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February 28, 2007

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It's not about global climate change - excuse me, 'so-called' global climate change.

It's about mercilessly mocking, marginalizing, and nullifying the influence of, anyone who is in any way identified with 'liberalism,' or 'the Democrat Party.' Since environmentalism long ago became identified with liberalism, then environmentalism must also be mocked to non-existance. The actual merits of a given environmental issue are irrelevant.

Al Gore comes in for extra malice, simply because the Right (and the MSM) decided back in 2000 that he's corrupt, stupid, and dresses funny; and weren't we oh so lucky that Bush 'won' in 2000 instead of Gore... a narrative that has not stood the test of time, to put it mildly, and therefore must be reinforced at every opportunity, lest people allow their minds to dwell on what might-have-been, to the detriment of the Glorious GOP Revolution.

Von,
This is a good post, but I have one small question.

How do you reconcile your preference for market based solutions with your affinity for nuclear power? Given that there has never been a nuclear power industry in any country on earth that existed without massive government subsidies, why do you believe that nuclear power is economically feasible?

Taken another way, how much do you think the federal government should tax individual americans in order to subsidize unprofitable nuclear power facilities? $1 per person per year? $10 per person? $100 per person?

Well, this is Al Gore we're talking about, history's second greatest monster. He's always fun to beat up on.

Whether the noise discredits Gore as an envirospokesman or doesn't, the episode has probably been effective in signaling to Gore and others what lies ahead should he decide to step off the presidential-campaign sidelines.

Taken another way, how much do you think the federal government should tax individual americans in order to subsidize unprofitable nuclear power facilities? $1 per person per year? $10 per person? $100 per person?

Defer some of that with carbon offsets. Call it ‘green’ energy and charge more for it.

The pattern with people who call themsleves conservative (which von isn't, but Reynolds is) is to first refuse to admit the existance of a problem, then to attack anyone who tries to solve the problem, and then to reject possible solutions as being contra their philosophy, as if their flippin' philosophy mattered the least bit in the real world..
Next, individual conseratives who are being adversely effected in an immediate concrete way, will sort of admit that there might be a problem and cooperate to the extent that they themselve will benefit (think Stevens and melting glaciers). The last step is that once the problem is solved conservatives will say that either the problem never existed or that it was solved in the wrong way. And then they will go on to obstructing solutions to whatever the next majot problem is.

Child lablor laws, unsafe work places, quack medicines, civil rights, pollution, voting rights, ....same pattern consistantly.

Taken another way, how much do you think the federal government should tax individual americans in order to subsidize unprofitable nuclear power facilities? $1 per person per year? $10 per person? $100 per person?

Nuclear power wouldn't be subject to carbon offsets, so a good way to encourage it would be to force carbon-producing plants (coal, gas, oil) to pay the true cost of their operations.

Von, in the fight between Glenn Reynolds' credibility and the utility of carbon offsets, are you really putting money on the former? Or is this just persuasion through flattery?

Let him flail away at Gore all he likes. I might take this stuff more seriously coming from someone in a position of influence, but my take is that Reynolds is only marginalizing himself on this subject. Am I underestimating him?

Also, how does the Floyd reference fit in?

I’m not going to fully support Reynolds here – but I will note that the hypocrisy does rankle. I’m a free market type myself. I agree that Gore can consume all the energy he wants to pay for. But to my mind as it exists right now, a carbon offset is nothing but a vehicle to make him feel better about himself and does little in the way of addressing the problem (assuming there is one that can be addressed). From that perspective, a modern day indulgence seems like a perfect description – I don’t want to change my behavior but I will pay to have it ‘forgiven’.

Don’t lecture me about changing my lifestyle when you are not willing to change your own. Gore can afford to fly first class – I’ll still be in steerage but he’d be doing something quantifiable about the problem he preaches most about.

I’m generally a skeptic on this issue but I’m all for reducing pollution and our dependence on foreign oil so I am willing to support the effort, or at least co-opt it for my own uses.

But the thing is, Steve, Gore's plan is expressly not based on urging people to radically change their lifestyle. Sure, we should all try to be responsible, but he repeatedly makes clear that climate change is a problem that will only be solved with political action. When it comes to something like driving a hybrid - a reasonable option for those with the means - he does lead by example. But he's not asking that we all move into smaller houses or take up some Walden lifestyle, so it's not reasonable to criticize him for failing to do the same.

There's a trap here, where if Gore lives comfortably, he's accused of failing to lead by example, and if he lives uncomfortably, that's taken as evidence that he wants to force us all to live uncomfortably. It's a common political tactic to accuse the other side of lacking the courage of their convictions simply because they don't go to an unacceptable extreme. Don't be seduced by it.

