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Climate Hustle

GHG emission mitigation solutions - a challenge for the Right?

Posted on 22 August 2011 by scaddenp

This article is an enlargement on a comment I made here on the "Are you are genuine skeptic or a climate denier" thread. It concerns the thorny issue of right-wing political values and climate change, but rather than discuss the politics, I am interested in possible solutions to GHG mitigation that don't offend the political Right.

In particuar, I've been thinking pretty hard about the question of mitigation policies for libertarians. Scratch a skeptic and you tend to find a right-wing/conservative. Furthermore, I struggled to find  libertarians that are not somewhere on the not-happening/not-us/not-bad spectrum. The conundrum faced was discussed here by Grypo along with some solutions from libertarian thinkers which didn't find favour with commentators. While I guess that it's possible that right-wing genes somehow provide a better understanding of climate physics than climate scientists have, it seems more likely to me that a clash with political ideology inhibits a proper evaluation of scientific evidence. Some of this might be simply a conservative resentment of a changing world, but I am hypothesising that for many (most?), the first inkling of global warming comes from hearing about an unacceptable proposed solution. If it is better to mitigate GHG emissions rather than adapt to rapid climate change (which certainly appears to be the case), then we need effective proposals that don't offend these values.

I am taking right-libertarian political theory in a nutshell to be:

  • The right to individual liberty of action providing it does not infringe on the rights of other rights-respecting citizens.
  • Individual responsibility for the consequences of these actions.
  • Government is as minimal as possible with roles of protection from external aggression, maintenence of legal system to enforce contracts, and such police as needed to protect citizens from rights violation by theft, fraud or force.

The solutions to climate change most acceptable to this group are ones that also promote the libertarian agenda. Suggestions I have heard so far include insurance companies regulating safety and privatization of roads with appropriate cost. Unfortunately, these mostly dont seem to be very effective solutions - they depend on somehow getting alternative energy costs below coal without raising coal price to be effective. But what if you can't? The problem is that the costs of producing power from coal don't include external and future costs, but there is no easy mechanism that I can think of for adding in uncertain future costs. What does right wing political theory do in these cases?

"Cap and trade" attempts to add these cost to carbon emissions, but it is an anathema to the Right for which it is designed to appease (even though cap and trade was originally an invention of free market conservatives). It is quite rightly pointed out that these schemes are complex and costly to administer with abundant opportunities for cheating, even with Big Government oversight. Pigovian taxes (much like Hansen's "fee and dividend" scheme) are another possibility but these also don't seem to find much favour.

Another popular proposal is to leave it to market to solve the problem with more energy-efficient products. This also fails the test of effectiveness. There is only so much that be gained from improving efficiency and market forces have already pushed many technologies (like planes) to close to their theoretical limits. In the USA, less than one quarter of energy use is residential anyway, and only about one third of that drives gadgets. Transportation, industry, and commerce are roughly equal consumers of the rest. Focusing on personal energy use will not effect major saving except in transport.

Killing subsidies on fossil fuels should be a no-brainer - in fact killing all industry subsidies and returning the savings as reduced taxes should be more than acceptable, since subsidies imply coercive support of government-favoured industries. Libertarian think-tanks like Heartland and Cato Institute should be waving this banner, but I suspect that subsidy removal would cut deeply into the pockets of important donors to these institutions. A bigger sticking point, however, is likely to be that subsidy removal is proposed by a Democrat president.

Government action is portrayed as theft of the rights of fossil fuel-rich property holders, but is their situation any different from asbestos-containing property holders? Our knowledge of the ill effects to the public has improved in both cases (and both cases, met with industry denial).

As far as I can see, libertarian theory struggles with issues where the free action of many individuals results in a violation of the rights of another. Examples would be passive smoking, pollution control, and yes, climate change. How can a citizen with say, a lung condition, sue those who choose to smoke in public, or not buy emissions-control for their vehicles? No one individual is at fault, and no mechanism exists for rights protection that I can see. It is interesting to see libertarians responding with denial of the adverse health effects caused by passive smoking, too.

