of rigour. In more simple terms, yer talkin’ sh*te even after your mistakes are politely pointed out. I’ll keep it in mind in future.

  41. @Enda H

    I think I must have missed that part where you pointed out the mistake. I took an existing context and ran with it. Show me the relevance of a word you’ve written here.

  42. @jc,

    EU policy on biofuels has proven neither constructive nor progressive. EU diplomacy on climate change has seen it marginalised at the international negotiating table (e.g. Copenhagen) and, as I understand it, its carbon trading scheme would hardly be rated a glittering success either. The success of climate policy surely should be measured by the results it achieves in actual emissions’ reductions not by the agreement of initial ‘targets’ for that policy? Instead, the cart is put before the horse. Were it not for the current recession, how many developed countries, including Ireland, would have attained even the modest (and inadequate)Kyoto targets?

    At every turn, EU is being shown to be unresponsive to changes in circumstances and inflexible in its prescriptions. On that basis alone, an expensive policy failure may beckon. Arguably too, the current approach provides fodder to the campaigns of those who want to resist necessary change in energy policy, and/or measures to protect the natural environment from the risks attendant on global warming for the sake of their own vested interests.Testimony to the failure of the current approach though, is that instead of harnessing public goodwill, which is there in spades, European populations have become increasingly alienated from the climate change concept and indifferent, or even antagonistic, to policy measures proposed to mitigate it.

    The EU’s top down approach is not working and needs to be urgently reconsidered. Same applies to national policy, especially the high-handed, pseudo-moralistic approach of recent years, which has probably done more to damage and alienate public opinion on climate policy in this country than might have otherwise been achieved by an entire rugby squad of virulent climate skeptics.

    I welcome Thomas McDermott’s article, even though I may have my doubts about the policy solution he advocates. I’m beginning to think that a better approach in general might be to thrown away the climate change umbrella and teh ideological claptrap that goes with it and break the issue into its constituent elements – energy policy, environmental protection and mitigation and adaptation to long term changes in weather patterns contingent on global warming – on which a sensible public debate might then take place. But the more I research the question, the more I realise how little I know except for one thing: the current approach won’t work so long as it continues to disregard the ingredient that is essential to any longterm climate policy, i.e. public acceptability.

  43. @Veronica

    Agreed.

    The AGW skeptics may have got the science wrong, but they have got the sociology right.

    We are plagued by a strident climate priesthood preaching eternal damnation. It seems the path to salvation involves many bizarre rituals and offerings, usually impossible to understand unless you are a member of the cult yourself.

    What fuels this cult? There is a hint in jc’s post on the climate change bill, where the words “expert group” appear more than once. Wouldn’t it be nice to be appointed to this elite team dedicated to saving the people from themselves? And collecting yet more green rent at the same time?

  44. @Enda H

    Are you going to yet again declare victory, rest on your self-proclaimed “much higher level of intellectual capacity” and just disappear?

    Faced with an argument grounded in game theory I produced instances in history proving that the claims are unreliable. You then chastised me for not referencing other formulations of game theory that were simply not germane. Where’s the follow up?

    @veronica

    More or less every time you post you employ words and phrases like zealot or zealotry, green ideolodgy, dogma and fanatic.

    In the absence of argument or supporting information, you assume the conclusion with these loaded words.

    Could you provide some examples of environmental zealotry or dogma in politics or the mainstream media?

    One more question: what level of carbon tax would you feel is appropriate?

    Last minute edit:

    @bg

    You’ve raised the bar with “strident climate priesthood preaching eternal damnation”, “bizarre rituals and offerings” and “cult”.

    As with Veronica, I invite you to provide examples of these.

  45. Adrian

    What would call a well organised global group who has unwittingly blocked the development of efficient energy production by pedaling lies about Chernobyl.
    What would you call a movement that is responsible for the deaths of millions in its efforts to ban DDT.
    What do you call the flock that refuses to allow the starving and malnurished reap the bounty that is GM foods
    What do you call this mob that continues to lie about the science of climate change, from the Himalayan Galciers to endangered Polar bears to the false temperature records in Russia.

    bg has got it about right in my opinion and it wont be long untill the populist media will be printing similiar.

