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Obama's Cruel Tax On The Poor

Orson Scott Card:

It's all in the name of Obama's True Belief in Global Warming. He says it himself -- he'll take coal off the table as an "ideological matter." Even if technology allows us to use coal in a clean way, he's opposed to pursuing it.

He wants to put a huge penalty on companies that emit carbon -- which means that starting up new coal-powered electrical plants will be prohibitively expensive. In Obama's own words, "It will bankrupt them."

"Cap and trade" plans have already been tried, and they don't work -- they cost too much, and people find ways to get around them. But Obama promises us that he'll take that failed idea and be "as aggressive, if not more aggressive, than anybody else's" plan.

In other words, if it doesn't work, let's do more of it!

This is Obama the New Puritan. We've found his real religion: Political and Environmental Correctness.

It's more important to him to eliminate coal than to find practical solutions. Why? Because coal is "bad." Our groupthinking "intellectual" elite thinks they are post-religious -- but they believe in sin and hate the sinners.

As I said, deeply misguided. But the people get the government they deserve.


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Paul Milenkovic wrote:

By the same reasoning, we will need to take wind power "off the table." Really.

Wind power has something called a capacity factor. If Boone Pickens' 4 GW wind farm has a capacity factor of 30 percent (the average power you get owing to wind variability is 30 percent of the rated nameplate power), on average it is contributing 1.2 GW to base load. Mr. Pickens told Steve Forbes that his wind farm "is the equivalent of two nuclear power plants", I guess two smaller sized nuclear plants owing to capacity factor.

The other aspect to wind is something called "market penetration", the percent of kilowatts generated that come from wind. Even if we cover the landscape with these things, the max market penetration is probably when the nameplate capacity of the wind farms equals 100 % of base load. If you built yet more windfarms, there would be times when you had nothing to do with the power. Wind would be supplying a larger percentage of total kilowatts, but the capacity factor would be even lower, and in the end wind would be even more costly a capital expenditure.

So, if you built wind up to 100 percent of baseload, assumed (an optimistic) 30 percent capacity factor, you would reduce carbon by 30 percent. If you replaced a 30 percent efficient coal plant with a 40 percent supercritical-steam coal plant, you would reduce carbon by only 25 percent, and we are told we are not allowed to do that.

If people are really serious about reducing carbon and averting global warming, a 25 percent reduction from supercritical steam or even a 30 percent reduction from the most optimistic scenario for wind would be, in the words of The Candidate, "chump change." If one is serious about carbon, one needs several-fold reductions, not 25-30 percent.

And the 30 percent reduction from wind is optimistic. The European experience is they are getting a 20 percent capacity factor, and they are only getting 15 percent in Germany, having the largest installed base of wind power right now of anybody. Boone may be right that the US is the "Saudi Arabia" of wind and that we could count on 30 percent whereas the "wind resource" is much poorer in Europe. It is also surmised that the more you grow wind, the more you use up the really good sites and go to poorer ones, as they probably do in Germany, so the 30 percent carbon saving of wind may be optimistic.

One may ask, why not do both wind and supercritical steam coal plants? Well, why not. The combination of supercritical steam coal plants plus wind could cut carbon in half (now one is talking), only a Certain Candidate (maybe both of them) have ideological blinders to that sort of thing. You know, if you have a massive wind program, you need a massive fossil backup for the times when the wind doesn't blow, and the European experience is that one needs 100 percent backup for the times when the wind stops on a continental scale for weeks at a time (sort of like the financial crisis where the bad investments of different sorts managed not to average out).

Furthermore, Boone Pickens seems to think that of the half of power generated by coal, is wind plants would be supplanting the other third of power generated by natural gas (with the remainder nuclear, hydro). The idea is the compressed natural gas would be widely used for transportation fuel, cutting the import of oil. Now on what political planet does he think that the wind power would be largely backed up with coal power and that we would cut back on the use of natural gas?

When I visit the State Historical Society building, there is a big shrine to the New Deal, with pictures of some of the TVA hydro dams and turbine galleries.

Admittedly, the TVA was "socialism" that the Republicans were against. But the TVA was massive dams, hydro plants, later coal and nuclear plants, and I understand that TVA is leading the way with a new nuclear plant. The new breed of Democrats is against the TVA and the New Deal, I suppose. Oh, I know, the Democrats (our local congressperson on TV) want "green power" to "put people back to work." The TVA put people back to work developing real power using the best tech of the day, and the electricity refined the uranium to end WW-II. This green power may create jobs for people, but it is not clear to me it will make meaningful economic contributions like the FDR-style un-green power. Oh how times have changed.

Karl Hallowell wrote:

Ok, while I grant it is foolish to implement a cap and trade system for an activity which generates zero harm, but there does seem to be, I'd even use the word "growing", evidence that carbon dioxide emissions (and reductions in carbon storage) in the quantity humanity produces cause harm to the environment and human populations and that the US is responsible for a considerable portion of those emissions.

