Monthly Archives: May 2008

The most ruthless member

An urgent appreciation of consensus not being a particular preoccupation of the Harper government in … well, in any other field I can think of, it’s disorienting to see one of his ministers so adamant that it’s necessary when it comes to climate-change policy:

Canada’s Environment Minister John Baird said a European Union plan to combat climate change has failed to win support from the U.S., signaling the proposal needs to be changed.

“If we want to see genuine reductions, we have to get the United States on board,” Baird said in Bonn today, where he is attending a United Nations conference on biodiversity. “The EU proposal has not been able to do that.”

Climate change will be a key topic at a July summit in Japan of Group of Eight leaders, as part of global efforts to come up with a successor to the 1997 Kyoto climate treaty. To speed the creation of a new treaty, the G-8 countries agreed to hold talks dubbed “the Kobe Initiative” in the U.K. during the second half of this year and in Italy next year.

(Purely as a marketing ploy, naming anything to do with climate change after a Japanese city beginning with “K” is probably a bad idea.)

Particularly in the lead-up to the Iraq war, it was said by right-wingers that any system that values co-operation above all things will be at the mercy of its most ruthless member. They were usually talking about the UN, and everything else aside, they were right about that. Funny that the argument doesn’t seem to apply to greenhouse gases.

Solving this global problem obviously does demand co-operation, but I’m flummoxed by a line of reasoning that seems to say that until absolutely everyone agrees on all things in this field, nobody must do anything at all.

Americans drove less in March

So says the transportation department:

Americans drove less in March 2008, continuing a trend that began last November, according to estimates released today from the Federal Highway Administration.

“That Americans are driving less underscores the challenges facing the Highway Trust Fund and its reliance on the federal gasoline excise tax,” said Acting Federal Highway Administrator Jim Ray.

The FHWA’s “Traffic Volume Trends” report, produced monthly since 1942, shows that estimated vehicle miles traveled (VMT) on all U.S. public roads for March 2008 fell 4.3 percent as compared with March 2007 travel. This is the first time estimated March travel on public roads fell since 1979. At 11 billion miles less in March 2008 than in the previous March, this is the sharpest yearly drop for any month in FHWA history.

Drivers seem to be slow to react to changes in gas prices, but during and after the post-Katrina price spike, there was definitely an effect. Let’s see whether this keeps up.

Canada’s politicians refuse to make sense.

(Photo credit: “Stephane Dion,” Flickr/ycanada_news)

So Liberal leader Stéphane Dion raised the idea of a carbon tax and then wandered off, refusing to offer any details. Crucially, he’s declined to emphasize what should be a pretty important point — that in his view, a tax on CO2-generating fossil fuels would be matched with tax cuts in other areas, like income and corporate profits.

A legion of economists, including pretty conservative ones, say this is a good idea, but he’s given them nothing to work with, so they’re keeping quiet. Instead, he’s left the field to his critics, who are equally legion.

Tactically, this is dumb.

Yet what’s astounding to me is how, even given this massive advantage, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and NDP leader Jack Layton have managed to come off like ninnies. Econo-blogger Stephen Gordon puts it well:

The CPC is targeting the people who don’t want to pay those costs, and Stéphane Dion is going after those who do. The NDP’s niche appears to be voters who want someone else to pay the costs of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

So as usual, nobody has a credible plan on the table.

Defining the energy problem

John Robb sums it up.

Our current global energy burn rate is 16 TW (terawatts), which is up from 0.7 TW at the turn of the 20th Century. … It’s very likely, given a judicious evaluation of the data, that this demand will double to 32 TW by 2025 (even with a global 1-2% decline in usage per $ of GDP due to efficiency improvements).

The bulk of the energy we feed this burn rate with is from stored solar — essentially, energy delivered from the sun millions of years ago and stored inside the earth’s crust. The problem we face with stored solar is that it is reaching production limits (particularly crude oil). In combination with this rapidly increasing demand, we will face a never ending series of price increases (occasionally mitigated by demand destruction) for stored solar energy as oil, natural gas, and coal deplete in series.

Inconvenient truths that are neither inconvenient nor necessarily true

Wired ought to know better than this. Probably does, in fact. But this feature that purports to tell “inconvenient truths” about environmentalism uses a gimmicky straw man to tell stories that are either trite or insignificant or both. The whole is premised on an invented idea of what it means to be an “environmentalist” before rhyming off supposedly heretical truths:

Winning the war on global warming requires slaughtering some of environmentalism’s sacred cows.

Such as, purportedly, that cities are bad and carbon-trading hasn’t worked. In support of which latter claim, Wired cites the trading system put forward in the Kyoto Accord; we might as well conclude that because Kyoto failed, international treaties on any subject are pointless.

The commenters are letting rip. The word “bollocks” comes up.

A bit of luck

Canada’s greenhouse-gas emissions have fallen for two years in a row, according to Environment Canada. That’s the good news, and it’s quite good news indeed.

The bad news is that a good chunk of the improvement is because warmer winters meant we didn’t burn as much fuel to keep us warm.

The Greens throw in the towel

Here’s Maclean’s‘s Paul Wells on the federal Green Party’s giving up hope and becoming an anti-Tory party rather than a positive force unto itself.

A bunch of senior federal Greens have quit their party posts; at least one in my neck of the woods, John Ogilvie, is refocusing on the provincial party instead.

Look, you want to be in electoral politics, you have to try to win something from time to time. Looks like the federal Green Party would rather be a lobby group.