Squaring the Culture

"...and I will make justice the plumb line, and righteousness the level;
then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
and the waters will overflow the secret place."
Isaiah 28:17

06/19/2010 (8:58 pm)

Oh, Yes, It's a Shakedown Alright

The Hot Air boys introduced me to The Optimistic Conservative by cross-posting this piece of hers yesterday (thanks, boys.) TOC speaks the truth that corrupt and frightened politicians on both sides of the aisle are clearly unwilling to say: no matter what we think of British Petroleum and their role in the unfolding eco-disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the Obama administration shook down BP to obtain a $20 billion slush fund, and it’s both immoral and illegal.

Joe Barton (R-TX) is right: the $20 billion escrow fund is a shakedown. Not because BP isn’t liable for the oil spill, and not because BP shouldn’t help the people losing their livelihoods on the Gulf Coast. But because Obama extorting the escrow fund from BP is an exercise of executive power outside the rule of law.

Following the rule of law would produce relief for the oil spill’s victims. It just wouldn’t put Obama’s appointee in sole charge of a $20 billion fund. That has a meaning beyond the “Chicago” implication of pure extortion, fund-skimming, and payola. It means Obama couldn’t use the money to cushion the near-term consequences of his own policies. He’d be constrained by that pesky rule of law, if he weren’t holding the discretionary purse strings for the damages payouts…

This is worth noting: within the span of my lifetime, America has become so accustomed to the largely unsupervised overreach of federal agencies that our ability to detect a shakedown in progress has been severely compromised. We have the confused idea that somebody should somehow be doing something to help all these people, and don’t we have an agency for that? – so why shouldn’t the president, the man in charge of the agencies, step in and take matters into his own hands?

This is, however, confused sentiment. It’s pure sentiment, with no temper from wisdom or judgment. It’s not a sound basis for government, no matter how we feel and no matter what the problem is. Governments good and bad operate on precedent, whether you like it or not, and one shakedown tolerated will lead as night the day to more shakedowns. Eventually one of them will get to your doorstep. No one is so perfectly positioned in his universal immune-victim status as to never face being sliced through the mid-torso region by the Super-Whammadine Shakedown-o-matic.

This is SEIU/UAW tactics writ large – and those tactics thrive on the government-by-agency paradigm.

It’s worth your time to read the whole thing. The fact that Rep. Barton was forced by shame to back down from his candor demonstrates why ordinary political activism is not going to work this time. We have a Thug President. He is not constrained by the rule of law. The very point of his bending the system this way is to place his thumb firmly on the electoral scales so that electoral politics will not remove him and cannot undo what he’s doing. The solution must lie outside of ordinary electoral politics, and must be approached now; if we wait until we see the result of his scale-cheating maneuvers, our objections will be dismissed as sour grapes for having lost an election, the way we dismissed Al Gore’s sour grapes in 2000 (never mind that our complaint would be orders of magnitude more legitimate.)

It’s already starting, in fact. Let your outrage settle just a few weeks and it goes away. The outrageous becomes backdrop. We forget what got us so agitated in the first place. We’ve watched how it went with AIG and Citibank, with GM and Chrysler, with Fannie and Freddie. We’ve become accustomed to abuses of law and process, and think this is just part of politics as usual. It is not. The republic is dying. We used to see it clearly; now it is less so. If we do not rise up and stop the Thug President from engaging in his thuggery, it will become the norm, the US will become like any penny-ante Central American dictatorship, and it will be our fault.

UPDATE 6/20 @5:33 PM: One of the RedState regulars has posted what Rep. Joe Barton (R, TX) actually said in his “apology” to BP. After reviewing it, I’m ashamed that anybody in the Republican party raised a single word of objection. He was absolutely clear in objecting to the lawless behavior of the White House, and completely correct. Unsurprisingly, the reaction by that ugly Nazi Henry Waxman and the rest of the Democratic party has been nothing but vicious demagoguery. I agree with every word of Barton’s statement… the first one, not the later one when he had been shamed into backing down. I want to identify all the Republicans who objected to his words and mark them for defeat, because nobody who countenances the plainly illegal thuggery of the Obama administration has any business holding office in this nation.

06/19/2010 (2:50 pm)

Renewable Energy and the Path Forward — Part I

For about three decades now, talk of America’s energy policy has been dominated by calls for renewable sources of energy — sources of energy that are just as available after you use them as before. Fearful of the theoretical possibility that we might someday run out of oil, coal and natural gas to drive our industrial economy, whipped into frenzy by environmentalists’ scientifically- and economically-deficient howling over what comes out of smoke stacks, leftists have flogged their infatuation with 70s-chic technological solutions that seem, on the surface, to solve both the depletion and pollution problems of fossil fuels.

Never one to miss an opportunity to sound smarter than the citizens he governs, last week our President used the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to reinforce his already-too-well-established endorsement of renewables:

For decades, we have known the days of cheap and easily accessible oil were numbered. For decades, we’ve talked and talked about the need to end America’s century-long addiction to fossil fuels. And for decades, we have failed to act with the sense of urgency that this challenge requires. Time and again, the path forward has been blocked — not only by oil industry lobbyists, but also by a lack of political courage and candor.