Assuming that evidence holds out adn there is a global warming problem, then what's the problem with a market based approach that helps solve the problem?

Carl Pham wrote:

Karl, I would take issue with one or two premises of your question. First, that the evidence is "growing" that anthropogenic CO2 is causing global warming. As far as I know, the evidence is static, and pretty much what it's always been, namely:

(1) Atmospheric [CO2] measured atop Mauna Kea and a few other places has been growing for the past century, roughly.

(2) Global mean temperatures may have been increasing over the same time period, although, there are huge fluctuations and temporary (?) reversals that make it hard to know for sure, which is why in the 1970s when the trend seemed downward people predicted man's influence on the climate was bringing on a new Ice Age.

(3) There is an obvious laboratory mechanism (the IR absorption of CO2 molecules) that would let the former cause the latter.

To be sure, people have accumulated more evidence about (1) and (2), but that doesn't amount to stronger evidence for (3). The difficulty is in the connection between the lab mechanism and what is actually happening in a fiendishly complex system.

We're talking the equivalent for the the climate of figuring out what causes cancer, and how to fix it. We know radiation and certain chemicals turn cells in the petri dish cancerous -- but how does that work out in the whole living organism, where there are many complex feedback loops that don't exist for the single cell? Hard to say. In the same way, although it's obvious a lab bottle full of CO2 absorbs IR and gets hot, we don't know if that explains what's happening in the entire global ecosystem. It's not a bad first guess, but it's far from proven, and, unfortunately, it's not clear to me that the evidence supporting it has gotten any stronger than "it seems reasonable to me." And it is reasonable, but the history of science is littered with the corpses of "reasonable" theories that turned out to be false (phlogiston, classical mechanics, and Galilean relativity come to mind).

Second, I would take issue with your premise that the only reasonable solution is to reverse CO2 accumulation. First, it's madness to extrapolate CO2 emission on a straight line forever, and conclude that if we keep going it will top 1% and global temps will rise until the interior of continents is a desert. For one thing, the fossil fuels won't last that long.

How long are we going to be burning fossil fuels, then? That's a question worth asking. If the answer is only one more century, before we will turn to a better power source anyway, then we have to ask what (further) damage another century of full-on CO2 emission will do. The answer might be: not a whole lot, in which case, the problem doesn't need to be "solved." This is essentially the equivalent of pausing before you treat a slow-growing prostate cancer in a 85-year-old man with heart troubles. Should you really put him through the agony of surgery and chemo, when the chances that he'll die of that disease are slim to none?

Let's assume the only serious result of CO2 emission is a warmer climate. Is that so bad? The Earth's climate has changed over its history far more than even the most pessimistic AGW predictions. Maybe the right thing to do is learn how to cope with that. If nothing else, it will serve us in good stead when the Sun varies its output a bit. It's worth keeping in mind the influence of even tiny variations in solar output dwarf any conceivable man-made effect. Maybe if the training wheels are coming off the bike we should put our effort into learning to balance. Be useful if we ever get to Mars.

memomachine wrote:


1. Difference between correspond and correlate.

2. Take your pick:

A. Earth is 3 degrees warmer and fewer people die of cold.

B. Earth is 3 degrees colder and more people die of hunger because less land is available for agriculture.

3. The whole CO2 thing is based on computer models.

The current financial crisis is derived from mistakes in financial computer models.

See a correlation there?

Scott Noble wrote:

Carl, as usual your analysis is thorough, but the CO2 phenomenon can also be explained using CO2 in the oceans. Take two cans of pop, one refrigerated and one warm. Open both, an obviously the warm one will be flat, showing much more outgassing. Yes, there are carbonates in the ocean that are part of the cycle, but the analogy holds. Indeed, when you look at the Hawaii data, the annual CO2 cycle (summer to winter) swamps out the slight linear increase noticed during the past few of decades.

IIRC, recently methane (~ 50 times more warming than CO2) is increasing even faster than CO2. Given that significant methane is also stored in the oceans, I think both phenomenon can be explained by solar warming, along with the other planets showing similar temperature gains.

Carl Pham wrote:

Scott, I've always wondered if the causal arrow runs the other way. That is, maybe the Earth is getting warmer and that's causing the CO2 to go up, not the other way around. Wouldn't that be a hoot?

memomachine wrote:


"Scott, I've always wondered if the causal arrow runs the other way. That is, maybe the Earth is getting warmer and that's causing the CO2 to go up, not the other way around. Wouldn't that be a hoot?"

I thought there was historical evidence that CO2 increases trail temperature increases.

I seem to remember reading it on though I can't remember the precise post.

Here's a relative recent post of his on methane cycles:

*shrug* in case you haven't seen it or something similar already.

