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2018 SkS Weekly Climate Change & Global Warming News Roundup #22

Posted on 2 June 2018 by John Hartz

A chronological listing of news articles posted on the Skeptical Science Facebook Page during the past week.

Editor's Pick

It’s time to think seriously about cutting off the supply of fossil fuels

A new paper makes the case for supply-side climate policy.

Oil Platforms 

There is a bias in climate policy shared by analysts, politicians, and pundits across the political spectrum so common it is rarely remarked upon. To put it bluntly: Nobody, at least nobody in power, wants to restrict the supply of fossil fuels.

Policies that choke off fossil fuels at their origin — shutting down mines and wells; banning new ones; opting against new pipelines, refineries, and export terminals — have been embraced by climate activists, picking up steam with the Keystone pipeline protests and the recent direct action of the Valve Turners.

But they are looked upon with some disdain by the climate intelligentsia, who are united in their belief that such strategies are economically suboptimal and politically counterproductive.

Now a pair of economists has offered a cogent argument that the activists are onto something — that restrictive supply-side (RSS) climate policies have unique economic and political benefits and deserve a place alongside carbon prices and renewable energy supports in the climate policy toolkit.

“In our experience,” the authors write, “the climate policy community has for too long been excessively narrow in its preference for certain kinds of policy instruments (carbon taxes, cap-and trade), largely ignoring the characteristics of such instruments that affect their political feasibility and feedback effects.” I have written the same thing many times, so I think a climate policy argument that takes politics seriously deserves a close look.

To understand it, it helps to have a framework for classifying climate policies.

It’s time to think seriously about cutting off the supply of fossil fuels by David Roberts, Energy & Environment, Vox, May 31, 2018

Links posted on Facebook

Sun May 27, 2018

Mon May 28, 2018

Tue May 29, 2018

Wed May 30, 2018

Thu May 31, 2018

Fri June 1, 2018

Sat June 2, 2018

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Comments 1 to 7:

  1. New Zealand has just implemented a ban on issuing any new permits for offshore oil and gas exploration. This supply side policy has had the predictable push back form business interests and their apologists in the media, but not hugely so, and it has not reduced the governments standing in public opinion polls. (I admit this is all a shameless promotion of my country).

    A combination of supply and demand side measures does seem the best approach to me. This is often used to resolve housing market inflation by increasing the supply of housing while dampening demand until things meet in the middle at stable prices. It also seems better strategically to use several tools, in case one tool doesn't work as well as predicted.

    Turning off the supply side of fossil fuels would intuitively seem the the simplest and best solution, but do it too fast and it would be too hard for the economy to adjust, and do it at a more managed pace and it will lead to more fuel efficient and smaller cars, and ditto more efficient electricity generation, thus prolonging emissions. Therefore you have to have demand side measures that make electric cars and renewable energy attractive, such as subsidies or tax exemptions. The UK have subsidised renewable energy with good results.

    To fund the subsidies a carbon tax makes sense, whether this is on oil companies, or more at the petrol pump as a demand side measure. I personally favour a carbon tax that gives some dividends back to the public, but also pays for renewable energy subsidies.

    I suppose its also about the art of the possible, and very heavy supply side measures would get huge push back from industry, but this is so frustrating and shows the grip fossil fuel lobbies have over politicians.

    Emissions trading is pure demand side management, and it doesn't really impress me much. It does have the virtue of simply setting a price and letting industy innovate the best solutions and in theory could be a stand alone climate solution, but it inevitably seems to lead to closed door bargaining with industry interests, and multiple industry exemptions, and is a very opaque process. I have a gut feeling that even with a high carbon price, it is just a very slow mechanism for the various price signals to trickle down into actual results, and time is a factor in the climate problem. But it could be part of a range of measures.

    I also don't like the idea of relying on just one mechanism, and emissions trading is a very complex mechanism. Commonsense tends to suggest its best to  have a range of supply and demand side measures.

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  2. @nigelj

    " this is so frustrating and shows the grip fossil fuel lobbies have over politicians..."

    Think a moment. Why did an FF lobby come into being? While that can be answered in many ways depending on which axe is to be honed, it ultimately exists only because it has millions of people who want to buy the end products. Politicians are an expression of who the people actually are, rather than who they say they are. Of course, $$ for one's campaign make a big difference, but no one is forcing people to vote for the candidate with the biggest, most polished campaign.** Those pols, in turn, represent most of the stuff people vote for on the ground by spending their cash on, such as fossil fuel, mass quantities of cheap food, and so forth. Those industries providing stuff the people demand then have cash, some of which goes to lobbying. 

    ** You'll note that in the last US campaign, one side had (perhaps grudging) use of the most adavanced campaign machine ever assembled, plus the might of Wall Street, Silicon Valley and Hollywood. They couldn't possibly lose, they were The New Lords Born To Rule.  Yet came the test, and the crown slip'd through the talons of the princely posse. 

    -— Edward Teller warned of climate change in the '50s.  It would have been trivially easy to change course then, doing it by small, painless adjustments.   