I don’t agree with any of the premises, either stated or implied, in that paragraph, but I’m having a particular problem these days with the assertion that we need to replace “finite” fossil fuels with “infinite” sources of electricity like wind, solar, and biomass. Renewable though they may be, these are just, plain lousy solutions, and the effort to force markets to choose them over sensible, plentiful, readily-available fossil fuels is likely to lock the US economy into a permanent deep freeze. “Renewable” and “clean” are nice-sounding features, but they ignore the more crucial imperative: energy sources need actually to supply enough energy.

Energy sources for a robust, industrial economy need to be available in plenty, easily transportable to the place they’ll be used, available on demand, relatively safe and easy to use, and they need to be able to do these things at a price that compares well with other energy sources that meet those criteria. When we say an energy source is “renewable,” we’re addressing only one small portion of the first of those criteria. When we say it’s “clean,” we’re addressing only one portion of the “safe” criterion. “Renewable” and “clean” are helpful features, but they’re not sufficient to commend a technology to us. There are other criteria that must also be met, and if our “renewable” source can’t meet them, we need to keep looking until we find something that can.

Nor is “renewable” a necessary criterion. We can continue to use non-renewable energy sources for centuries while we look for alternatives. That there exists no hurry is proved by the fact that there exists no shortage: Enviros have to force fossil fuel prices up artificially in order to make them seem unattractive. If there were real shortages, the prices would rise without anybody’s help.

“Clean” is in some sense necessary, but it’s also relative. Technology has done an amazing job of addressing the soot problems of the 50s and the smog problems of the 70s; air pollution from stationary sources has plateaued and is dropping, even while the number of automobiles and smokestacks is rising. We can all breathe, far into the foreseeable future. How clean do we have to get to be clean enough?

Solar, wind power, and biomass are all limited by the laws of physics. They’re available to some degree everywhere, but they’re diffuse. The Sun may be an enormous source of power, heat, and light, but it’s about 92 million miles away, and only a tiny fraction of its energy actually hits the Earth; you only get so much sunlight on a particular square mile of ground. By the same token, only so much wind passes over a given square mile of earth, and only so much vegetable matter can be grown on that same square mile. They’re all limited by the amount of land that’s available for producing energy; and land is a finite and extremely precious commodity.

Robert Bryce provided a useful metric with which to assess this notion of energy density in an analysis he produced for Forbes Magazine in May 2010.

The two [nuclear power] reactors at the South Texas Project produce 2,700 megawatts of power. The plant covers about 19 square miles, an area slightly smaller than the island of Manhattan. To match that output using wind energy, you’d need a land area nearly the size of Rhode Island. Matching that power output with corn ethanol would require intensive farming on more than 21,000 square miles, an area nearly the size of West Virginia.

Bryce also noted that a marginal oil well producing only about 10 barrels of oil per day has an energy density that’s roughly half that of the South Texas Project nuclear power plant, but about 22 times more dense than that of a wind farm.

These numbers can be improved marginally for wind and solar power, but ultimately they’re limited by the laws of physics. Ultimately, the choice to use these “renewables” is the bad end of a Hobson’s Choice: in order to spare the earth some insult, we’re choosing to permanently use up vast stretches of the earth itself to supply our energy — and there’s no indication that doing so will ever actually provide enough energy to keep our economy rolling.

Furthermore, solar and wind are intermittent. The sun does not shine at night, and gets clouded over frequently during the day. The wind does not blow 100% of the time in the range of speeds required to drive a wind turbine. The electrical grid does not have batteries built into it to store previously-generated electricity against future needs (and the resources required to build such batteries would be unimaginable). So, for every new watt of power from a wind turbine or solar plant an electrical power company builds, the company has to build a conventionally-fueled plant to provide that same watt of power — because sometimes the power will be available from the “renewable,” but sometimes it won’t. And it has to be available at a second’s notice, so — watch carefully — the conventional plant that gets built alongside the “renewable” plant has to be fully powered and ready to be brought on-line at all times, and it has to be large enough to produce just as much power as the “renewable” plant. For this reason, wind turbines and solar plants cannot stop a single ounce of CO² from being generated — and they more than double the price of electricity. Proponents of wind and solar argue that electrical utilities build spare capacity all the time, and they’re correct — but they don’t have to build a watt of spare capacity for every watt of new capacity, it’s more like 20%, or 30%. With renewables, they need to build spare capacity to cover 100% of the capacity of the new source. And that’s new capacity; they can’t just use the existing conventional power plants because they’re already in use generating electricity live.

As for biomass, who could possibly imagine that in a world with 8 billion living souls and land a finite and increasingly valuable resource, it would make sense to burn our food to run our factories? American biofuels subsidies, produced by the Bush administration, are probably responsible for nearly doubling the cost of grain worldwide during a period when hungry nations could least afford it. There’s nothing difficult to predict about this outcome; of course farmers are going to cash in if the government pays them extra to plant corn instead of wheat and provides them with a guaranteed market. Biofuels are a disaster — and that’s before assessing whether they can even produce more energy that it takes to grow them!

Charles Krauthammer took the President to task yesterday for his pompous insistence on using federal power to rescind the laws of nature.

Pedestrian is beneath Obama. Mr. Fix-It he is not. He is world-historical, the visionary, come to make the oceans recede and the planet heal.