Also, how does the Floyd reference fit in?

I was trying to communicate my support for nuclear power in the title of the post, and the Floyd album just popped in my head. No other connection.

I’m not going to fully support Reynolds here – but I will note that the hypocrisy does rankle.

I'm with you on the hypocrisy bit (as I hope I made clear in the piece), but if your best argument against someone is to claim they are a hypocrit, you've pretty much conceded defeat. And, here, Reynolds is not only conceding defeat but out of blindness is also attacking a real, market-based solution that he should be supporting (assuming his politics are as he says they are, and I occasionally question that).

OCSteve: Don’t lecture me about changing my lifestyle when you are not willing to change your own.

Kind of like Bush shouldn't tell us about how important it is to spread freedom and democracy if he's not willing to pick up a rifle and brave the 110 degree heat of the streets of Baghdad for three or four combat tours?

Actually, that's an unfair comparison. There's still a chance Gore actually might accomplish his stated goal.

I was trying to communicate my support for nuclear power in the title of the post, and the Floyd album just popped in my head. No other connection.

But the fourth track on that album is "Fat Old Sun".

But the fourth track on that album is "Fat Old Sun".

Y'know, I always took Fat Old Sun at nearly face value.

I'm not suggesting that Pink Floyd didn't generally (or completely) oppose the use of nuclear power/weapons/etc. I'm just saying that the album title popped in my head and, despite the fact that it didn't really fit the post, I felt compelled to use it.

von: Y'know, I always took Fat Old Sun at nearly face value.

What, are you trying to force me to use smileys?

Gore's plan is expressly not based on urging people to radically change their lifestyle. Sure, we should all try to be responsible, but he repeatedly makes clear that climate change is a problem that will only be solved with political action.

Maybe I misunderstood him or have not researched his most recent position then. This is a 6 months old:

Gore proposed a Carbon Neutral Mortgage Association ("Connie Mae," to echo the familiar Fannie Mae) devoted to helping homeowners retrofit and build energy-efficient homes. He urged creation of an "electranet," which would let homeowners and business owners buy and sell surplus electricity.

"This is not a political issue. This is a moral issue -- it affects the survival of human civilization,"

I took his remarks to be aimed at what the individual could do from one angle, while trying to get government to take the large steps that are really going to be painful (“steps from freezing carbon dioxide emissions to revamping the auto industry, factories and farms”).

Taking a hefty loan to retrofit my home would be a huge individual contribution on my part. Including generating my own electricity such that I had a surplus to trade would be a few (!) steps further than that. It would all certainly impact my lifestyle. Still – I am open to it for my own reasons.

He wants to create an organization that would loan me money to retrofit my home (expense and effort and interest is on me), while he could do the same without even taking a loan (I know he has done some things, the extent seems minor however).

Actually, OCSteve, retrofitting your house to generate electricity is not that big a deal; you stick some solar panels on your house, and do some wiring.

If you live in a sunny place (is the OC part of your name Orange County?) it's likely that the solar panels would generate more electricity than you'd need. In California, the utility companies have to buy your excess electricity.

It's not that outre.

And, please, stop the faux-steria about carbon offsets being a modern form of indulgences or about how they are some sort of sop to the rich. Of course, as Reynolds' keen eye has observed, the rich tend to pollute more than others. They also tend to drink better wine, drive nicer cars, and live in bigger houses. So what? They pay for these things, and the money they pay goes to pay the salaries of others.

Whoa, wait, what? You can't seriously be suggesting that driving up the temperature of the earth is somehow comparable to better wine or nicer cars?

This is the crux of the global warming (well, climate change) argument that is still unaddressed by market-based solutions: the negative externalities aren't just a little negative, they're effectively infinite. This isn't a question of a mere lifestyle choice whose application causes no discernible change the universe in which we live -- universe in this case being inhabitable space, i.e. the earth -- this is question of ruining said universe for one and all. I'm not saying that there's no place for a market-based element, mind, but without an explanation on how the market can correctly price an infinitely negative expectation, your comments are ludicrous in the extreme.

Or, to put it another way: how much should I pay you to destroy the human race?

He wants to create an organization that would loan me money to retrofit my home (expense and effort and interest is on me), while he could do the same without even taking a loan
How dare he want to make it possible for other people to do something that will ultimately save them money? Has he no shame? At long last, has he no shame?

In California, the utility companies have to buy your excess electricity.

True enough – but I think very few homes can generate a true surplus. Especially with solar, they generate some surplus during the day but draw from the grid at night.

Breaking even is still a worthy goal and nothing to sneeze at though. There are those truly living off the grid – but I don’t think that is attainable for most.