Carl Pham wrote:

Geez, memo, I don't know how you'd establish such a thing as that CO2 increases trail temperature increases. I mean, suppose I draw two curves going upward with different vertical axes (one being temperature, the other CO2 concentration). Here's some (fake) data:

year temp CO2
1970 19.0 330
1975 19.1 335
1980 19.3 342
1985 19.5 350

So which curve "leads" the other? Damfino.

The only easy way I can imagine you could do it would be if one curve had some curious, unique blip that was reproduced some time later in the other:

year temp CO2
1970 19.0 330
1975 19.1 600!!
1980 25.5!! 342
1985 19.5 350

OK, now I could believe CO2 leads temp. But I've never heard of any "signature" events like this being reproduced closely in both sets of data. That doesn't mean they don't exist, of course, but even in general it seems an unlikely proposition. I mean, there are huge natural fluctuations in both data (seasonal, weather, sampling error) and the fluctuations certainly aren't correlated, so I would expect them to mask any signature blips.

Even then, we have the other possible explanation, which is that a third process is driving both temp and CO2 changes -- and it takes slightly longer to show up in temp than in CO2.

Karl Hallowell wrote:

Carl, here's my take.

1) We have improving models of climate and atmospheric thermodynamics. Among other things, we are pretty confident that an increase in CO2 concentration in the atmosphere results in less heat radiating to space and a warmer climate.

2) We have improving models of the carbon cycle. Accounting for where the CO2 comes from and goes is essential to understanding this problem, such as it is. Current estimates seem to indicate that the growth in CO2 is of the same order of magnitude as the human contribution to the carbon cycle.

3) We are collecting data both from Earth and space. Data about the climate of the past is also improving. This among other things indicates that CO2 are unusually high even given a climate record hundreds of thousands of years long. Sure it could be a coincidence, but it's more likely to be the result of human activity.

4) The effects of global warming, especially on human populations, are starting to be understood.

No offense to skeptics, but I think there's a very good chance that global warming exists and is mostly driven by human activity. Further, if that is true, then it is likely that such activity will generate some degree of externalities. Effects such as increased sea level are clearly harmful due to the greater likelihood of flooding and storm damage.

First, it's madness to extrapolate CO2 emission on a straight line forever, and conclude that if we keep going it will top 1% and global temps will rise until the interior of continents is a desert. For one thing, the fossil fuels won't last that long.

1% or 10,000 ppm is crazy levels of CO2. The CO2 levels are high enough to be toxic to current humans (it's double the long term "time weighted average" allowed by OSHA). Models (whether correct or not) are predicting effects far shy of that level.

There's also the matter of changing oceanic chemistry (becomes more acidic as CO2 levels grow in atmosphere). Technically not climate change but it is a straightfoward observation and source of potential harm.

Then the question is who should pay for the externality? The default is whoever is effected. But it strikes me that since the producer of CO2 is imposing on a large group of people, the producer should at least be partially responsible for harm caused by the marginal increase of CO2.

Carl Pham wrote:

Well, Karl, I'm skeptical. Are these models "improved" in the sense that they're far more detailed? Or "improved" in the sense that they have more empirical verification, direct proofs of key assumptions?

I'm guessing the former, although I could be wrong. I know the field only in general, not in specific detail. Usually when people "improve" complex models they mean they've added more decimal points, or grid points, or have color graphs instead of black and white. It's not often that models improve in the sense that they're backed by more solid experimental tests. For one thing, the more experimentally-verified links you have, the less complex a model you have to build, generally speaking, so people speak less of improving their model and more of dispensing with models altogether.

Once upon a time, we built models to explain combustion, or the properties of gases, or why compound A reacted with compound B. Not anymore, because we just directly measure those things.

As I said, I could be wrong.

But further than that, I think your response even to a genuine and proveable AGW is imaginatively hobbled. Rising sea levels, for example, are by themselves a neutral phenomenon, neither "good" nor "bad." They are a disaster for some (owners of beachfront property, let us say) but an opportunity for others (owners of property further inland, ha ha). Moving growing zones suck if you're in a fertile zone transforming to desert, but great if you're in a tundra transforming to breadbasket. One species' extinction is another emerging species' new-found niche. A seller's tragic loss of profit is a buyer's fortunate bargain buy. Et cetera.

Life is change. The climate has changed, far beyond the bounds of AGW predictions, many times, and it will again. We live in a dynamic system, next to a slightly variable star. As I said, it's time we learned to balance, not attempt to shovel back the tide every time it comes in, whether or not we helped cause it.

That doesn't mean moderation of CO2 emission might (or might not) make sense. It means you need to consider the problem in a far broader context, with a greater recognition of the dynamism of the both the planetary ecosystem and human society.

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This page contains a single entry by Rand Simberg published on November 4, 2008 7:12 AM.

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