Monthly Archives: September 2007

Bush’s fifth stage of denial


It turns out the familiar list of arguments against doing anything about climate change …

  1. It’s not happening;
  2. It’s happening but it’s not our fault;
  3. It’s happening and it is our fault but there’s nothing we can do about it;
  4. It’s happening and it is our fault and there are things we can do about it but we shouldn’t;

Has a fifth entry:

  • It is happening and it is our fault and we can do something about it and we should do something about it, but not very much.

I’ve been generous to President George W. Bush on the climate file lately, noting how far he’d come in at least acknowledging that the world has a problem we should do something about, and recognizing the reality that any “solution” that doesn’t include India and China, among other nations exempted from significant action by the Kyoto Protocol, isn’t likely to do much other than shift more economic power to them while having negligible effect on greenhouse-gas emissions.

But I can’t read the president’s performance at the U.S.-called climate-change meeting this week as anything other than what the hard-core environmentalists say it was: a sophisticated effort to hijack climate-change talks in advance of the next round of post-Kyoto negotiations.

This excerpt from his speech on Friday is typical:

No one country has all the answers, including mine. The best way to tackle this problem is to think creatively and to learn from other’s experiences and to come together on a way to achieve the objectives we share. Together, our nations will pave the way for a new international approach on greenhouse gas emissions.

This new approach must involve all the world’s largest producers of greenhouse gas emissions, including developed and developing nations. We will set a long-term goal for reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. By setting this goal, we acknowledge there is a problem. And by setting this goal, we commit ourselves to doing something about it.

By next summer, we will convene a meeting of heads of state to finalize the goal and other elements of this approach, including a strong and transparent system for measuring our progress toward meeting the goal we set. This will require concerted effort by all our nations. Only by doing the necessary work this year will it be possible to reach a global consensus at the U.N. in 2009.

Each nation will design its own separate strategies for making progress toward achieving this long-term goal. These strategies will reflect each country’s different energy resources, different stages of development, and different economic needs.

All of which is fine and, as far as it goes, sensible policy. It makes no sense for the UN, or whoever, to dictate exactly what each country must do to cut its emissions. But then, the UN has never done so and likely never would — even under Kyoto, it’s always been up to individual countries to choose their own policies. The only requirement was that those policies get them to whatever emissions targets they signed up for.

But the Bush the administration opposes mandatory targets. Which means it opposes, in practice, any action at all.

I’m deeply sympathetic to the idea that each nation needs to find its own solutions, and to Bush’s stated position that “a variety of market mechanisms [can] create incentives for companies and consumers to invest in new low-emission energy sources.” Markets require scarcity to work, though — a scarcity of money and labour and resources are what drive companies and individuals to be more efficient, so as to maximize the resources they have access to.

In the case of averting the worst of climate change, what needs to be scarce is the right to emit. Somehow, that has to be limited, and that requires governments that treat emissions targets as if they’re “hard,” with punishments for not meeting them. Bush is arguing that no scarcity is necessary, and that market mechanisms will work anyway.

Won’t work. Can’t work. Waste of time.

Sowing iron

It’s unrealistic to expect a 20-hour symposium on whether sowing the oceans with iron can help fight climate change to reach a definitive conclusion, but it’s good to see serious people looking at the question. And not just whether it can work, but what the best methods might be.

You’ll recall that this is what Planktos, a for-profit carbon-credit company, set out to do last spring despite outrage about its plans to feed phytoplankton in sensitive ocean ecosystems near the Galapagos. CEO Russ George is even on the list of attendees.

(Via the Adam Smith Institute Blog.)

Today’s column: how the Greens have grown

Here’s my column in today’s Ottawa Citizen, on the striking progress the Green party has made in finding credible candidates, based on having met a whole bunch of them during the current Ontario election campaign:

The Greens are increasingly small-business owners and engineers, fewer and fewer of what Green leader Frank de Jong himself jokingly calls “nuts, fruits and flakes.” (He hit the Citizen‘s boardroom last Friday.)

De Jong admits he started out as one of them, a music teacher drawn to the party of tree-hugging and year-round sandal-wearing. But he’s learned the hard way that people like that, however committed, don’t win elections. They’ve been joined, though, by castoffs and renegades from other parties — disaffected Tories, mostly, but Liberals and New Democrats, too, who want to make more fundamental changes in the province than those parties advocate.

Some virtuous cycle

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said an odd thing today at the United Nations climate-change bloviation in New York:

Canada is working on a variety of strategies, but one of the most exciting is carbon capture and storage.

It holds great potential for major emission reductions at home and abroad.

Pilot projects are underway in western Canada. CO2 is being pumped deep underground into rock formations that have been drained of their oil and gas.

Trapping it there creates a virtuous energy cycle: We take hydrocarbons out, tap their energy, and put the emissions back.

