Tag: Climate Change

Mitch McConnell Takes on the Green New Deal

Michael Ottavio | United States

Senate Majority Leader and brilliant tactician, Mitch McConnell, is currently gearing up to take Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s “Green New Deal,” a proposed solution to climate change and a massive economic overhaul program, to the Senate floor for a vote.

Continue reading “Mitch McConnell Takes on the Green New Deal”

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Germany Is Phasing Out Coal, Moving to Renewable Energy

Othman Mekhloufi | United States

A government-appointed German ‘Coal Commission’ released a recommendation to the German government on the morning of January 26th. The goals of said recommendation are to curb carbon emissions, turn to renewable energy, and take steps towards the deceleration of climate change.

The Report

The 28-member commission represents various German mining regions and utility companies. After 21 hours of negotiations, they reached a decision to fully phase out coal over a 19 year period (by 2038). This move will, in turn, shut down all 84 of Germany’s coal plants. Germany has also moved to fully shut down all of its nuclear power plants by 2022. This decision is part of another report by the commission that was legislated in 2011.  As of now, Germany shut down 12 of the 19 nuclear power plants in the nation.

The progress will be regularly reviewed by the commission in 2023, 2026, and also 2029. The goal is to find out if phasing out coal is possibly by 2035. Nonetheless, 2038 will remain the legally defined date to fully phase out coal pending German government drafting legislation based on the report.

The commission’s report is not legally binding as it still requires the action of the federal government. The report holds a set of guidelines and suggestions for the federal government to legislate accordingly in hopes of curbing climate change and CO2 emissions. German Chancellor Angela Merkel will likely approve the commissions’ proposal.

Coal in Germany

Coal plants in Germany currently account for 40% of electricity and power production. Renewable energy surpassed coal as the leading source in 2018. It now accounts for 41% of energy use. By fully phasing out coal and nuclear power, Germany aims to rely on renewable energy. Ideally, renewable energy will provide 60%-85% of Germany’s power.

Germany is currently #8 in global coal consumption, although the nation only accounts for 2% of such emissions.

The Impact

There are roughly 60,000 jobs with ties to the coal industry. Consequently, phasing out coal would put those jobs in jeopardy. There will likely be negative economic repercussions which will fall upon the companies and workers, as well as the families of workers. However, the commission allocated for $45 billion in aid to ease the economic hardships caused by their decision to end the industry. The aid includes an adjustment fund, as well as pension compensation for all employees aged 58 years or older. Younger workers out of a job will also receive aid in the form of education and training for jobs in renewable energy sources.

As we move towards the future, coal is being phased out on a global scale. Climate change is progressing. Therefore, many believe the shift towards renewable energy sources is a must.


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British Columbia’s Carbon Tax Is Working

Craig Axford | Canada

If we’re ever going to get to a carbon neutral or carbon negative economy, placing a price on carbon is going to be a necessary part of that effort. With new U.S. Government and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports coming out this year warning of extremely expensive and environmentally significant consequences if we fail to act quickly, minor public policy adjustments here and there are no longer an option.

But just because strong action is needed that can be implemented both rapidly and at large scales, it doesn’t follow that the consequences of these actions on people either can or should be ignored. That’s particularly true when it comes to the working poor and middle class. As we’ve seen in France over the past few weeks, taxes targeting fossil fuels won’t receive the kind of public support they’re going to need if States implement them without sufficient regard for the people paying them.

Fortunately, there is a proven solution that facilitates the CO² emission reductions carbon taxes are intended to achieve while also taking into account the burden these taxes impose upon society; simply make the carbon tax revenue-neutral, taking special care to use the money it generates to prioritize tax reductions for the poor, middle class and rural residents that the tax affects most.

This is precisely what the Canadian province of British Columbia did when it implemented North America’s first carbon tax in 2008. This tax survived the financial crisis that reached its zenith just two months after its implementation. That alone is a testament to the fact that even during the worst of times, it is possible to persuade a skeptical and insecure public to support a policy if it truly reconciles environmental protection with equity and fairness.

