The International Conference on Climate Change - Part V

We’re almost done with my series of reports on the International Conference on Climate Change, which was organized by the Heartland Institute and held in Washington DC earlier this month.

I’ve ended up serializing this into a series of reports, and this is the final one in the series; you can find Parts I, II, III, and IV here, here, here, and here.

As foreshadowed at the end of Part IV, this final installment contains some comments on remarks by Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), Ben Liebermann of the Heritage Foundation…. and a “closer” of the caliber of Jonathan Papelbon – Lord Christopher Monckton.

More below the fold.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) has been quite heroic in refusing to be “rolled” by the attempts to ram through economically-disastrous “climate-change mitigation” (sic) legislation under the guise of panic.

Sen. Inhofe began by noting the recent (19 April) polling results that indicate that only 34% of the American public actually “believes” in AGW – and that this represents an all-time low in such polling. Between the economic crisis and the basic inability to continue to panic people with an imaginary “crisis,” this is indeed a heartening number.

Most of Sen. Inhofe’s remarks related to economic issues; this is an obvious line of inquiry, since any notion that a “green agenda” can be pursued without massive costs (or even, paradoxically, somehow turn out to be a net positive) is a dead letter. The economic impacts are so immense that they must be discussed, and with honesty.

Sen. Inhofe noted that had the United States actually signed, ratified, and implemented (something hardly any of the signatories actually ever did) the Kyoto protocol, the cost-impact would have been somewhere in the range of $383 billion – about ten times larger than the largest tax increase in American history. He also noted that what amounts to a “climate bailout” will run up a cost of some $6 trillion – which makes the TARP program for the large money-center banks, at $700 billion, look puny. He finally noted that the reality of “cap-and-trade” can no longer be hidden or obfuscated – it de facto amounts to a disguised tax increase, and a very large one at that. He noted that in June of 2008, the Warner-Liebermann climate/cap-and-trade bill had been defeated in the Senate – once all of these sorts of realities were obvious.

And that’s one of the bottom lines; hopefully I’m direct-quoting Sen. Inhofe properly from his comment that “You win this debate with the economics.” As detailed above, this is a very critical aspect. As the so-called “science” began to run increasingly into trouble, the alarmists tried to fuzz the situation and move the debate from science to economics – chiefly on the grounds that (as noted above) we need not get all hetted-up about the science, since the economic impacts of “mitigation” would be trivial at worst…. and (happy-talk!) would even serve to catalyze a great deal of positive economic impacts. The grim reality is that the economic impacts of “mitigation” (if implemented) are going to be a) enormous, and b) negative. The “happy-talk” sales pitch just was vapid and content-free, and that’s now painfully obvious.

Sen. Inhofe closed his remarks with a side note that goes beyond the economics. All of the “climate change” mechanisms plan to turn a great deal of the decision-making authority over to various international bodies that are not at all answerable to the American voter (or even the American legislator). Even beyond the economic impacts, it must be noted that we could find our own sovereignty forfeited.

The penultimate speaker of the event was Ben Liebermann of the Heritage Foundation. I got the impression that his talk had originally been planned to be longer, since his presentation could be described as “broadband.” The content was also mostly about economic issues – a few of which I’ll note here.

The news that the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade proposal would give away (rather than auction) some 85% of the “emission credits” was new news at the beginning of the month – and has thus been a major factor in cap-and-trade analyses. Mr. Liebermann noted that 35% of the total number of proposed credits would go to major energy producers; this apparently is the only way to keep the legislation moving forward.

He also noted something that should be obvious – that the largest overall impact of all of the so-called “climate proposals” will be much higher prices for basic energy, and that thus the impact of the extra costs will fall disproportionately on the economically less-advantaged.

He finally noted that the entire scheme is so remote from any market mechanisms that the distortions and oddities that occur are mind-boggling. He noted something that has become common knowledge – that in China, factories are being constructed (and then usually not even put into operation) solely for the purpose of receiving “offset payments” that have been made available by the European Union. (Similar games are being played in India.)

He noted that cap-and-trade plans have been tried elsewhere (Europe in particular has tried, and the “markets” for the credits have soon collapsed), and they always lead ineluctably to the same outcomes. Overall costs rise considerably – yet total emissions continue to rise anyway. In addition, like those Potemkin factories in China, the temptation to find ways to game the system is just too great – and that happens. (Once again, the lesson is simple: If you keep a dirty kitchen, you will have roaches.)

Before I move on to discuss the remarks of the last speaker, I wanted to take a brief detour.

Over the past many years, I have had a few encounters with British bureaucracy – usually (for a time) when things would go wrong during a plane-changing attempt at Heathrow, but also in London itself. All I would find myself muttering later would be something to the tune of, “This is what happens to a country when its ‘best-and-brightest’ (?) go into the civil service.”

I also found myself wondering: “How did this country ever have an empire?”

That question has been parked in my mind (unanswered) for years – and one had to hope that there was a better answer to it than, “Because the only competition was the French.”