  46. @SHughes

    The request was for info on such behaviour either in politics or the mainstream media. Pressure groups exist in all sorts of areas.

    The examples you give range from the plausible to the strange; as with Veronica and bg, it’s just a list of claims without data. You’ll need to flesh them out a little if there’s to be any basis for discussion.

    I’d consider Al Qaeda zealots, as I would the gestapo. If the term is now to cover the entire range from Osama Bin Laden on the one hand to to the World Wildlife Fund on the other, then the English language is losing all meaning.

  47. Thankfully I understand the language just fine.
    As much as I hate to say it Adrian, those responsible for the ban on DDT and its sickening consequences have created far more suffering than Bin Laden could have ever dreamed of. Those doing likewise with GM are no different, and those currently moulding the energy sustainabilty debate into a global government ideology are of the same communistic family.

    I dont believe for one moment it is their intention to cause untold suffering and pain but unfortunately their ideology comes first.

  48. @SHughes

    While there’s some truth in what you say about GM, this is of no relevance to climate. Anti-GM campaigns have had relatively little effect in any case. Monsanto railroaded the world into accepting GM when GM products were dumped unfiltered in to global supplies of Soya etc., including seed. This attempt to maximise the profit from their patents backfired — it produced an entirely understandable reaction. While I’ve no specific concerns about GM, a scientific monitoring and licensing system would be only reasonable. GM plants have defensible and indefensible uses.

    What you say about DDT is just wrong. DDT was a creeping disaster and the ban was long overdue when it came.

    Now for the third time the request is for examples from politics and the mainstream media, not your opinion of one or the other. You’re vagueness is unhelpful. Who are the zealots? And what acts of zealotry are they guilty of to have earned the label?

  49. @SHughes

    Hilarious contribution! Most of what you write seems to be based on Channel 4’s documentary film last week ‘What the green movement got wrong’. This film raised some very important issues, but it did so in a completely disingenuous way. The debate that followed the film is worth watching as it points out some of what the film ‘got wrong’. (link here: http://www.channel4.com/programmes/what-the-green-movement-got-wrong/4od#3137856).

  50. Glad I cheered you up Tom, and you have just made my point for me. The ‘Green’ movement smuggly laughs at anyone who dares to even question their ideology. In my opinion the honeymoon is over, the populist mainstream media is coming to knock you down quicker than they blow you up. Change the record and start to convince the people of the importance of energy sustainability before their confidence in the subject is blown for generations.

    BTW I was a green sympathiser untill the truth got in the way, so I’ve a little more research done on the subject than some populist documentary.

    Off to watch Ireland, enjoy your day.

  51. The US research on CFL to which I drew attention indicates that the Law of Unintended Consequences might come into play. A shift in technology that, at first sight, should reduce energy consumption, might actually increase it as consumers explore the potential application of the new technology.

    And as for Emoan Ryan, its is deeply regrettable that it may take the IMF to exercise some restraint on his costly and expensive fantasies.

  52. @ Paul Hunt

    “A shift in technology that, at first sight, should reduce energy consumption, might actually increase it as consumers explore the potential application of the new technology.”

    I have a vision in my head now of a bunch of Neanderthal engineers gazing in awe at their new device which has two round stones a distance apart connected by a strong branch through a hole in their centres.

    I think it is unfair to brand everything Eamon Ryan does as being an expensive fantasy – but if you insist then you’ll have to broaden that out to the whole cabinet as he is in very good company.

  53. JC’s confidence in CFLs are based on faulty research. Money and energy can be saved if you replace a light bulb that is always on, and if you can borrow money at about 5%. The actual discount rate of most households is much higher than that. CFLs do not last as long as stated on the box if you turn them on and off all the time. A well-informed household would therefore leave the light on, as that is cheaper that replacing CFLs. Besides, CFLs take more energy to make.

    An interesting fact: The Irish government’s estimate of the energy savings from replacing all incandescent light bulb with CFLs is the same as the estimate of the Australian government (which in itself was criticized for being too optimistic). Needless to say, there are more people in Oz.

