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June 28, 2013

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testing

My guess is they simply advocated for a carbon tax. That does strike me as the simple(st) answer and definitely the most market-friendly answer. Price the carbon and then let the market sort things out. I certainly prefer that to command & control via the EPA.

But that's not a realistic option, so we back up to the... what, 3rd or 4th best choice? Awesome.

But that's not a realistic option

why?

One of the few times I've ever agreed with Charles Krauthammer, particularly with any sort of enthusiasm, was 3 or 4 years ago while watching Fox News Sunday (KNOW YOUR ENEMY...) and the group was discussing various ways to reduce gasoline consumption. Krauthammer said something like, "Look, if you want to reduce gasoline consumption, you can do it immediately by putting a $2 per gallon tax on it. That's it."

Now, he wasn't saying he thought it was a good idea, but he seemed to be the only one in the room with the horse sense to know that it was the quickest, simplest and most effective way to reduce consumption (if that's what you wanted to do).

A carbon tax is not a politically realistic solution because no Republican anywhere will vote for a tax for any reason, and Republicans still hold the House and can filibuster the Senate.

One can hardly blame them -- the results would be horrifying. We would immediately begin to reduce consumption of fossil fuels; think of the awful impact on the profits of our friends in the extraction industries. Worse yet, such a tax would raise large amounts of new government revenue, money that could easily be used to help poor/brown people, or spent on public schools.

Ooh, and I forgot the worst impact: a carbon tax would reduce the Federal deficit, and would thus deprive the GOP of its favorite when-Democrats-are-in-power rhetorical cudgel.

why?

Politics (US). You know this, Russell. I know you know it.

Economists Have A One-Page Solution To Climate Change

No, they don't. Economists have an idea that might contribute to reduction in CO2 emissions in this country, if it could ever be enacted.

But that makes for less tidy headlines. We could stop CO2 production altogether, everywhere, and the climate would continue to change. It might change in a different way, but change would nonetheless continue.

/nitpick

I have all sorts of solutions for modern problems that are completely impractical and require only that I be made dictator of the universe with absolute power over everything. But I'm not an idiot economist, so I don't share them with the world.

I understand that the real world is messy and the fact that real human beings don't behave like rational economic actors must be intensely frustrating, but this economist needs to grow up and read some political science.

"Assume a functioning political system." [/economist]

Just because an idea isn't politically viable today doesn't mean we shouldn't discuss it- as the political winds shift and the dunes form in different places, the impossible becomes possible (and vice-versa). If people talk about it today even if it can't be implemented, it facilitates implementing it tomorrow by 1)making it 'part of the conversation' rather than idea out of left field and 2)using the marketplace of ideas to revise, tweak, debug it so if it does become possible someday it'll be well-thought-out.

this economist needs to grow up and read some political science.

Conversely, one could ask political scientists (and practitioners) to grow up and read some economics. Or, scientific discipline of their choosing.

It might change in a different way, but change would nonetheless continue.

A reasonable point, however I think the 'in a different way' part is a significant nit.

Conversely, one could ask political scientists (and practitioners) to grow up and read some economics. Or, scientific discipline of their choosing.

Good on you for distinguishing between economics and scientific disciplines.

I'm for it, and I agree with Carleton Wu that people should start talking about it. Thanks for talking about it, russell.

A reasonable point, however I think the 'in a different way' part is a significant nit.

I would even hazard: a very slightly different way. But let's do the math!

Let's say that by these measures, 25% of transportation fuel could be saved, which translates into 25% less CO2 production per year from that source. Assuming nothing else changes, that would reduce the US per annum CO2 production by about 8%, which would in turn (assuming, again, that nothing else changes) reduce world output by about one and a half percent.

All of which would be completely lost in China's rapid upswing in production, which is increasing by that eight percent of US emissions from each year to the next.

[Edited to add link to Chinese CO2 production]

A carbon tax might be a net benefit if all the other laws, rules, regulations, fuel taxes, mandates, tax breaks and subsidies related to energy production and use were rescinded.

But let's do the math!

Every little bit helps.

Or, of course, we could just say f**k it and do nothing.

Speaking of economics! Ceteris paribus, while useful for certain analytic purposes, is generally not a condition that holds in the real world. It might just be that the technological and cultural advances made in response to a carbon tax in the US would appeal to the powers that be in other countries, even China. They may pursue economic gains at the expense of the environment (as do we!), but I don't think it's their goal to destroy the environment.

