The Technocratic Trap

Technocrats tend to hate and/or distrust bottom up economic solutions that result from a spontaneous order resulting from changing pricing signals and incentives.  As a result, technocrats in government tend to not only want a problem solved, but solved their way.  They get just as mad, or even more upset, at a problem solved by the market in a way in which the don’t approve than they get from the problem going unsolved altogether.

TJIC brings us a great example of this technocratic trap as applied to CO2 abatement:…

Greenhouse gas emissions from Northeast power plants were about 10 percent lower than predicted during the last two years…

But the decrease may have some unanticipated consequences for efforts to combat global warming: It could have the perverse effect of delaying more lasting reductions, by undercutting incentives intended to spur power plants to invest in cleaner technologies and energy efficiency…

I wonder if environmentalists are really as pathetic and perpetually grumpy as they always sound, or if that’s just some sort of kabuki political theater?

Massachusetts and nine other Northeast states are part of a landmark pact called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative that is designed to cap power plant emissions in 2009 and then gradually reduce them by 10 percent over the next decade. Power plants will have to buy emission allowances…

But if emissions are significantly lower than the cap, there would be less demand for allowances, driving down their price and giving power plants little financial incentive to invest in cleaner and more efficient technologies…

It’s almost as if people are hung up on the means, and not the ends.

Oh noz, the industry has realized that the cheapest way (which is to say “the way that bes preserves living standards) to cut carbon emissions is to switch from coal to natural gas…which means that they’re not taking the more expensive way (which is to say “way that destroys living standards”) that we want them to. Boo hoo!

“If the cap is above what power plants are emitting, we won’t see any change in their behavior,” said Derek K. Murrow, director of policy analysis for Environment Northeast, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization. “They just continue business as usual.”

(a) Umm…you’ve already seen a change in their behavior

(b) what do you want? Lower carbon emissions, or to force them to use some pet technology?…

Officials of states involved in RGGI and energy specialists are discussing ways to ensure that allowances have enough value to spark investments in cleaner technologies.

Again, the insistence on technologies. Why?

One solution would be to lower the cap, but that’s likely to be politically difficult…

Laurie Burt, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, said she and other state officials are aware of the problem and discussing ways to solve it.

What problem?

Read it all.

  • Keith

    What’s even worse is that the writer of this article obviously never took high school chemistry. They keep talking about “cleaner technologies” and “reductions in emissions” as if CO2 was just like SOx or NOx. This ignorance continually frosts me since the only way to decrease CO2 is to cut down on the amount of energy used and, hence, decrease everyone’s standard of living. There is no “cleaner technology.” ANY hydrocarbon burned with 100% efficiency will give you CO2 and H2O. You can’t change this basic chemistry.

  • litesong

    Keith…You really are in the ‘burn fossil fuels for energy’ mental block. Lots of energy comes from hydro, wind & solar. Lots of energy will come from tidal & wave power. Since nuclear isn’t actually a ‘burning’ process, lots of energy comes from nukes too.

  • Mike

    Keith is right. I’ve always understood, and agreed with the EPA regulating HC, CO, NOx from vehicle emissions. (Which I have more knowledge in). These emissions are hazardous to the public as well as the environment.

    However, CO2 is the conclusion of clean combustion. There is no way to “clean up” CO2 as there is with CO, HC, and NOx. In fact, my old VW Beetle puts out way more HC and CO than the most modern yet fuel inefficient gasoline vehicle on the market. But it probably produces far less CO2!


    First, one must know how HC and CO are formed. HC is “hydrocarbon”. It *is* the fuel. HC simply is fuel that didn’t burn at all. CO is partially burned fuel. During combustion, O is processed with HC. Ideally, the Oxygen combines with the Hydrogen to make H2O. More Oxygen combines with the Carbon to make CO2.

    But during combustion, sometimes, the process runs out of Oxygen, leaving CO, or Carbonmonoxide. This means that less CO2 was made. The same goes for HC. Sometimes, the process runs out of HC. Since combustion needs heat, fuel, and oxygen, combustion stops dead in its tracks leaving these emissions behind.

    When this happens, CO2 production is reduced. Introduce enough Oxygen into the combustion process, and less of these CO and HC compounds are left behind, and you get more CO2 and H2O.

    That’s what emissions control devices attempt to do. Whether is be the old AIR pump, or the catalytic converter, or even fuel injection to better regulate fuel to the combustion process. All of these devices attempt to add air to the process in some way and put it to work. In the case of the catalytic converter, it uses Oxygen to combine to HC and CO to form H2O and CO2. Keep in mind, my old VW doesn’t have any of these devices. Thus, it will produce less CO2, and more CO and HC.