Government action is permitted by the Right in the case of external aggression, so it seems self-preservation values override those of liberty. This I think explains the ghoulish preoccupation by AGW-activists with ice-melt and extreme weather. They are trying to trigger a self-preservation response. But suppose your country won't suffer too badly under the effects of climate change, and the really bad stuff happens elsewhere? Does rights-respecting only apply to citizens of your country? Your state even? If not, then how is this rights-conflict arbitrated? Do libertarians truly think that one group of people are free to create a problem while others should pay the cost of adaption?

In an ideal world, it should be possible for a person to choose to take no mitigating action in belief that science is wrong, provided that person is also willing to take their share of the responsibility for liabilities for adaption and compensation. However, I cant think of any mechanism by which this could work for a multi-generational problem like climate change. People object to paying for the "sins of their fathers" (though the same people appear to be quite happy to pass the costs to another generation).

This is a tough problem. We are born with a desire to do what we like and an instinct for self-preservation, whereas respecting others' rights and taking responsibility are learned behaviours. I would really like Right-wing supporters, and libertarians in particular, to face up to the problems above with some workable solutions instead of denying such problems exist. Solutions that would get whole-hearted support are needed, and for that I think values other than liberty/preservation need to be invoked.

So here is the challenge:

If you were convinced (this is a hypothetical question) that it was cheaper to mitigate GHG emissions than to adapt to rapid warming, what effective methods of doing this are compatible with your political values?

My definition of "effective" would be something equivalent to phasing out coal-fired generation over a period of 30-50 years but I am open to alternatives. Anything that would hold CO2 below 450ppm really.

If a skeptic cannot this (or the answer is "none, I'd rather pay the cost"), then it is hard to accept that their skepticism is truly based on a dispassionate appraisal of the scientific evidence.

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Comments 151 to 155 out of 155:

  1. Gary, I would reinforce what KR said - and also I notice that you do not appear to have responded to the extended answer to you at Science of Doom.

    As to answering the challenge here - well the point really is that if you cant respond to the hypothetical question, then it would appear that your lack of acceptance of climate theory is bound so deeply into your politics, that you would deny explanation even from Ramanathan. If are really open to scientific truth, then should be able to comtemplate what your choice of action should be.
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  2. In addition to the pointers given in moderation on the previous page, the question of OLR has been examined in the SkS post treating of empirical evidence for AGW. On this particular point, it referred Harries (2001), wich has seen a published update since, but also Philipona et al (2004), Evans et al (2006), Griggs (2004) and Chen (2007). I'd embed the links but I'm pressed for time. All the links are in the post by Dana from Sep 2010 "Empirically observed fingerprints of anthropogenic global warming."

    This took me only a fwe minutes to find, it may have taken slightly longer on Google but still would have been very easy. Why can't Gary Thomson find this on his own?
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  3. [ snip ]

    And why was my original comments not included here? It was evident that it was here for a while as comment #149 quoted some of my original comments. I'm not sure where to post this current comment since, at first, you told me to go here and now I'm told to go elsewhere. snip this commment where you must but tell me where to post this and I will.
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    Moderator Response: On your original comment I responded that it was off topic, and I left it up for a while so you could see that response. Relevant threads are pointed out by KR and a moderator in #149 and #150, and Philippe in #152.
  4. EM @ 10 -- This has nothing to do with your hypothesis on the carbon tax, but it still bears repeating: I'd be a little careful about throwing around simplistic labels like "left" and "right." I know plenty of people who call themselves "leftists" who are also in denial. I also know people on the actual left who fear the same thing you say leftists are trying to do: the removal of democratic control through fear-mongering.