How? By creating a glorious, new, clean green economy. And how exactly to do that? From Washington, by presidential command and with tens of billions of dollars thrown around. With the liberal (and professorial) conceit that scientific breakthroughs can be legislated into existence, Obama proposes to give us a new industrial economy… His argument: Well, if we can put a man on the moon, why not this?

Aside from the irony that this most tiresome of cliches comes from a president who is canceling our program to return to the moon, it is utterly meaningless. The wars on cancer and on poverty have been similarly sold. They remain unwon. Why? Because we knew how to land on the moon. We had the physics to do it. Cancer cells, on the other hand, are far more complex than the Newtonian equations that govern a moon landing. Equally daunting are the laws of social interaction — even assuming there are any — that sustain a culture of poverty.

Similarly, we don’t know how to make renewables that match the efficiency of fossil fuels. In the interim, it is Obama and his Democratic allies who, as they dream of such scientific leaps, are unwilling to use existing technologies to reduce our dependence on foreign (i.e., imported) and risky (i.e., deep-water) sources of oil — twin dependencies that Obama decried in Tuesday’s speech.

Private electric companies refuse to build solar power plants and wind farms except where enormous government subsidies distort real economic incentives enough to make them do it. As soon as the subsidies dry up, they abandon the wind farm or the power plant and go right back to generating power using energy-dense, highly available fossil fuels and/or nuclear power. There is no sensible way for a power company to make money using wind or solar to generate electricity on the scale we need. It does not work, and can’t. These are bad ideas.

Today I addressed the question of whether the fact that a power source was renewable was sufficient to commend it as a power source. In a few days, I will add to this by examining the premises on which the President and his leftist friends insist that the national government must force technological change to rescue us from “addiction to fossil fuels.”

06/11/2010 (12:17 pm)

Of Oil Spills and Leaders

As the oil industry’s Chernobyl unfolds in slow motion in the Gulf of Mexico, the White House finds itself embroiled in a battle to defend itself against charges of aloofness and incompetence. Between golf outings, multiple vacations, meetings with sports teams, and parties featuring quail eggs and wagyu beef, a few hours’ visits to the Gulf have not reassured the public that the White House is in control, nor have the public reassurances reminding us how many meetings the President has held, nor have photos of the President on the phone. What do they want from him, wonders President “This was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal”?

A week ago Press Secretary Robert Gibbs issued what may be the Obama administration’s version of “Let them eat cake”:

…in an interview, Gibbs said Obama doesn’t see the need for a theatrical display of concern.

“If the president thought getting mad and yelling would plug the hole, he’d do it on top of the White House,” he said. “He understands we’ll all be judged by our response and our recovery efforts, not on whether he’s been a good method actor.”

Corresponding to their condescending and frankly unintelligent impression that what the public wants is theater, President Obama this week appeared on the Today Show and told Matt Lauer that his most helpful role in the matter was “Ass Kicker,” and that he consulted experts regularly so that he would know best “whose ass to kick.”

So, the White House hears criticism of the President’s “leadership,” and infers that it needs to engage in “method acting” and to go around yelling at the right people. Could they have said anything that indicates more clearly that they no idea what a leader does?

Bobby Jindal, Republican Governor of Louisiana, knows what a leader does. He’s not acting, he’s just doing his job, but unlike President Obama, he understands what his job is and goes about it in a manner that shows that he’s handling the situation. Jindal apparently realized the scope of the BP oil spill disaster within about a week of the event. By the end of April, he was coordinating local containment efforts and approaching federal authorities to obtain disaster aid and permits to build barrier islands to block oil from coming ashore. After three weeks passed with very little response from federal agencies, Jindal went public with his requests and announced “We’re not waiting, we’re moving ahead without them” — after which, suddenly, all his requests were met. Five minutes are shown below from the speech from May 24 in which he made clear what had not been acted upon:

Jindal provides us with a useful counterpoint to the Obama administration’s handling of the oil spill affair. Let’s take a look at a time line of actions taken by them both. I’ve embedded a calendar so you can picture the passage of time. Some of the times assigned to events are approximate, as specific dates were not included in some news reports.