This is a, let’s say, non-standard definition of the term “virtuous cycle,” which you’d generally use to describe a system where improvements accelerate the longer you use it.

I’d expect the prime minister, who’s an economist to the extent he’s anything other than a politico, to recognize this as a case of the law of diminishing returns.

Don’t get me wrong — carbon sequestration is A Good Thing if it can be done economically, which is the current problem. But let’s not suggest it’s going to get us something for nothing.

Kyoto scuffling continues, as if it mattered

I cannot, on this Saturday morning, find online the report the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy reportedly released yesterday saying the federal Conservatives are thisclose to lying about cutting Canada’s greenhouse-gas emissions drastically over the next 20 to 50 years.

Apparently it came out late Friday, with the government using a technique journalists call “taking out the trash.”

The NRTEE isn’t displaying it. Environment Canada, the relevant ministry, doesn’t seem to have it. There’s no news release about it. The Globe and Mail quotes from the report, but Googling a distinctive passage turns up no original.

All of which means that I’m still in the dark about whether the report says anything significant or not. Consider the opening paragraphs of the Toronto Star‘s story:

The federal government’s latest climate change plan is badly flawed and won’t help Canada to hit its international climate change targets, its own advisory group says.

All nine programs in the plan, unveiled last month after Parliament passed a law that ordered the government to comply with the Kyoto Protocol, won’t do the job, the National Roundtable on the Environment and Economy said yesterday.

“With respect to the realization of Canada’s Kyoto commitments, we conclude that the plan … will likely not allow Canada to meet those commitments,” the report states.

But then, it wasn’t supposed to. The targets described in the Tory climate-change plan (a 20-per-cent cut below 2006 emissions levels by 2020) were different from the Kyoto Accord’s targets (six per cent below 1990 levels by 2008, in essence).

Put more simply, the Tories’ stated target is to reduce Canada’s emissions to about 600 megatonnes of carbon dioxide by 2020, while the Kyoto target is 500 megatonnes by 2008. They’re very different objectives.
Meeting the Kyoto targets — which begin to apply three months from now — became impossible without massive economic damage sometime around the year 2000, thanks to Liberal governments’ inaction, and now are simply impossible no matter how much dislocation we were willing to accept. There’s no time anymore for adaptation and research and technology deployment. We’d just have to send the army to shut down big factories, and the troops probably wouldn’t do it.

How about this quote, from the Globe‘s version:

Environmentalist Beatrice Olivastri, CEO of Friends of the Earth Canada, said the report should force the government to change its message on climate change.

“It is a scathing review of all the measures that the government has put forward under its plan,” she said. “After two years, they can no longer blame the Liberals for inaction, because here’s their own plan, and it’s not going to work.”

Not going to work to do what? Meet Kyoto targets? No surprise, and to keep beating the Tories with that stick means that you inhabit a fairyworld where it’s unreasonable for the Conservatives to do the impossible.

But if the Tories’ plan isn’t going to work even on its own terms … Well, then you have something.

To look at the Conservatives’ plan, as it was released back in April, I was and am skeptical of it even on its own terms. The major problem is that there’s no discipline mechanism in the plan: if the country is missing the milestones along the way in a plan that extends conceptually to 2050, there’s no punishment, no system for tightening up the control regime. Emissions credits cost what they cost, which is not much, and if emitters are content to pay for them, the emitters can keep emitting. End of plan. It struck me that it was as though I’d said my target was to be a millionaire by 2020, and I was going to achieve that by saving $20 a month.

But the NRTEE report, as described in the press, actually seems more optimistic. The Globe:

The report’s focus is limited under the law to Conservative measures in place for the 2008-2012 period. It supports the government’s stand that while the Kyoto targets will not be met, emissions will start to go down in 2010.

Gary Keller, a spokesman for Environment Minister John Baird, said that is the more important finding. He said the report does not give a full picture of the Conservative plan because it is limited to the Kyoto dates.

… and that limitation is thanks to the Liberals and their MP Pablo Rodriguez, who wrote the bill forcing the NRTEE to report on the government’s climate-change plan as though we lived in the fairyworld where the Kyoto targets are achievable.

If I can find the blasted report itself, I’ll take this up again.

Forty-five minutes with Green leader Frank de Jong

The leader of the Green Party of Ontario, Frank de Jong, visited the Citizen today to talk to the editorial board. Audio of the discussion is here. It was a good, brisk session and de Jong did a pretty good job explaining the principles of Green-style tax-shifting, among other things, talking about privatizing public wealth (by giving away natural resources to industry) and socializing private wealth (by taxing production and income). If you’re reading this blog, the discussion is worth a listen.

Involuntary pause

So much to write about — the open Northwest Passage, the Ontario Green party platform, more fussing about carbon taxes — but no time whatsoever in which to do it.

Back soon. Promise.