  54. @Adrian K

    Faced with an argument grounded in game theory I produced instances in history proving that the claims are unreliable.

    Adrian, you didn’t ground an argument in game theory. You cited examples where people’s objectives were such that game theory was inapplicable. I don’t want to start giving you references for game theory books, too. I’m going to try and oblige Philip’s request and say I’m just going to leave it there and disagree with you.

  55. @Enda H

    Um…, that is correct I didn’t ground an argument in game theory. That’s what the sentence of mine you quoted above means after all.

    I didn’t cite examples where game theory was inapplicable, I cited examples which demonstrate the game-theoretic objection to a climate deal is not reliable — objections raised by Prof Tol among others. I’m glad you’ve come round to my point of view.

    Game theory is a branch of mathematics, not science. All answers are by definition logical implications of the rules of the game which are defined rather than observed quantities. Unless some divine entity were to descend and gift us with a rulebook for reality, game theory will never be science.

    Your posturing about educating me is just making you look stupid. Nothing you’ve written has any bearing on the issue, and your attempts to characterise what I wrote in terms of your own choosing has lead you down a cul de sac.

  56. @Tim M,

    The only reason that Minister Ryan is in my sights is that he is a key decision-maker in the patch where I try to earn a crust. He inherited a legacy of deadweight costs and is furiously adding to them. And I agree: he is in good company.

  57. @Richard

    Game theorists have a good record in explaining what is difficult and what is easy to achieve. A great many factors that can’t be modeled impact on real diplomacy. History that followed any tractable form of game theory would lack integrity, malice, pride, prestige, loyalty, stubbornness and faith — it would be unrecognisable as human history, in other words.

    The record of game theory is patchy at best. Back when McNamara was Secretary of Defense, US foreign and defense policies were based in their entirety on game theorists ideas. McNamara and Co. — with Tom Schelling prominent — felt they had reduced history to a predictable science. So long as their adversary was half way sane, they could employ the tools of diplomacy and warfare to negotiate a successful outcome to any crisis.

    When an actual crisis arose in the form of the Cuban missile crisis, they discovered that not only were their adversaries not wholly rational, the USA wasn’t even rational itself. Diplomatic traditions, concerns for prestige, the psychology of brinkmanship and public expectations left the game theorists floundering. In the end, the so-called systems analysts were left floundering as to what their opponents thought — precisely the thing they felt they could manipulate with scientific precision — and Kennedy opted to ditch their ‘flexible response’ by issuing a threat to respond to any Soviet threat with the entire nuclear arsenal of the USA.

    Game theory is a useful adjunct to decision making and nothing more. It’s no substitute for patient analysis, experience, cultural insight, sound judgement etc. Trying to treat history, diplomacy or warfare as sciences is a fools errand; these goals will never be achievable.

  58. @Adrian

    “Game theory is a useful adjunct to decision making and nothing more. It’s no substitute for patient analysis, experience, cultural insight, sound judgement etc. Trying to treat history, diplomacy or warfare as sciences is a fools errand; these goals will never be achievable.”

    People can be irrational. Therefore we can forget about data, evidence, maths, models, arithmetic?

    Indeed the Greens use ideology alone to produce the right policy in every case . Thanks for explaining why that works so well.

  59. @bg

    Economic rationality is a much more restrictive concept than psychological rationality. People do sensible things every day that defy economic rationality while being perfectly rational psychologically.

    Nowhere was it suggested to “forget about data, evidence, maths, models [or] arithmetic”. This is pure strawman and I caution you that I’ve little patience with unfair argumentation.

    What has been emphatically demonstrated is that a huge range of everyday psychological phenomena cannot be usefully modeled and that history has time and again hinged on these very intangibles. There’s no reason why climate shouldn’t be the same.

    Earlier you used the phrases “strident climate priesthood preaching eternal damnation” and “bizarre rituals and offerings” and the word “cult”. These seem to be par for the course when sceptics discuss these issues, alongside “zealot”, “religion”, “fanatic” and so on. I’ve asked you for examples of these phenomena from the mainstream media or politics but you did not respond.