  • April 20: The deep water horizon rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico about 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana.
  • April 23: The Obama administration was briefed on the situation and told that it could potentially become the largest oil spill in US history.
  • April 23: The government of the Netherlands offered their expertise and oil-skimming booms, and proposed dredging sand barriers to protect marshlands. The Obama administration refused the assistance.
  • April 29: Gov. Jindal declared a state of emergency, and requested the first of several permits to build barrier islands to protect his state’s coastline.
  • April 30: Gov. Jindal requested a finding of “commercial fisheries failure” from US Dept of Commerce, and loan assistance from Small Business Administration for businesses affected by the oil spill.
  • May 1: Gov. Jindal, noting the slow response of BP and the federal government, announced that the state would begin its own measures to protect its coastline. He requested 3 million feet of absorbent boom, 5 million feet of hard boom, and 30 “jack up” barges from responsible federal authorities to help stop the oil from coming ashore.
  • May 6: The Small Business Administration announced that it was offering loan assistance to small businesses in Louisiana affected by the oil spill.
  • week of May 10: Gov. Jindal applied for permits to dredge a chain of barrier islands, since it appeared to the Governor that neither BP nor the federal government had a plan to stop the oil.
  • May 22: Gov. Jindal renewed his request for permits to dredge barrier islands.
  • May 24: Gov. Jindal delivered a nationally-televised speech detailing what had been requested and what had not arrived. He made it clear about the barrier: “We’re not waiting for their approval, we’re going to build it.”
  • May 24: Interior Secretary Salazar declared his resolve to “keep our boot on their neck,” referring to BP executives.
  • May 24: Commerce Secretary Gary Locke announced his finding that a “fisheries failure” has occurred, freeing funds for the assistance of Louisiana fisheries affected by the oil spill.
  • Sometime around May 25: The Army Corps of Engineers approved Gov. Jindal’s barrier island plan, but said it would pay for only 1 island as a “prototype” to see if it will work.
  • May 25: Leaks revealed that the President, taut-jawed, growled “Why don’t they plug the damned hole?”
  • May 27: Ken Salazar, Interior Secretary, shut down all oil production in the Gulf of Mexico for at least 6 months, claiming for cover that an expert panel agreed that they should shut down all oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico for 6 months. The expert panel later published a letter explaining that they agreed to no such thing.
  • May 27: President Obama acknowledged that the effort to stop the spill and clean it up is under federal direction. Responding to complaints that he appears not to care, he explained that he has more meetings about this topic than any other.
  • June 1: Eric Holder’s Department of Justice ordered BP to pay for all of Gov. Jindal’s barrier islands.
  • June 2: President Obama gave a speech in Pittsburgh implying that businesses involved in the oil spill may have violated federal laws, and emphasizing that he will “bring them to justice.”
  • June 8: President Obama told Matt Lauer that he talks to the experts “So I know whose ass to kick,” and said that his most important role is ass-kicking.
  • June 10: Seven weeks after it was offered, the Obama administration began accepting oil-skimming booms from the Netherlands.

What’s clear from this disturbing history is that the Obama administration, while responding in some sense to the fact that the oil spill had occurred, did not accept a role at the forefront, apparently waiting for other parties to solve the problem. When a proactive governor requested reasonable assistance, only one agency — the Small Business Administration — responded in a time frame indicating that they realized the gravity of the situation. Other agencies simply followed bureaucratic procedure for three weeks, until that governor made enough of a public splash to shine an unfavorable light on the administration — at which time his specific requests were met as quickly as possible, to be followed soon after with tough-sounding rhetoric. Now the administration, properly chastised, is being careful to issue more tough-sounding rhetoric, while also attempting to shift the blame away from themselves and toward the oil companies. Their agenda appears to consist entirely of talking tough and bashing British Petroleum.

Good leadership in this case would have created proactive measures to coordinate the responses of federal and state agencies to appropriate requests for aid, so that awkward legal barriers (like those preventing Dutch ships from bringing equipment) could be waived, appropriate permit requests could be expedited, and equipment could be procured and allocated smoothly. Gov. Jindal ought not have been made to wait three weeks for a permit to build barrier islands. The Dutch should not have been put off for seven weeks. Not a single foot of boom should have sat in a warehouse even a day waiting for instructions regarding where to send it. Nobody should have heard a single accusation against any party before appropriate investigation revealed the relevants facts.

Nobody wants theater, nobody wants the impossible, and especially, nobody wants angry foot-stomping; what we want is responsible action to ensure that whatever can be done, will be done. That’s what we’re missing, President Obama. Governor Jindal knows how to do that. You do not.

Ironically, Governor Jindal was dismissed with sneers in February 2009 after he delivered the GOP’s rebuttal to President Obama’s stimulus plan speech in Congress. As is usual when dealing with Democrats, Jindal’s awkward delivery apparently mattered far more than did the substance of his talk (one is astonished that Democrats apparently believe that delivering a speech poorly is supposed to disqualify one from holding high office, but delivering one containing plagiarized and fallacious details about one’s career does not). That’s why we’re now stuck with a President who apparently knows a great deal about organizing campaign financing schemes but has no idea how to lead a nation in an environmental crisis, and one whose $787 billion stimulus package, announced with such excellent style, has failed to stimulate anything other than the Census Bureau. President Obama ought to spend a few months studying Governor Jindal, who outshines him in every way when addressing matters requiring substance.

05/01/2010 (1:54 pm)

The Price of Doing Business


The oil slick from the BP drilling rig that exploded and sank last week is just a few miles from the Louisiana shoreline, threatening oyster beds, fish spawning areas, and other wildlife along the coast. It was expected to touch ashore by nightfall on Friday, but apparently did not. Now experts are saying that currents could carry the oil slick to the east coast of Florida (yes, the east coast.) Efforts to use an undersea vessel to activate a shutoff valve near the wellhead have failed, and alternative measures could take weeks or months to implement. Though the volume of oil from this spill is still nowhere near the volume that leaked from the Exxon Valdez in 1989, this could turn out to be as costly when measuring damage to the livelihoods of working Americans along the Gulf Coast.

Incidents like the Exxon Valdez and this one give us reason periodically to consider the cost of maintaining an industrialized society.