    Any alternative energy source that could replace FF within the current economic configuration and size would necessarily deepen the crises of the current mode, easing the path toward socialism. That's how someone on the actual left would see it. The left, after all, is not interested in creating the second coming of Stalin (a dictatorship on top of a dictatorship of the representatives of the representatives of the representatives of the proletariat). They are interested in fair compensation for value created and no taxation without representation (i.e., no capitalism).

    As far as the right goes, the same problem applies, but much more amplified. People who call themselves "right" might be economic, social, or religious conservatives. There are reasons given by people in all three of those camps to either embrace or deny scientifically-described reality on any number of issues, and those reasons have nothing to do with the validity of the science (or, indeed, rationality, but we are human after all, in spite of my libertarian friends' attempts to deny it).

    Casually tossing around "left" and "right" will end up causing the thread to be five times the size that it should be, no matter what size that happens to be.
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  5. Why look, scaddenp, even the far right has no problem with being green. In a few years, in fact, we'll undoubtedly see them come out with their own final solution to global warming.
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  6. Interesting article

    on what convinced a liberatarian and his solution.

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  7. @scaddenp,

    On another thread you said, "If you can see an effective solution to mitigation of CO2 that the libertarians can live with, then please share in detail on this thread. Fresh ideas are extremely welcome."

    That's actually pretty easy. There are right wing Libertain Christians (probably right wing Libertarian athiests too) mitigating AGW in their own small way already. Yes that's right, right wing Libertarian free market capitalists making 6 and 7 figure income annually and mitigating AGW all at the same time.

    Don't be confused by the current crop of neo-conservatives currently in power in the US. They are not even conservatives really, just refugees from the left wing. They believe in high taxation and big government every bit as much as the most left wing liberal socialist.

    A substantial number of neoconservatives were originally moderate socialists associated with the right-wing of the Socialist Party of America (SP), and its successor, Social Democrats, USA (SDUSA).

    Neoconservatism ... originated in the 1970s as a movement of anti-Soviet liberals and social democrats in the tradition of Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Humphrey and Henry ('Scoop') Jackson, many of whom preferred to call themselves 'paleoliberals.' [After the end of the Cold War] ... many 'paleoliberals' drifted back to the Democratic center ... Today's neocons are a shrunken remnant of the original broad neocon coalition. Nevertheless, the origins of their ideology on the left are still apparent. The fact that most of the younger neocons were never on the left is irrelevant; they are the intellectual (and, in the case of William Kristol and John Podhoretz, the literal) heirs of older ex-leftists.

    Notable people associated with neoconservatism
    The list includes public people identified as personally neoconservative at an important time or a high official with numerous neoconservative advisers, such as George W. Bush and Richard Cheney.


    George W. Bush announces his $74.7 billion wartime supplemental budget request as Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz look on.
    Jeb Bush (R) – 43rd Governor of Florida (1999–2007) and 2016 presidential candidate[122]
    Newt Gingrich (R) – Representative from Georgia's 6th congressional district (1979–99), Speaker of the House of Representatives (1995–99) and 2012 presidential candidate[123]
    Lindsey Graham (R) – Representative from South Carolina (1995–2003), Senator (2003–present) and 2016 presidential candidate[124]
    Peter T. King (R) – Representative from New York's 3rd congressional district (1993–2013) and New York's 2nd congressional district (2013–present)[125]
    Jon Kyl (R) – Representative from Arizona (1987–95), U.S. Senator (1995–2013) and House Minority Whip (2007–13)[126]
    Joe Lieberman (I) – 21st Attorney General of Connecticut (1983–89), Senator from Connecticut (1989–2013) and 2000 Democratic vice presidential nominee[127]
    John McCain (R) – Representative from Arizona (1983–87), Senator (1987–present) and 2008 Republican presidential nominee[128]
    Tim Pawlenty (R) – 39th Governor of Minnesota (2003–11) and 2012 presidential candidate[129]
    Mike Rogers (R) – U.S. Representative from Michigan's 8th congressional district (2001–15)[130]
    Mitt Romney (R) – 70th Governor of (2003–07), 2008 presidential candidate and 2012 Republican presidential nominee[131][132][133]
    Jim Talent (R) – Representative from Missouri (1993–2001) and Senator (2002–07)[134]