I agree with Carleton Wu that people should start talking about it.

But people have been talking about it. In much greater depth and in much more realistic ways than this economist. Any serious carbon tax plan that fits on one piece of paper was written by an idiot who refused to engage with the many many discussions of this issue.

Do we do a carbon tax or an emissions trading regime? Is it refundable? I.e., can I get a tax credit if I sequester the carbon or plant lots of trees? Who certifies that my sequestration activities actually worked? Where do you charge this tax: at the supplier end or the consumer end or in between? How do you address the distributional aspect: what happens when small rural families are made even more completely impoverished by this?

These aren't easy questions and any plan that seriously addressed them will run...substantially more than one page. And lots of people have actually engaged these questions in a serious way, like during the debate when Pelosi pushed through a cap and trade bill in the House in 2009. If you want to talk about real issues, starting with the many I mentioned above, that would be geneuinely useful. But absolutely nothing good comes from ignorant people spouting off on absurd impossible completely vacuous "plans".

But absolutely nothing good comes from ignorant people spouting off on absurd impossible completely vacuous "plans".

As far as I can tell, nothing good has come of any other approach that's been taken, either.

At least not much good. Not that I can see, anyway. Correct me if I'm wrong.

My sense is that nothing of consequence is going to be done about carbon emissions or any related thing, at all. Not for years, maybe never.

Basically, I think we're screwed.

I just found the fairly straightforward nature of the proposal appealing.

Yes, I recognize that it would suck for folks to pay more for gas and fuel oil and any of the billion other things we make out of fossil fuel, and yes, I recognize that such a tax regime would probably net out to be regressive.

All of that sucks.

Doing nothing at all sucks, too.

And 'nothing' is exactly what I expect we will actually do.

My sense is that nothing of consequence is going to be done about carbon emissions or any related thing, at all. Not for years, maybe never.

That's really not true. Carbon emissions are down now in the United States (and as we discussed in a different thread, some of this is because of fracking). We can do something if we work to change Congress.

Really, that's where the problem is. If people would please quit focussing on Glenn Greenwaldesque "problems" in the Executive Department, and start spending all of that blog energy on changing Congress, we would start doing some things.

And, Turbulence, sure. You're awfully mean, but you're correct that there have been thoughtful initiatives put forward. Again, though, where's the problem? Congress. Change Congress. Give the Greenwald anti-Executive garbage a rest, and Change Congress.

Let's say that by these measures, 25% of transportation fuel could be saved

If we're assuming a generalized carbon tax, Id assume that it reduced emissions in all sectors, not just transportation. There might be sectors where it would be hard to price/measure, but Im pretty sure we could get a eg concrete without too much confusion. Maybe Im wrong about that.

All of which would be completely lost in China's rapid upswing in production

First, the US getting to grips with the problem helps both by example and by allowing us to take more credible leadership in pushing towards global solutions. A possibility, anyway. Also, the successful implementation of a program might make a good model for others to follow. Or a *bad* implementation might show some hidden problems to avoid.
Second, I don't know how solving only part of a problem- esp when it's the only part of the problem we can control- is a defect. Maybe it's part of a larger solution. Maybe it just makes things slightly less bad.
Third, if GCC becomes a serious problem, we may be well-positioned by having implemented such a program beforehand, rather than going up to the point of crisis still failing to price in the externalities of carbon emission to our long-term investments. That is, there are advantages beyond measuring the net addition of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

One way to deal with the China issue might be to include a duty on all imports from places where there either wasn't a carbon tax, or was carbon emissions in excess of some threshold.

Either there would be fewer Chinese imports (creating jobs here, not to mention reducing Chinese CO2 emissions due to reduced manufacturing), or China would act to reduce emissions in order to maintain market share. Ditto India and all the rest of the low-cost-labor areas.

"Ooh, and I forgot the worst impact: a carbon tax would reduce the Federal deficit,"

Nope. It would just result in a similar deficit at higher spending levels. A surprise increase in revenue might cause a temporary reduction in deficits, but an anticipated increase in revenue will simply lead to an increase in spending anticipation of the money coming in.

Might even increase the deficit, as the spending increase would probably be based on a static analysis.

If we're assuming a generalized carbon tax, Id assume that it reduced emissions in all sectors, not just transportation

Yes, that's a good point, Carleton. I got sucked in by the conversation about the cost of gas, but it does appear that the intention is a broad tax on fossil fuels.