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  3. To defend the decision to support the Trans Mountain Pipeline to expand the rate of export of diluted bitumen from Alberta, Canadian Leaders have declared that to have a resource like that and not profit from it would be a tragedy. That sounds reasonable and can undeniably be popular and more profitable.

    All leaders potentially able to temporarily profit from damaging unsustainable 'resource exploitation' can claim the same thing. And the pursuers of profit and tax revenue can be expected to support each other making such claims.

    And it is almost always cheaper, easier or quicker to try to benefit from an unsustainable activity. And cheaper, easier and quicker can easily become more popular than alternatives.

    So the real problem is that competition for popularity and profitability can be expected to develop a chain of damaging unsustainable activity, developing massive resistance to correcting the profitable and popular activity.

    That reality is powerful evidence of the unacceptability of what so many powerful, wealthy and hoping to powerful and wealthy people want everyone to believe.

    If less ethical behaviour is allowed to compete in games of popularity and profitability, then ethics will suffer because of the competition, the less ethical proving that their way is more likely to win more.

    Requiring winners/leaders in business and politics to be the most ethical, to ethically lead, is the best chance for humanity to sustainably develop a better future. The richer, and people with more power and influence, should be required to prove that they are pushing the richest and people in the positions of most power and influence to be held to the highest degree of awareness and understanding of reality and what is required to develop a sustainable better future for all of humanity.

    It should be legally possible for the biggest Winners to have their ability to influence things terminated until they learn to 'Be the Best', regardless of their claims that they are acting in accordance with the current laws. Getting away with less ethical behaviour is the reason laws get corrected, and the correction of the laws should not be required before a less ethical winner can be corrected.

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  4. Driving by @2, I would say all those lobby groups can be a problem, whether fossil fuels, silicon valley, all pushing their interests, sometimes fair minded interests, sometimes pernicious interests. Lobbying has taken over politics, entire books have been written on this. Yes they represent "us",  but a lot of it is deceitful, and behind closed doors. 

    However the main problem is it's so tempting to take campaign money from various groups or powerful individuals, and this is necessary for all but very wealthy politicians, and then you are beholden to those groups. People may say they aren't,  but there will be huge subconscious pressure.

    The answer is strict caps on campaign donations, or better still tax payer funded election campaigns. But this probably won't happen in America.

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  5. Cutting off the supply is a bit draconian.  All that is necessary is to edge the price of fossil fuels up so that more and more people shift to the now cheaper renewable options.  A simple way to do this is to transfer the huge fossil fuel subsidies of various types from fossil fuel to renewables but this will never happen as long as we have the present system of big vested interests being able to finance the election campaigns (and other blandisments??) of the politicians.  The principle is quite simple.  Who pays the piper calls the tune.

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    Moderator Response:

    [DB] Self-promotional link snipped.

  6. @nigelj #4 

    Agreed, and also agreed that this feature probably won't change.  Run "publicly financed campaigns" by the soldiers of General Public and they'll say "You want to take my money to pay those crooks to get elected."

    When I mentioned the $3 checkoff (tosses $3 of your tax into the next Presidential election matching fund) to the friend who is probably the closest to average said, in effect, that he didn't want to give then any more of his $. Any further discussion on that topic, brick wall. 

    whoops, I'm going off topic here. /end

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  7. william@5,

    There is a more effective action than 'edging up the price of fossil fuels'. But it also faces perception challenges.

    Leaders simply acting to increase the cost of anything face 'popularity challenges'. Their opponents can easily win motivated sure to vote voters simply by saying they will cancel the increased costs (almost always called a tax to trigger an emotion based response because everyone has been trained to dislike taxes) imposed on the poor consumer by that nasty leader, or in a place like Alberta say they would never act in a way that challenges the profitability of the local fossil fuel industry, they would do everything they could to support such an industry be as popular and profitable as possible.

    A better action is the Fee-Rebate approach, where the carbon fee is redistributed equally to every citizen. With that approach the carbon fee can actually be rapidly increased because people should understand that only the people consuming more than the average amount pay a penalty, and the ones consuming far less than average get a big bonus.

    That is the policy implemented in Alberta. And they called it the carbon levy and rebate program. But the Unite the Right opponents of Alberta's current leadership are succeeding is getting people to call it a Tax and only see the cost side of that policy. I regularly come across Albertans who say the carbon tax (they do not call it a levy) penalizes the poor. When I explain that the poorest actually benefit from the program, some people shift swiftly to declaring it to be an unacceptable wealth transfer (flipping almost instantly from declaring their interest in the plight of the poor to clearly disliking actions that help the poor - because their primary motivation is selfish and their claim making is just misleading marketing, and they know that it is)

    What that indicates to me is that the socioeconomic political systems currently ruling the planet encourage people to develop more extreme selfish self-interest. And that selfishness seriously challenges a person's ability to be helpful. It can lead them to critically think about how things 'negatively affect them personally' and be skeptical of any action that does not 'appear to them' to increase their opportunity to continue or increase the activities they developed a desire and taste for enjoying.

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