The technological explosion and economic growth of the 19th and 20th centuries raised billions of people out of abject poverty and provided the great mass of ordinary people around the globe with basic sanitation, antibiotics, inexpensive clothing and food, transportation, communication, and other advantages in a lifestyle that was unavailable to kings in earlier eras. The West has nothing for which to apologize when we consider the advances conferred by technology. And yet, the price of that technology includes occasional accidents of a magnitude previously only produced by random acts of God, like volcanoes or earthquakes.

The question is, can we face those, work sensibly to minimize and contain them, and yet not succumb to the temptation to abandon technology? Victims and governments will initiate a head-hunt soon, looking to find a scapegoat on which to pin the blame. Gulf coast fishermen are grousing about how they were misled by BP, and some have already filed suit. Environmentalists are already using photos of waterfowl endangered by the oil slick to obstruct public support for the issuing of new offshore drilling leases. Can we competently assign responsibility without succumbing to the urge to create demons?

Accidents happen. So do stupid humans. And so long as those things are true, the advance of technology will be accompanied by the periodic accident.

Like accidents, politicians and governments also happen. Wherever they do, the self-righteous posture and puff to use the events to enhance their own images, and the gullible are taken in by the display. “At least they’re doing something.” Sure thing.

The important things that need to be done are procedures for minimizing the occurrence of accidents and improving the response to them. This almost never requires new regulation; BP is already, under existing law, going to pay the cost of the cleanup, not to mention the exorbitant public relations cost of having owned the platform that caused the incident. The incentives to avoid future accidents of this sort far exceed anything that can be accomplished by new regulations, and none of the techniques currently being used to prevent or clean up spills are the result of regulation. But new regulations will be written, because politicians need to appear to be doing something in order to impress gullible constituents.

Meanwhile, other useful lessons will be missed altogether. I recall a little less than 2 years ago, clueless liberals in Congress were wondering out loud why oil companies needed leases on offshore oilfields when they already held leases on millions of acres, and did not believe it when they replied that drilling in the existing leases was far more difficult. Why, wondered Nancy Pelosi (D, the Planet Brainless), should we “subsidize” them by letting them pay for leases on fields where the oil was more readily available?

The current incident explains why (among other reasons). Accidents like these are far more likely, and far more costly, when one is forced to drill for oil at the bottom of the ocean, a mile from the surface. It’s not just a question of more profit, as Nancy Pelosi imagined; there are real, tangible consequences to withholding fields where oil is easier to reach and forcing oil companies to drill where it’s hard. But of course, Nancy Pelosi will draw the wrong conclusion and insist that we shut down industrial society altogether, rather than accept blame for her role in the disaster. Pelosi should be required by law to man (woman?) one of the recovery vessels herself, as punishment, though it’s unlikely that anyone who’s reached her stage of life with as little understanding as she has, can actually be taught anything useful.

Technology on the whole has been an enormous boon to humankind, but that boon comes with a cost. It is at times like this, when the cost becomes most apparent, that it becomes most necessary to keep a cool head and resist the knee-jerk hysteria of the weak, the self-serving, and the tyrannical.

12/08/2009 (2:23 pm)

I'm Not The Only One…

I ended my post yesterday by observing that when the EPA asserts the power to regulate everything, which is what’s produced if the EPA declares CO² a public danger and imposes the Environmental Protection Act’s emissions limits on any business emitting as few as 250 tons of CO² per year, the revolution will follow quickly on its heels. Turns out I’m not alone in that assessment.

Take a listen to Charles Krauthammer, from Special Report with Bret Baier:

Krauthammer correctly quotes Vaclav Klaus, President of the Czech Republic, saying “Environmentalism is the new Socialism.” They’ve been planning this for some time, but it’s going to produce a reaction that will tear the nation apart.

Review my comments from 2008 about the plan to use EPA to institute national economic planning here.

07/09/2009 (11:56 am)

Waxman-Markey: Read It and Weep

Depressed by what I already know, I don’t think I have the energy, and I’m sure I don’t have the time, to completely analyze the entire Waxman-Markey bill, known as Cap-and-Trade. However, motivated by questions I had about a couple of blog posts I read yesterday reciting building code requirements in the bill, I read enough of it to comment.

This is absolutely the end of limited federalism, for one thing. The bill establishes national standards for energy efficiency for buildings, cars, light bulbs and all sorts of lighting fixtures, washing machines… you name it, it controls it. It makes its limits a part of every building code in America, and it enforces itself by threatening to withhold substantial federal funding from states who refuse to implement it — and upon such refusal, asserts itself as the law of those states. After this, there is no aspect of life that the national government has not asserted absolute right to control. Granted, there have been national standards before — and they, also, stomped on limited federalism — but none of them asserted control at this level. Kiss the 10th Amendment the US Constitution goodbye.

For another thing, this bill literally defines 2005 as the peak of American economic growth. From now on, growth will be negative. Why? Because the total amount of carbon to be emitted by the entire US economy is limited to a percentage of the gas emitted in 2005. This literally puts a cap on growth. If the bill says that the amount of carbon from all measured sources cannot exceed 97% of total carbon emitted in 2005 (which it does), then the amount of economic growth possible is hard-tethered to the amount of reduction produced by technological improvements; if technology has produced only 3% improvement by then, the economy is not permitted to grow at all. If technology has produced a 4% improvement by then, the economy may grow only 1%. If technology has produced only 2% improvement by then, the economy must shrink at least 1%. And naturally, the cap tightens even more as time goes on: 83% by 2020, 58% by 2030, and the practically impossible 17% by 2050.