    Government officials

    Elliot Abrams (R) – Foreign policy adviser.[135]
    William Bennett (R) – Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities (1981–85), Director of the National Drug Control Policy (1989–90) and U.S. Secretary of Education (1985–88)[136]
    William G. Boykin – Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence
    Eliot A. Cohen – U.S. State Department Counselor (2007–09), now Robert E. Osgood Professor of Strategic Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at the Johns Hopkins University.[137]
    Jeane Kirkpatrick (R) – Ambassador to the United Nations[138]
    Scooter Libby (R) – Chief–of–Staff to Dick Cheney[139]
    Victoria Nuland – Assistant Secretary of State, foreign policy adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney.[140]
    Richard Perle (R) – Assistant Secretary of Defense and lobbyist.[141]
    Karl Rove (R) – Senior Advisor to the President of the United States (2001–07) and White House Deputy Chief of Staff (2005–07)[142]
    Paul Wolfowitz (R) – State and Defense Department official[143]
    R. James Woolsey Jr. (D) – 16th Director of Central Intelligence, Under Secretary of the Navy and green energy lobbyist[1]

    So what does a true conservative, who also happens to be a Libertarian, mitigating AGW at a tidy profit in a free market look like?

    Meet the Farmer

    Be sure and watch all three episode of Meet the Farmer. A lot of what he talks about are related to food security and government regulations, but interspersed between stories of his battles with the government are a few references to the carbon footprint of his farm. And if you know what to look for, you can actually see causation as to why a system that wasn't necessarily developed for AGW mitigation, actually does mitigate AGW through biological carbon capture and storage (BCCS) and reduced emissions. See if you can spot this evidence.

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  8. Life's too short for me to watch to videos, but the question to ask is whether this is a solution that works for non-farmers and what at best it would do in US? (could you sequester all coal and transport emissions).

    For example. Here our are emissions are about 50% farm methane, 50% transport fuel (okay small amounts from coal/gas electricity production). Farming does not sequester carbon on our forest-based soils - numerous studies have shown this. I accept grazing can on prairie soils but not here. The only example of carbon gain was a switch to grazing on highly-degraded ex-cropped soil, and only in the short term.

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  9. @158 scaddenp,

     Its a pity you refuse to watch and see with your own eyes how to do what you stubbornly claim can't be done. I can describe it with either dry references or with quotes, but until you actually see it, you are very likely to not believe in its existance. It's just the way the human mind works.

    You are correct that in certain locations forest soils don't hold carbon. Primarily in tropical rainforests. Terra preta was a long ago solution for that. Grasslands no longer sequestering carbon are simply not being managed correctly. LOTS of evidence for that.  I posted the vid to show you how much different a properly managed grassland and forest ecosystem looks compared to what most people are familiar with. In this case the forest was temperate decidious. So the way it works is by increasing both the tree growth and generation a second ground layer of plant growth. (collecting more solar energy by photosynthesis) The grassland by optimizing the rapid growth stage of the grass growth curve. (which again increases photosynthesis)

    But this thread primarily is about politics and whether there are mitigation strategies acceptable to the right. So I guess the proper evidence to produce here would be a political piece showing that both the right and the left can unite around this strategy. None better than the Washington Post for that!

    How America’s most famous farmer can appeal to left, right and center

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  10. RedBaron @159:

    "Grasslands no longer sequestering carbon are simply not being managed correctly."