    If you’re going to persist in asking questions, please return the favour and answer mine.

  60. @Adrian

    “We are plagued by a strident climate priesthood preaching eternal damnation. It seems the path to salvation involves many bizarre rituals and offerings, usually impossible to understand unless you are a member of the cult yourself. ”

    The thinkorswim.ie blog is a particularly rich local source of cult lore and group worship. Or you might try the Green Party website. Enjoy!

  61. @bg

    Without conceding your claim, thinkorswim.ie is a private blog rather than mainstream media. You’ll need to provide quotations from the Green Party website to substantiate your inflammatory accusations, part of a pattern of name-calling of which Veronica for one is fond of accusing her opponents.

    The lack of specifics from either you or Veronica indicates an unwillingness to go toe to toe on the evidence.

    Once again: Who are the zealots? What acts of zealotry have they committed?

  62. @bg
    Here’s a nice illustration of John Gibbons’ mind:
    http://www.thinkorswim.ie/?p=1115

    The reference to a “sturdy club” in case the electorate votes for the opposition is telling.

    I agree with Adrian that “zealot” is not the right term for people who advocate violence if they cannot get their way through democratic means.

  63. @Richard

    From thinkorswim…

    Take the quite mad Republican senator and prospective Energy Committee chairman, John Shimkus. This individual, clutching a thick copy of the Bible, explained that the world will only end when God says so, i.e. no need to worry about climate change then!

    Quite why highly educated, exceptionally clever folk like Chu and his boss, president Obama persist in trying to “engage on a bi-partisan basis” with a party that has been taken over by extremist Christian fundamentalists is a sorrowful mystery. You don’t “engage” with a mad dog. You back off slowly, while reaching for a sturdy club.

    Are you meaning to tell me you feel Gibbons was inciting Obama to go and strike Shimkus with a club? Are you familiar with the concept of an analogy? Shimkus, a young earther and creationist, is exactly as mad as Gibbons lets on by the way.

    After all the vapid rhetoric, this is the best you can come up with. Never mind that the request was for remarks from the mainstream press or politics, explicitly excluding blogs, you still have to assume an autistic literal mindedness in order to get your quote.

  64. r/w

    After all the vapid rhetoric, this is the best you can come up with. Never mind that the request was for remarks from the mainstream press or politics, explicitly excluding blogs, you still have to assume an autistic literal mindedness in order to get your quote.

  65. @Richard Tol

    Starting with a US congressman, it seems, while inciting Obama to lead the way armed with only a club. Are we to take it that Shimkus really is a mentally ill canine in that case?

    Weak.

  66. Poor, poor Richard!

    What a sad fellow you are. Having been thoroughly and repeatedly thrashed over on Thinkorswim for your stream of contradictions, non-sequitors, untruths, spin and hare-brained mish mash reasoning, here you are, back on friendlier shores, to have a little cry for yourself!

    The only violence being incited here is your attempts at violence against the English language. As US president, Theodore Roosevelt advised: “speak softly, and carry a big stick”. Gosh, Richard, maybe he must have had a big stick that he used to thump people on the head with as well!

    Maybe we should file this one under ‘Lost in Translation’. Perhaps it works better in the original Dutch!

    But on Adrian’s point, is this the best you can do? It’s a good thing your academic narcissism shelters you from self-awareness, otherwise you’d be less inclined to make a repeated public jackass of yourself – and, by proxy, of the ESRI, your employer.

  67. @John
    Let’s recoup.

    You disagree with an elected politician (Shimkus). You project his position on his party (Republicans). You suggest that the government (Chu and Obama) stop talking to the opposition. That implies that you either favour gridlock (as the Republicans hold the majority in House) or an unconstitutional rule by decree.

    You seem to favour the latter given the reference to a “club”.

    I was not reminded of Roosevelt because your turn of phrase was so different. Roosevelt’s “stick” was a metaphor for the army and he repeatedly threatened to inflict violence on other countries.

    So, I can only interpret your remarks as “ignore the elected majority and resort to violence if needed”.

    See also the (moderated) discussion at http://www.thinkorswim.ie/?p=1115

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