Remember Plumb Bob’s Rule of Electrical Generating Reality: the alternatives are nowhere near ready to replace any substantial portion of our nation’s electrical generating capacity, and will not be for many decades. Attempts to force progress up the curve will only result in further declines in GDP, as the huge dollar subsidies and immense rise in electricity costs will rob growth from other economic sectors. Guys, if it takes one woman 9 months to make a baby, that does not mean 9 women can do it in a month. Some things just take as long as they take, and technological change is one of them.

epaco2liebermanThe good news is that with the unbelievable burden this bill will place on the entire economy, we will have to do nothing remarkable to reach those goals; the resulting economic depression will certainly achieve them for us even without technological improvements.

And this is all being done to produce exactly zero improvement in the environment, even if you believe the disingenuous horse manure about human-generated carbon affecting climate (it does a little, perhaps enough to boost plant growth by around 10% worldwide; aside from that, peer-reviewed science documents no known harm from human-generated CO²). Last year, while preparing for the Warner-Lieberman bill, the EPA produced a chart showing how little global CO² would change with the US acting unilaterally, and how dependent genuine reduction in global CO² was on cooperation from China, India, and other producing nations. These nations are smarter than we are; they are not going to hobble their own economies for carbon reduction.

Let’s take a lesson from our Honduran brothers, and recognize this bill for what it is; the American experiment in self-government ends if we adopt this bill. And it’s only the beginning of the new restrictions our Supreme Leader Obama intends to lay on our backs. Time to grow huevos and protect our republic.

06/29/2009 (2:34 pm)

Suppressed NASA Memos Show Climate Change Dispute

Author’s Note: news released shortly after I published this article revealed that the reported objections were raised by a pair of economists. My use of the descriptive noun “scientists” for the authors of the suppressed opinion was therefore a little misleading. I apologize for the inaccuracy.

epalogolargerThe Competitive Enterprise Institute on Friday released internal email obtained from the National Center for Environmental Economics (NCEE), an office of the EPA, indicating that scientists within the NCEE have raised serious objections to EPA’s findings that human-generated CO² is causing climate change, and that the opinions of these scientists have been suppressed. This makes President Obama’s claim to be restoring scientific integrity to policy-making appear to have been rhetoric only.

Last April, the US Supreme Court decided the case of Massachusetts v EPA, finding that the EPA did have authority to regulate CO² emissions under the 1977 Clean Air Act (I discussed their finding and the EPA’s response here.) Obeying Clean Air Act guidelines, the EPA is required to show a reasonable expectation that the named pollutant will create a danger to the general public before they can issue regulations. They provided support for their intended rule-making in a Technical Support Document (hereafter “Endangerment TSD” or simply “TSD”) based primarily on the IPCC’s fourth public report (see the latest version of the TSD here.) The public comment period on the endangerment investigation lasted from April 24, 2009 to June 23, 2009 (see their request for public comment here.)

There have been several responses to the request for public comment, which I will discuss in a separate article. However, the one released by the Competitive Enterprise Institute is remarkable because it emanated from within the EPA itself, and because the author’s supervisor refused to forward it to the EPA’s office of Air and Radiation, which was reviewing critiques of the Endangerment TSD. The author of the critique was forbidden by his supervisor from discussing the Endangerment TSD with anybody outside the department, and ordered not to spend any more EPA time on climate change. The memos can be seen here.

Recall that one of the repeated complaints by Democrats and progressives throughout the Bush administration was that the Bush administration was conducting a war against science. The bulk of their objections had to do with administrative decisions within the Executive branch not to publish internal discussion that was inconsistent with the decided policy of the administration (see my blog post here regarding Rep. Henry Waxman’s report on the matter.) Of course, none of this restricted actual science in any way; but Democrats kept insisting that it did, even to the extent that President Obama publicly declared that his administration would reverse the backward ways of the Bush administration and “use sound, scientific practice instead of dogma” to form federal policy. President Obama’s newly appointed head of the EPA, Lisa Jackson, declared:

“As Administrator, I will ensure EPA’s efforts to address the environmental crises of today are rooted in three fundamental values: science-based policies and programs, adherence to the rule of law, and overwhelming transparency.” (See her statement published Jan. 23, 2009.)

Naturally, since they claimed that the Bush administration’s practice of presenting only the findings that supported their official policy position constituted “a war against science,” we should expect that the Obama EPA would publish the opinions of all scientists, whether they agree with the official policy or not. This is not what was done. In fact, once it became clear that the scientists in question disagreed with the official position, they were immediately directed to projects outside of the arena of climate change, and forbidden to speak with outsiders concerning the Endangerment TSD. The EPA clearly is not living up to the lofty standard set by President Obama regarding placing science above “dogma” or ideology.

epalogo2wrybob1In the past I have defended the government’s refusal to publish as official policy the opinions of scientists who held opinions contrary to that of their administration. The EPA, after all, is a public policy agency, not solely a scientific organization, and it reports to the President; when the EPA controls the public statements of its employees and sees to it that they are consistent with administration policy, it is just doing its job.

