In Search of Honesty

Both major presidential candidates have endorsed CO2 abatement targets for the US, with Obama advocating for the most stringent — the "20 by 50" target by which the US would reduce CO2 emissions by 80% in the next 40 years.

Given that they support such targets, the candidates’ public positions on gasoline prices should be something like this:

Yeah, I know that $4 gas is painful.  But do you know what?  Gas prices are going to have to go a LOT higher for us to achieve the CO2 abatement targets I am proposing, so suck it up.  Just to give you a sense of scale, the Europeans pay nearly twice as much as we do for gas, and even at those levels, they are orders of magnitude short of the CO2 abatement I have committed us to achieve.  Since late 2006, gas prices in this country have doubled, and demand has fallen by perhaps 5%.  That will probably improve over time as people buy new cars and change behaviors, but it may well require gasoline prices north of $20 a gallon before we meet the CO2 goal I have adopted.  So get ready.

You have heard Obama and McCain say this?  Yeah, neither have I.  At least Obama was consistent enough not to adopt McCain’s gas tax holiday idea.  But it’s time for some honesty here, not that I really expect it. 

We need to start being a lot clearer about the real costs of CO2 abatement and stop this mindless "precautionary principle" jargon that presupposes that there are no costs to CO2 abatement.  When proponents of the precautionary principle say "Well, CO2 abatement is like insurance — you buy insurance on your house, don’t you," I answer, "Not if the insurance costs more than the cost to replace the house, I don’t."

  • Luis Dias

    Peak Oil and Peak Gas and Peak Coal will do (and are already) much much more for CO2 abatement than any other political farcical position that any leader will think of.

  • John Galt

    The one thing the American public doesn’t want to hear from politicians is that we have to cut back or do without. They want painless answers to all our problems.

    When people look to the government for solutions, it means they want somebody else to cut back and somebody else to foot the bill. Fighting climate change no longer is a priority when it comes out of our pocket.

    We are decades away from peak oil, peak coal or peak gas. But I’m pretty certain that as the cost of carbon fuels rises the cost of alternate energy sources will become more competitive. No government action necessary.

    But we really need to address the root question — are carbon emissions really causing any harm?

  • AllenC

    Remember the rule. Whenever there’s a proposal for robbing Peter to pay Paul, Paul will always be in favor of it. So it is with AGW, the other guy should pay while for me its business as usual. Given that the whole AGW business is a scam all of these CO2 cuts are really pretty silly aren’t they. To use a quote I read yesterday, “Why assume malice when simple stupidity will explain it”.

  • You’ll never hear a politician say this because, in part, it isn’t necessarily true, or least it’s a very narrow picture.

    The point behind cap & trade or even a carbon tax isn’t to blindly raise prices and punish consumers. It’s to make cleaner energy more cost competitive so that new capital investments, cars, power plants, etc become realistic. Once that switch starts to happen, total costs come down, in part because the fuel inputs for clean energy are, in the long run, can be as cheap as dirty fuels are today. Just as gasoline became a lot cheaper once the U.S. built a substantial supply chain and delivery system.

    Here’s an example: in the early 1990’s, Santiago, Chile established a basic cap-and-trade system to reduce particulate matter and smog, which because of Santiago’s geography was a huge problem. At heart of the problem was uncontrolled boilers run by small businesses throwing out God knows what. Anyway, costs rose at first, of course: enough to give incentive to build a propane distribution system (which was cleaner than whatever they were burning before). Once the switch was on, the permit price collapsed entirely around 1998. There’s lots of debate over how effective the program was and could have been (DEFINITELY wasn’t perfect), but I think the market response was very instructive.

  • John Galt

    Cap-and-trade is a very dangerous scheme. It creates a new, scarce commodity which will be controlled by the government. It leaves us open to more corruption and more favoritism by politicians and bureaucrats. Cap-and-trade amounts to a hidden tax and will affect everything because everything we consume or produce uses carbon fuels somewhere along the line.

    Cap-and-trade is not free market, either. It will be strictly regulated by the government. Cap-and-trade for carbon emissions is nothing like regulating pollutants in a local area, either. If the goal is to reduce carbon emissions because of (alleged) global climate change than the cap-and-trade system must be global, also. It does no good to reduce our emissions if emissions go up elsewhere but it will cripple our economy.