So, the math isn't going to work out quite as I outlined.

But I don't know that I have much faith in the idea that China is going to follow our good example in the matter of fossil fuel usage, should we choose to behave in that way.

I don't know how solving only part of a problem- esp when it's the only part of the problem we can control- is a defect.

Where I was going with that was not so much that we'd be solving only part of the problem, as much as that we effectively would be solving none of it. But that was kind of flawed, apparently.

But I don't know that I have much faith in the idea that China is going to follow our good example in the matter of fossil fuel usage, should we choose to behave in that way.

I absolutely have faith that China wants to figure out better ways to do things. China is the leader in solar development. Why do you think that China, whose people are suffering and dying from pollution, don't want to cooperate in finding solutions to global warming? In fact, they want to be rich (like us) but if the options exist, they will participate.

Nope. It would just result in a similar deficit at higher spending levels. A surprise increase in revenue might cause a temporary reduction in deficits, but an anticipated increase in revenue will simply lead to an increase in spending anticipation of the money coming in.

I love the smell of facts-stated-as-opinions in the morning. It smells like... well, not victory anyway.

But I don't know that I have much faith in the idea that China is going to follow our good example in the matter of fossil fuel usage, should we choose to behave in that way.

Still, I think you'd have to agree that the odds go up if we're already doing something like this, for a bunch of reasons. How much is anyone's guess.

To some extent I think the cost/benefit here is pretty heavily shaded by individual beliefs about the speed/magnitude of GCC in the future and the cost/effectiveness of human adaptations to it. If you think that carbon-cutting is just hedging our bets or can easily be compensated for in the future with some technological fixes, then rolling the dice on cooperation with China or "doing the right thing" in our own house may look like an overreaction...
Long way of saying- do you think GCC is not that big of a deal, or inevitable, etc, that makes efforts like this look like questionable investments?

But I don't know that I have much faith in the idea that China is going to follow our good example in the matter of fossil fuel usage, should we choose to behave in that way.

Suggesion: go to China. It's pretty easy to do now. It doesn't have to be faith-based.

But I don't know that I have much faith in the idea that China is going to follow our good example in the matter of fossil fuel usage, should we choose to behave in that way.

This is the famous "you first" postulate. It is often linked to the "you got yours, so I'm gonna' get mine, too," guilt induction.

A tough nut to crack? Certainly. Intractable? Highly likely. So therefore we should do nothing? Not a chance.

So I agree (jayzus) yet again with Russell.

It would just result in a similar deficit at higher spending levels. A surprise increase in revenue might cause a temporary reduction in deficits, but an anticipated increase in revenue will simply lead to an increase in spending anticipation of the money coming in.

What a great point, Brett! That also means that it is totally pointless to cut spending in an attempt to cut the deficit. Because reduced spending would just lead to tax reductions in anticipation of the savings. Good to know.

US Coal Exports Set Monthly Record

We have to stop production of carbon energy, and decreasing consumption in the US will do absolutely nothing but make us poorer, energy companies richer. It is only exporting pollution.

Can't export climate change.

Tax it at the wellhead and strip mine, and tax it hard enough to shut it down.

Good luck.

Keystone Pipeline For Export?

Not so confidant in this one, the info I have says "much" of the refined product will be exported.

The thing is, it is expensive to export or ship natural gas. Maybe too many links, wiki LNG carriers, "In order to facilitate transport, natural gas is cooled down to approximately −163 °C."

So the idea is to convert US electricity production to fracked natural gas, so they can ship the coal overseas. Major profits. No help with climate change, it will make it worse.

Since we're wishing for ponies, anyway...

Along with your carbon tax, you'd enact a carbon tariff.

You wouldn't hope for compliance from China. You'd align everybody's interests.

(No chance this'd fly, anyhow; Western firms are tickled to have low cost producers in China (or wherever) and would fight the proposal from this end, too.)

I think a carbon tariff would be a grand idea, I'm not sure how you'd verify compliance. When a Chinese-government owned firm claimed that they used only solar power to manufacture X, why would we just believe them?

Moreover, I'm not sure a carbon tariff is compatible with WTO (see this link for example). Now, maybe ditching GATT and the WTO would be awesome in general, but the US government has expended an enormous effort over the last few decades on building up these bodies; it seems unlikely that they'd turn away.

Maybe a carbon tariff is just another nice thing we can't have because neoliberals.