How dare he want to make it possible for other people to do something that will ultimately save them money?

Is that the purpose of the program? A beneficial side-effect I would say. My electric rates went up 40% this fall and my heating bills are killing me this winter. Retrofitting my place would save me a lot in the long run. I won’t be borrowing the money to do so anytime soon though.

If your solar panels generate excess electricity during the day, and you buy electricity during the night, that's still a good thing as far as conservation is concerned. The peak demand for electricity is higher during the day-- so reducing the peak means that power companies need fewer power plants.

while he could do the same without even taking a loan (I know he has done some things, the extent seems minor however).

From thinkprogress:

1) Gore’s family has taken numerous steps to reduce the carbon footprint of their private residence, including signing up for 100 percent green power through Green Power Switch, installing solar panels, and using compact fluorescent bulbs and other energy saving technology.

2) Gore has had a consistent position of purchasing carbon offsets to offset the family’s carbon footprint [jab at conservatives deleted] Gore’s office explains:

What Mr. Gore has asked is that every family calculate their carbon footprint and try to reduce it as much as possible. Once they have done so, he then advocates that they purchase offsets, as the Gore’s do, to bring their footprint down to zero.

Seems reasonable. And reasonably consistent.

Is that the purpose of the program? A beneficial side-effect I would say.
Even still, the proposed loans would make it possible for people to afford to do something that both saves them money in the long run, and cuts down the amount of carbon emissions that they are responsible for. The carrot of the long-term benefits of Gore's plan more than outweighs the stick of the short-term costs.

Anarch: Whoa, wait, what? You can't seriously be suggesting that driving up the temperature of the earth is somehow comparable to better wine or nicer cars?

I don't think this is what Von is saying. He's saying that in a more ideal world, polluting be a luxury, complete with a luxury price, and the money paid for that privilege would filter down to those who generate less carbon, or even create carbon sinks.

Is that about right, Von?

polluting be a luxury

Make that "polluting would be a luxury".

Seems reasonable. And reasonably consistent.

Not looking at that over all usage pattern it doesn’t to me. It’s pretty minor stuff compared to say closing up ¾ of that square footage and just heating/cooling the space you need to live. Of course I’m assuming that the 4 kids are out of the house and there is minimal live-in staff these days. That could well be a faulty assumption. Maybe he needs every bit of that footage.

It’s all good folks. I already support pretty much anything to reduce energy use. Heck, I even support a federal gas tax increase to discourage consumption and fund alternate fuel research. I just have different reasons - reduced emissions are a bonus for me rather than the end goal.

The GW crowd’s goals fit nicely with my goal of reducing our dependence on the oil ticks. I’ll ride along. Where I get off the train is the point of government imposed restrictions that will damage our economy in the name of reduced emissions rather than reduced energy consumption. I don’t think that is imminent though.

This is the crux of the global warming (well, climate change) argument that is still unaddressed by market-based solutions: the negative externalities aren't just a little negative, they're effectively infinite. This isn't a question of a mere lifestyle choice whose application causes no discernible change the universe in which we live -- universe in this case being inhabitable space, i.e. the earth -- this is question of ruining said universe for one and all. I'm not saying that there's no place for a market-based element, mind, but without an explanation on how the market can correctly price an infinitely negative expectation, your comments are ludicrous in the extreme.

First:

An infinite negative? I don't think so. "The Day After Tomorrow" aside, no legitimate report that I'm aware of suggests that even extreme global warming would be an infinitely negative externality. We may be talking WW2 levels of externality at the outliers (spread over a 60 year period) -- that is, costly to the lives and health of upwards of a billion people -- but even those aren't "infinite." (A direct hit on the Earth by a moon-sized object? That's an "infinite" externality.. It's for this reason that I strongly oppose letting Crazy Moon-rider Phil justify his moon-diverting ways through the moon offset program. C'mon people! His hobby is far from harmless! Join with me!)

Second:

The goal is to reduce carbon emissions; it's not known whether, or how much, or even (in a strict sense) if carbon reduction will prevent global warming. Without radically reorganizing society by force -- a process that, if carried out, would probably result in more deaths than global warming -- a good way to respond is to start steadily decreasing carbon emissions. A carbon offset program provides for that.

Actually, OCSteve, retrofitting your house to generate electricity is not that big a deal; you stick some solar panels on your house, and do some wiring.

And install some other hardware, and have the utilities install a 2-way meter so you can sell power back to the grid. We're talking a nontrivial expenditure of effort and a nontrivial amount of required know-how, here.

Plus, you've got to mount them on your roof facing due south, so you've got to make a bracket, attach it to your roof, and then make sure you haven't created some new roof leaks.