Fortunately, earlier this year, I finally had the question answered – when I first met Lord Christopher Monckton. Finally – here was an embodiment of that old-fashioned British strength and confidence; this is why Britain once had a globe-spanning empire, and this is why the English language and British concepts of law and justice may be found all over the world.

As I mentioned at the outset, it was obvious in New York back in March that Lord Monckton is a “closer” in the same league as Jonathan Papelbon. And he didn’t disappoint in Washington DC.

Back in April, Lord Monckton had been invited to testify (on the cap-and-trade legislative proposals) by Republican members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. He had been invited to testify as an antidote to the testimony of (guess who?) Al Gore. Well, Mr. Gore and the committee’s majority members were going to have none of this – and when Lord Monckton’s flight landed in Washington, he was informed that he would not be testifying.

Five minutes listening to Lord Monckton, and you can understand why Mr. Gore practically soiled himself at the thought of testifying in the same setting on the same day.

Lord Monckton noted that the AGW alarmists in the U.K. seem to have gotten themselves wrapped up in some fit of chasing increasingly bizarre “problems” that must be addressed to “combat” “global warming.” Lately, they have chosen to get into a blind panic over the emissions-by-flatulence of British livestock.

He also noted something that has become notable to almost everyone – that the moniker assigned to this whole thing by the alarmists has been continually…. “evolving,” and that this “evolution” had continued into less than two weeks before the event. What had started out as “anthropogenic global warming” had become “climate change,” and was now (once again) being re-branded as…. “energy security.” Lord Monckton suggested that we just re-re-brand it as “absolute rubbish” and be done with it.

He also noted that the attempts to fit trend lines to “temperature data” are risky (and can be very misleading); these curves are stochastic, and so any line-fitting is very sensitive to the selection of any particular endpoint. (I could go on for pages and pages on the futilely of attempting to impose determinism onto stochastic, statistical systems…. but I won’t for now….)

He also made a little sport with the suggestion by Energy Secretary Chu that we could fight back against “global warming” by painting roofs (and other surfaces) white; the potential temperature reductions would be far below the measurement resolution threshold (by some computations, that change would be -0.0008F), at a material cost of some $35 trillion. I don’t know about the details of those computations, but I do know that the whole idea is daft (without having to compute anything).

His final comment is that this scare is at-base a function of what Francis Bacon called the problem of “small men in great places.” Given the possibilities that are freighted into any “remediation” of “climate change,” the story now is that a number of disparate interests are converging together to try to benefit in various ways (financial, political, and otherwise) from “remediation.”

I wanted to wrap up this series of reports with a few brief summarizing comments on the present state-of-play in the entire debate, focusing quickly on three aspects – science, economics, and politics.

Science: The main issues in the “science” boil down to two things. First, events like the unusually active 2005 hurricane season and the usually mild start to winter 2006/2007 in eastern North America really let loose the most apocalyptic (and foolish) predictions of imminent doom from the scare-mongers. Since then, the basic realities of the weather have made the predictions of the scare-mongers look increasingly silly and laughable. Second, it is becoming abundantly clear that even in the “modeling” of the IPCC, any increased warming due to an increase in carbon dioxide alone is simply far too small to have any impact beyond the most trivial; big, bad things can be made to happen in the model predictions only via the introduction of positive-feedback mechanisms in which tiny initial changes lead to various runaway phenomena. This is required for the emission (?!) of sizable changes in climate by the “models;” however, complex systems tend to be organized around negative feedback mechanisms – and the specific mechanisms associated with the phenomena in question seem, based on both simple intuition and inspection, to be negative in nature.

Economics: Whatever methods are used to try to “mitigate” “climate change,” they will be enormously costly and do very large amounts of economic damage. The notion that these costs would be negligible (or even positive, in spawning some sort of new miracle “green economy”) is just not true.

Politics. The various “mitigation” schemes will have a very large effect on the situation of domestic manufacturing – and will fall disproportionately in particular upon the states of the industrial Midwest. The economies of these states are particularly dependent on manufacturing (for their economies and for their employment base) – and this manufacturing is critically dependent on the supply of reliable, low-cost electricity. Most of that electricity is generated by using coal as the primary energy source – and right now, the “green alternatives” simply cannot deliver what is needed in terms of either cost or reliability (or even availability). (A supreme irony in this situation is that many of the same players who are leading the charge for this “green energy” stuff are the same people who led a mindless jihad against nuclear-fission-based electricity generation a quarter-century ago; had nuclear-fission-based electricity generation not been put on ice for nearly three decades, the present dependence on coal as a primary energy source would be much less. Ironic, isn’t it? But now is now, and what we have is what we have.) Politically, it will be extremely difficult to push cap-and-trade through, since it will wipe out manufacturing in the industrial Midwest (and the Congressional careers of basically any representatives from that region who go along with the plan).

I will stop there and declare my task finished.

I am glad that so many readers were delighted with these reports, and found them to be interesting and informative.

We’re winning.