However, the Obama administration and the Democratic party in general have long since made it clear that they do not regard this behavior as acceptable when conducted by the opposition party, so it is appropriate to hold them to the standard they have set for their opponents. Furthermore, the EPA did not merely refuse to publish the scientist’s contrary opinion, it refused to forward it to an agency that was actively soliciting public comment, forbade the author from performing further study on the subject, and slapped a gag order on him. This is a much more serious suppression of science than anything we saw under the Bush administration’s EPA.

The muzzled scientists, Alan Carlin and John Davidson of NCEE, objected to the Endangerment TSD on the grounds that EPA had spent too little attention critiquing the IPCC’s AR4 document on which the TSD was based (see a draft of their comments here.) They complained that the document was based on science no later than 2005, that more recent, peer-reviewed publications had thrown doubt onto the conclusions of that document, and that therefore the EPA’s official position was not based on sound, scientific information. They cited six separate findings that had become accepted after the IPCC closed its evaluation for its AR4 report:

  • Global temperatures continue to trend downward following 1998, while atmospheric CO² continues to rise;
  • The general consensus on Atlantic hurricane behavior has changed so that growth in hurricane activity is no longer expected;
  • Recent evidence has shown that Greenland is not, in fact, in the process of shedding its ice;
  • The current recession has already unexpectedly reduced greenhouse gas emissions;
  • A 2009 paper demonstrates that contrary to IPCC model assumptions, the feedbacks from atmospheric CO² on climate are negative rather than positive, rendering those models useless;
  • A 2009 paper demonstrates that the IPCC used faulty data when it dismissed solar irradiation as a direct source of climate change, and asserts that nearly 70% of climate change can be attributed directly to solar variations.

In addition to the comments arising from research that has appeared since submissions to the IPCC’s last report were closed in 2005, Carlin and Davidson observe that there are several data that were available even before that time that have been ignored by the EPA and the IPCC, for which explanations are required. They are:

  • By far the best explanation for global temperature fluctuations is the combined effects of ocean temperature fluctuations produced by the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO,) the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO), and the Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation (AMO). The EPA and IPCC simply ignore this data;
  • There exists a strong correlation between solar sunspot activity and irradiance and global temperatures that is not explored in the TSD;
  • Changes in atmospheric greenhouse gas levels show absolutely no effect on satellite-based global temperature readings;
  • Changes in global surface temperature readings are more likely to be the result of increasing urban heat island effects than they are to be the result of greenhouse gas forcings;
  • The 1998 temperature peak could easily be explained by things other than greenhouse gases, notably by a 1997-1998 El Nino occurrence.

The scientists conclude:

These inconsistencies are so important and sufficiently abstruse that in our view EPA needs to make an independent analysis of the science of global warming rather than adopting the conclusions of the IPCC and CCSP without much more careful and independent EPA staff review than is evidenced by the Draft TSP. Adopting the scientific conclusions of an outside group such as the IPCC or CCSP without thorough review by EPA is not in the EPA tradition anyway, and there seems to be little reason to change the tradition in this case. If their conclusions should be incorrect and EPA acts on them, it is EPA that will be blamed for inadequate research and understanding and reaching a possibly inaccurate determination of endangerment. Given the downward trend in temperatures since 1998 (which some think will continue until at least 2030), there is no particular reason to rush into decisions based on a scientific hypothesis that does not appear to explain most of the available data.

Of course, since the Obama administration can increase its power, influence, and the likelihood of future Democratic victories by imposing total economic controls in the name of climate science, it is probable that it does not care very much whether the current hypothesis actually fits the available data. After all, if humans are not heating the atmosphere, then President Obama cannot save the planet. That would be disappointing, and would stop him from running the entire economy, which seems to be his goal.

06/26/2009 (2:36 pm)

Cap and Trade Update (Updated)

American Conservative Union just emailed me and said they’d heard that Speaker Pelosi has postponed debate on HR 2454, the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill. This is excellent news; it means she counted her votes and didn’t think she had enough to pass.

Please, call your representative right now and urge him or her to vote “No” on HR 2454. We need to ratchet up the pressure to make sure this anchor does not sink the US economy into the ocean.

UPDATE: HR 2454 passed the House by a vote of 219 “yea” to 212 “no” at around 7:15 PM EDT. Eight Republicans voted in favor of the measure, while 44 Democrats voted against it. The bill will now move to the Senate, where plenty of pork will likely be added; there may be additional opportunities to stop this disastrous legislation in the Senate.

The eight Republicans who voted for the measure were Reps. Mary Bono Mack (CA), Mike Castle (DE), Steven Kirk (IL), John McHugh (NY), Leonard Lance (NJ), Frank LoBiondo (NJ), Dave Reichert (WA), and Chris Smith (NJ).

06/26/2009 (10:35 am)

Cap and Trade: Even Worse Than You Thought

According to NRO on Wednesday and the New York Times yesterday, the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill may contain a clause that forces the President to impose stiff tariffs on imports from any nation that does not restrict carbon emissions the way we do.

captrade062609A stiff tax on carbon emissions in the US will encourage producers to move their facilities to nations that have friendlier policies toward producers. In order to prevent the exodus of still more of America’s productive capacity, the bill’s authors reportedly added language that requires the President to impose carbon tariffs on carbon-intensive imports from countries that fail to institute emission-reduction measures that are at least 80% as costly as ours.