Not undoable, certainly, but not something one can do by making a trip or two to Lowe's.

For some reason, I have a rough calculation for Gore's residence requiring a mere 40 or so 2 m^2 panels at about $1k each, plus mounting and such, which means that (assuming such a system could be installed for $10k or under, which is debatable) that he could pay for it in just a few years. The last time I checked this sort of thing for myself, it seemed that the payback period was more like a decade, so I think I must have made a mistake somewhere.

Of course that's neglecting to consider inversion efficiency, which will multiply the payback period by about 30%. Still, disconnect.

And of course there's the natural gas part of the total energy package, which is quite staggering all by itself. Dunno how that scales to solar panels just yet, but I'm guessing it'd at least double the number of panels required.

Coming a bit late to the discussion, I'd like to ask von whether he considers nuclear power a long term solution or just a transitory one. If I am not mistaken the available resources of fissile material are more limited than thought at the beginning of the nuclear age (even considering unconventional nuclear fuels) and would actually be spent faster than coal (provided all coal plants would be replaced with nuclear ones).
I'd also like to know what he thinks about the real-world potential of nuclear fusion.

There's no shortage of uranium, as far as I know, but there's probably limited supplies of high-grade ore. We'd have to figure out another way.

Fusion, on the other hand, is just around the corner. It's been just around the corner for about three decades, now. Bussard's proposing a hydrogen/boron process that he thinks looks promising, and I think it's probably worth throwing some funding dollars at. The magnetic-bottle reactors all used deuterium and/or tritium and produced all kinds of unpleasant byproducts (including the reactor itself, eventually), but Bussard's process claims that it only generates ordinary Helium.

So, worth looking at.

Coming a bit late to the discussion, I'd like to ask von whether he considers nuclear power a long term solution or just a transitory one. If I am not mistaken the available resources of fissile material are more limited than thought at the beginning of the nuclear age (even considering unconventional nuclear fuels) and would actually be spent faster than coal (provided all coal plants would be replaced with nuclear ones). I'd also like to know what he thinks about the real-world potential of nuclear fusion.

Depends on the time frame. Obviously, the end game involves warp drive, antimatter, the return of the Galactic Republic, and Tardii (I presume that the Time Lords prefer the original Latinate for the plural). But I'm like to see nuclear fission as a preferred "medium" term solution, i.e., for at least the next 50-100 years.

I can't speak to the lack of availability of nuclear materials, because I just don't know anything about it. I also can't speak about the likelihood of fusion power, save for the well-reported gaffes and errors.

Finally, I assume that it's a bit surreal for a German speaker to be addressing a poster named "von."

We may be talking WW2 levels of externality at the outliers (spread over a 60 year period) -- that is, costly to the lives and health of upwards of a billion people -- but even those aren't "infinite."

Fair enough. What price, then, is a de facto genocide?

And even more pointedly: how much should those who will likely survive pay to those who will die in this de facto genocide?

Gromit: He's saying that in a more ideal world, polluting be a luxury, complete with a luxury price, and the money paid for that privilege would filter down to those who generate less carbon, or even create carbon sinks.

I would completely agree if said pollution did not cause a measurable impact on the planet's habitability to the human race. This conditional is almost vacuously true of every luxury activity around but it is not true, or at least no longer obviously true, in the case of carbon emissions. I'm not saying that they can't be reduced by market-based controls; I am saying, however, that I've seen no evidence whatsoever that the market can correctly price the costs of climate change.

Anarch: I would completely agree if said pollution did not cause a measurable impact on the planet's habitability to the human race. This conditional is almost vacuously true of every luxury activity around but it is not true, or at least no longer obviously true, in the case of carbon emissions. I'm not saying that they can't be reduced by market-based controls; I am saying, however, that I've seen no evidence whatsoever that the market can correctly price the costs of climate change.

I don't think we are talking about the same things when we say "market-based". I'm (and I think von is) talking about something like a cap-and-trade program, where carbon output is capped and entities can buy and sell carbon credits. This could allow someone like Gore to jet around the country if he can afford the premium, while those of us who can't afford it would reap financial rewards from conservation and possibly carbon sequestration. Certainly I don't take it to mean just letting the market sort it out on its own.

I could be confused on this point, of course.

Even the nonideal fusion produces mainly low active waste (although the tritium can be nasty). The question is, how long will it take to become a real alternative and why is not more money put into it?
If we are in the 50 year time frame, I'd agree with giving fission a try (provided the security situation and the waste handling stops to be the insane farce it is now and provided it does not take money away from less dangerous long-term projects).

von correctly observed about the surreality

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