    Perhaps the only thing you really need to know about cap-and-trade is it was favored by Enron and they lobbied for it extensively.

  • Leon Brozyna

    Last month, when the Warner-Lieberman bill setting up a cap and trade scheme was up for consideration, I had suggested that the phrase, “The Al Gore Enrichment Act” better described it. Or perhaps Enron II. Any cap and trade scheme seems less about environmental considerations and more about tapping into a new ‘hidden’ revenue stream {taxes}. Which is the way politicians always seem to react to environmental considerations. In Europe the means of meeting Kyoto targets was a cap and trade scheme where the target levels were set so high that they’d never bring down CO2 emissions, but they would bring in revenue as well as create a phony and contrived ‘market’ {much like the original cap and trade scheme in sulphur dioxide in the US helped in the build up of the original Enron}.

    In the US a similar dose of stupidity can be seen on a much simpler level in those states that impose a fee {often 5¢} per container {glass, plastic, and aluminum}. This is their means of ensuring recycling. Of course some people still find it more convenient to just continue to throw away these containers in the regular trash. This gives the politicians what they really wanted in the first place. More revenue from those containers that aren’t recycled. I didn’t face this problem when I was living in Georgia. There we could just crush up our cans, for example, and turn them in to a recycling trailer where we’d get paid {not some slick politician} pennies on the pound. I tasked my son with taking care of the cans (crushing & bagging them}; then, when we turned them in he reaped the reward and kept the proceeds as a supplement to his allowance.

    Maybe the solution to environmental problems is to recycle our politicians.

  • Mesa Econoguy

    Yeah, just like Leonard Nimoy found, there is no honesty in politics, only “the needs of the many.”

    Get it? In Search of…Leonar…

    Screw it. I have to go to my car…..

  • The only way to reduce CO2 emissions by 80% is to return to the lifestyle and culture of the early 1900s. No cars, no airplains, limited electricity. People will have to walk to work. Food will have to be grown very close to home, back to root vegitable all winter. Few, if any, electrical appliances like computers, toasters, washing machines, and clothes dryers.

    While this might seem doable, people should consider the ramifications. No cars really means no vehicles, period. No hybrids, no electric vehicles allowed either since hybrids still use fuel and electric vehicles would place to great a load on the wind and solar generation plants. Also not allowed would be alcohol burning vehicles, unless we can figure out a way to make the fuel without using any petroleum products. No vehicles also means no fire trucks and no ambulances unless they are horse drawn. Farmers will have to return to the horse and ox for tilling and harvesting. Someone will suggest that we all ride horses, no way, they produce copious amounts of methane, especially considering the number of horses required to replace current automobility.

    No airplanes includes helicopters and private jets. This would have the benefit of dramatically reducing the spread of infectious diseases. It would also dramitically reduce the jet-setting adventures of our elite. That trip to Antarctica to annoy the penguins would be out, unless you want to spend the better part of two years to get there.

    We would also reduce ocean crossings to sail powered craft.

    Without drastic improvements in battery storage, electricity will only be available for emergency uses after dark, with the possible exception of windy nights. Google and Yahoo and the other large server farms would have to find new sources of energy, the available hydro-electric power would be too precious to waste on such frivolities. So we can all say goodbye to Mr. Gore’s internet.

    Just the thought of no private jets for the elite should scuttle the whole thing. How would Gore and Kennedy Jr. flit from place to place, oh they wouldn’t need to would they, their jobs would be done.

    All of this would be mute anyway since China and India would continue to use oil, coal, and gas while Europe and North America languish in the dark. Perhaps nuclear plants could be used, but they are just too scary for the environmental crowd to accept.

    Unless, and until, we find a new, yet unknown, source of clean power for all purposes, I just don’t see a way of reducing emmissions by 80%, that is back to the levels of the early 1900s. A side benefit of the newly cleaned air over Europe and North America would be a reduction of aerosols, effectively brightening the skys and allowing more solar radiation to heat the earth. And after all of that we might reduce warming by what amount? One or two tenths of a degree?