Suggesion: go to China. It's pretty easy to do now. It doesn't have to be faith-based.

Been there. It's a lot like the US in the early 1970s.

I'm going to post this link because we can all use some comic relief.

Some of these jokes I actually got, which probably means they're not geeky enough.

I absolutely have faith that China wants to figure out better ways to do things.

China's notion of "better" does not necessarily conform to e.g. russell's notion of "better".

Ok, this one made me cackle out loud:

A hundred kilopascals go into a bar. [end unit conversion]

Must be an engineering joke. There are so few of those.

It's a lot like the US in the early 1970s.

Sounds like fun. Will the General Lee be involved?

"We don't serve faster-than-light particles here", says the barman. A tachyon enters a bar.
Hey, tell the joke about the tachyon!
Will the General Lee be involved?

I don't think I saw anything quite so...large, and assertive, as that. Mostly there were a lot of freight-haulers roughly half the size of a Volkswagen Transporter. The air was sometimes thick enough that you might think you could carve out a cube of it, for whatever purpose.


Hey, tell the joke about the tachyon!

.tonk deyarf a m'I

Been there. It's a lot like the US in the early 1970s

That's weird. I lived in the US in the early 1970's, and it didn't look anything like this.

Excellent link, Slart. I'll be posting some jokes to facebook, mostly for the people who will have no clue. (Does that make me a bad person?)

"Give the Greenwald anti-executive garbage a rest"

You're the only one talking about it here. Try taking issues one at a time and stop personalizing everything.

I like the fact that Obama is making an issue of climate change, btw.

Don't write China off so casually.

Unfortunately that "one page plan" is incomplete.

They left out:

Step Zero: render the GOP caucus into biofuel

(followed by all the rest)

"That's weird. I lived in the US in the early 1970's, and it didn't look anything like this."

I lived in Los Angeles in the 1960s, and sometimes it did. Not in the great factories belching smoke, but in the overall effect, mostly of automobile emissions.

That's weird. I lived in the US in the early 1970's, and it didn't look anything like this.

1950's, then.

Thanks. Guess there's hope then. Hope there is, anyway.

I lived in the US in the early 1970's, and it didn't look anything like this.

I recall spending two weeks a couple of hours east of Los Angeles in 1972. The first week was fine. But on the weekend I suddenly notyiced this rather red/orange ridge on the western horizon, and said to myself "I don't remember those mountains." It was, of course, smog, and the next day it arrived. For the whole next week, stinging eyes, painful to breathe, and you could only see a couple hundred yards max. In other words, a lot like the pictures and reports from China.

In other words, a lot like the pictures and reports from China.

Were pollution levels measured back then? I.e., is there any scientific basis for comparison? I'm wondering what the chances are for real progress in cleaning up the Asian environment if that becomes a priority.

sapient, the Clean Air Act (1963) got research going, including measurements (although there are probably some older numbers available with a little digging). See, for example:
http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/csd/news/2013/141_0604.html

Thanks for the link, wj.

Growing up in Los Angeles, I was only aware of smog in a general sense - I thought you were supposed to be able to see air, I guess. Then one day I took a boat across to Catalina, and looking back at the mainland, I could see the coastline and mountains to the north of the city, and some of the coastline to the south. Across the middle it was as if someone had taken a giant brown thumb and simply smudged into oblivion the painted landscape.

A surprise increase in revenue might cause a temporary reduction in deficits, but an anticipated increase in revenue will simply lead to an increase in spending anticipation of the money coming in.

Might even increase the deficit, as the spending increase would probably be based on a static analysis.

Well, Bush did make that happen after the Clinton tax increase. Maybe if we can keep Republicans out of the White House, it doesn't have to happen again.

Zing! byomtov for the win!

The real beauty of a carbon tax is that you can then do away with lots of regulations. Like CAFE standards. The tax builds in the reason to avoid producing gas guzzlers. And so on and so forth. Given the revenue, you can (at least temporarily) lower other taxes (my choice would be FICA, YMMV).

It is obviously the most market-friendly approach to trying to mitigate (anthropogenic) climate change. In a sane USofA, it would be the Conservative policy of choice.

Rob, it is the Conservative policy of choice everywhere. The problem is that the self-labeled "conservatives" in the US are not conservatives in any meaningful sense. Reactionary? Sure. Radical? Yes. But conservative? No way -- unless you live in their echo chamber, and therefore have no clue what conservative really is.

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