    That statement suggests that there is no upper limit on the amount of carbon that can be sequestered in grasslands, a suggestion which is obviously false.  At an upper limit, grassland on a soil composed entirely of carbon to a depth of 12 meters will clearly not allow the sequestration of more carbon into the soil.  In practical terms, the upper limit will be very far below 100% carbon content.  Further, given the rapid replacement of much of the world's grasslands with either horticulture, nor non-intensive pasturage (ie, regimes which you argue, with substantial evidence, are inferior in soil storage to native grasslands with native herds of large herbivores) has contributed less than 20% of the anthropogenic increase in CO2 (that being the total contribution from LUC including deforestation); the saturation level must sequester, if extended over all of the world's natural grasslands, a small fraction of total anthropogenic emissions.

    That is not to be sneezed at.  If it can only sequester 20% of cumulative anthropogenic emissions - that would be a very large step forward to tackling climate change.  It is, however, no panacea, and should not be promoted as one.

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  11. Red Baron - I will respond to your optimism on soils on another thread in due course. I am travelling to head office and with it a chance to talk to the scientist here most knowledgable on this area.

    But to topic at hand, I asked for effective - something preventing any further build up of CO2 in atmosphere and if Tom is correct, then this is not. I am still waiting for the libertarians to put forward any workable proposal for actually limiting emissions to this level. Suppose no non-governmental solution is actually possible? Would you rather see world go to hell in a handbasket rather than yeilding on precious ideological position?

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  12. And apologies for video, but I can read many many times faster than I can look/listen. I find video tiresome, a pain to go back and check if I missed understanding. I can find better uses for 30 minutes of my time.

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  13. @ Tom and scaddenp,

    #1 I agree it is not a panacea. I have stated as such several times on these pages. I actually think we should be taking a 3 pronged approach. BCCS in agriculture, conversion to non fossil fuel based energy, restoration of natural ecosystems wordwide. Theoretically all 3 potentially could work by themselves given enough time, but each has reasons why none can be done 100% at current technology levels. Also we may not have enough time.

    Right now we can't rewild the whole planet because we do not currently have a way to feed ourselves without farmland. That technology is in its infancy with certain hydroponics systems and lab grown synthetic meat. And currently much more energy intensive, energy we currently get from fossil fuels! And it's cost prohibitive as well. Not to mention many species are completely extinct already and restoring those ecosystems given the trophic cascade effect will be costly and difficult. So we can't rewild everything. But there are large tracts of land we can rewild.

    Same goes for eliminating fossil fuels. The current energy systems world wide can largely be replaced by renewables and nuclear, but each has it's own limitations and/or is cost prohibitive at current technology levels. This is more feasible than rewilding the whole planet, but still by itself very unlikely to be accomplished 100%. 0% emissions might also not be fast enough due to reinforcing feedbacks. But we certainly can dramatically reduce our dependance on fossil fuels.

    BCCS is the most feasible and fastest of all at current technology levels, but alone also unlikely to be enough. I estimate at best if practised perfectly on 100% of all 5 Giga Hectares of agricultural land around the world; it could offset between 62% and 250% of all annual fossil fuel emissions worldwide and would take a minimum of 3-10 years to reach even that rate, based on case studies of farmers in the field already doing it. That assumes a 100% agreement by all farmers governments and consumers and a high learning curve that allows new farmers to learn all in 1 season. Reality of course is much less on all those points. So even that is unlikely to be enough alone. We can however start changing agriculture to these more profitable regenerative models of production.

    So in my opinion none of these strategies is likely to work alone, but if all 3 are done to the best of our current ability; ecosystem restoration projects, fossil fuel reductions and biological carbon capture and storage in agriculture; I do contend the problem is very solvable even at this late date. 

    However, when people make factual errors in descibing how BCCS functions, I will in every case try to correct them. That does not mean my comments should be taken to mean I think BCCS is a panacea. Just correcting misconceptions about how it works. No different than you correcting a AGW denialist stuck on some pseudo science point they heard somewhere.

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  14. I am heartened to find some rightwingers taking this challenge up in the US See

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