So, not only will cap-and-trade oppressively and regressively tax the American people into poverty, it will initiate trade wars with China and India, who are not about to stifle their own, new-found prosperity to mollify preening environmental busybodies.

Of course, the tariff measure, which certainly will not work, constitutes the Democrats’ admission that they know perfectly well that a US cap-and-trade measure will increase rather than reduce global carbon, by shifting production to less efficient producers overseas.

Apart from the sheer insanity of willfully demolishing our own productivity over environmental concerns that have already fallen into scientific disrepute, the hypocrisy of the measure takes one’s breath away. Leftists have been lecturing us for decades about how arrogant it is of America to dictate moral behavior to the rest of the world (meaning, how dare we defend liberty?) The moment they took office, they sent their shame-faced emissaries to bow and plead forgiveness from every foreign court — and now, within 6 months, they are proposing ham-fisted tariffs to force foreign governments into engaging in radical environmentalism, which everybody recognizes as a leisure game for the rich.

We should force Democrats to state the matter plainly. They have no objection to America dictating morals to the rest of the world, to the entire universe, or even to God Himself, so long as the morals being enforced are theirs. Their objection is not to arrogance, but simply to America deigning to defend virtues to which they, the Originators of All Things Blissful and Harmonious, do not agree. How dare we disagree with them!

John Hinderaker at PowerLine reports that in order to secure the necessary votes to pass the measure, Speaker Pelosi has struck deals with farm state Democrats to add protections for ethanol. Thus, it gets even better; to crushing the economy and initiating a world-wide trade war, we now add starving the poor of Africa! No price too high to save the planet from .07 degrees of warming (their estimate, and not a scientifically sound one). Just so long as Nancy gets her taxpayer-funded private jet, and Barry and Michelle, their wagyu beef.

Hinderaker also notes that we don’t know for sure whether this measure made it to the final bill, because, typical of governance by Democrats, the Speaker is eager to pass this legislation before anybody has a chance to read the whole thing. No, I’m not kidding.

Q and O offers a good set of supporting links, and Volokh astutely draws parallels to Smoot-Hawley from the Depression years.

And for a little gallows humor, here’s South Park writers Matt and Trey explaining their “Smug Alert” episode about preening enviros. In the episode, all the characters close their eyes when they explain how they’re saving the environment; Matt and Trey insist that people really do this in San Fransisco and LA. Unbelievable. Multiple F-bomb warning, but the stench of the enviro’s self-satisfaction is truly more obscene than the language here.

We are SO screwed…

06/02/2009 (1:16 pm)

Tearing Hair Over "Free" Electricity

No names to protect the guilty, but somebody I know recently installed solar power at their home, and then bought a little electric scooter to commute to work. The scooter saves a ton of money in commuting costs, sure enough, and it really would help both pollution and road maintenance if more people drove little scooters, and fewer drove SUVs. However, when excitedly recounting this meaningful venture, this fine, intelligent human being added “And it’s even better, because the electricity is FREE!!!”

I want to tear out my hair. That would require tweezers, thanks to the miracle of buzz cuttery, but… ye GODS. And this is a smart, successful person.

The scooter? Cheaper and more efficient, fine. But the electricity? All that this decent, caring person has done is move the pollution source.

You see, there’s a reason that solar panels cost so much to purchase, and the reason is the high cost of smelting silicon for the panels. This indicates not just dollars spent, but power used and pollution generated. This comment following a post at EcoGeek.org explains:

The majority of the world’s ‘quartz to silicon’ smelting capacity is dated, being very greenhouse gas intensive as well as producing an insufficiently pure material that needs expensive refining to meet quality demands by the solar and electronic industries.

Technology will probably improve the process for refining silicon in due course, at which time it will damage the environment less — but a true improvement in the process would likely be reflected in lower costs. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course; the point is, the clue that they’re harming the environment less will be that they cost less. The fact that it costs more now means that it’s harming the environment more now. The price is a rough marker for environmental damage, because it measures resources used in the process. This is especially true for resource-intensive products (like silicon panels) when compared to labor-intensive products (like coal.)

With price as a (very) crude marker for energy expended, one should assume that the economic payback of the installation at one’s home indicates (very roughly) how much energy it took to build the panels. That is, if it takes 20 years of savings from your electric bills to cover the cost of installing the system, producing the panels did more or less the same damage to the environment as producing the electricity for your home for those 20 years. I use “20 years” because in the instances of which I know personally, home solar panel installations have an economic payback roughly that long. Your mileage may vary.

I know you’re thinking about train loads of coal and huge smokestacks on the power plant, and roughly 80 square feet of itty bitty panels — but to make the comparison fair, you have to imagine how many homes are heated and run by that train load and those smokestacks, and figure how many panels it would take to power that many homes for 15 years.

So, no, my dear friend, the electricity is not “free.” It’s more expensive than what you were using before; and I mean that in environmental terms, not just economic terms, because the one indicates the other. I refrained from saying this in person because… well, doggone it, who wants to play “Jack the Dream Ripper” for one’s friends? But it’s true nonetheless.

In the meantime, I really hope this person drives very carefully. Motorists don’t respect scooters much.

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