As in the French countryside, residents of rural British Columbia often have no choice but to drive long distances on a regular basis. Unlike their fellow citizens in cities like Vancouver and Victoria, public transportation opportunities frequently don’t exist or are insufficient to completely replace the automobile.

When the carbon tax was first imposed in July of 2008, it started small. It began at $10 per tonne with incremental annual increases of $5 per tonne scheduled through 2012 until it reached $30. That meant that by July of 2012, the cost of gasoline would rise by 6.67 cents per liter. For American readers, that amounts to approximately 27 cents per gallon. To put that in perspective, the gas tax the French government had been planning to impose next month amounted to roughly 25 cents per gallon.

But unlike British Columbia, France was moving to implement its tax in one fell swoop. It also had no plans to offset the gasoline tax increase with middle and low-income tax cuts or use the revenue to provide other significant tangible benefits. As the British Columbia experiment with carbon taxes shows, phasing in the tax and making it revenue-neutral is crucial to winning public support for any carbon tax that’s going to be significant enough to make a difference.

One study into the effectiveness of the BC carbon tax described the steps the then Liberal government took to achieve revenue neutrality this way:

First, the BC government lowered the tax rate on the bottom two personal income tax brackets. For a household earning a nominal income of $100,000…the average provincial tax rate was reduced from 8.74% in 2007 to 8.02% in 2008. Two lump-sum transfers were also included to protect low-income and rural households. Low-income households receive quarterly rebates, which, for a family of four, equal approximately $300 per year, and beginning in 2011, northern and rural homeowners received a further benefit of up to $200. Finally, taxes on corporations and small businesses were reduced…Since residents’ tax burden did not increase, the government was able to promote the policy as a “tax shift” rather than a tax increase.

President Macron eliminated France’s wealth tax in 2017 in advance of his proposed gas tax increase, not in concert with it, so it proved impossible to claim that ending that tax was part of an effort to implement some sort of revenue-neutral carbon tax “shift”. More importantly, however, by putting the wealth tax repeal first and failing to offer low-income and rural households additional tax breaks to offset the impact of the gas tax, Macron signaled his willingness to let the poor and middle class carry most of the burden when it came to taxes on carbon. Had the BC Liberal government followed a similar approach in 2008, I don’t know if cars would have been burning in downtown Vancouver. But they almost certainly would have been trounced in the following year’s election.

Now, just when we need carbon taxes the most, the ‘yellow vests’ movement threatens to render them a political third rail few politicians will want to touch. Sadly, most environmentalists cheered Macron’s gas tax proposal when they should have jeered, costing them valuable credibility with working-class voters that they’re going to need for any successful campaign against climate change.

The phrase “carbon tax” too often triggers a kind of Pavlovian response in the environmental community, regardless of the impact they will have on those paying them. If the environmental policies these times demand are ever going to exist on a global scale, then we must abandon the view that sustainability and social justice exist in separate policy silos. People don’t like being treated as a means to an environmental end any more than they appreciate being treated as a means to any other end, nor should they.

Carbon taxes, whether they are revenue-neutral or not, will, unfortunately, usually face stiff opposition in the beginning. In British Columbia, the major opposition party had been in favor of taxing carbon, but it flip-flopped when the opportunity to tag the Liberal Party with the initially unpopular policy presented itself just prior to an election year.

That said, the Liberal Party (rather confusingly, BC’s most conservative major party) was able to retain control of the BC government in 2009 in spite of everything. In a March 2016 article on BC’s experience with taxing carbon, the New York Times reported that public opposition to the tax had dropped from 47% in 2009 right after implementation to 32% by 2015.

The left-of-center New Democratic Party (NDP) has since flip-flopped back to its original support for the carbon tax. With the help of Green Party members elected to the province’s legislative assembly, the NDP took control of the provincial government in May of 2017. BC’s carbon tax not only again enjoys support across the political spectrum, but is in the process of increasing by $5 a year through 2021. It is scheduled to hit $50 a tonne one year ahead of the federal government’s proposed carbon tax.

. . .

That just leaves the question of whether a revenue-neutral approach to carbon taxation can actually reduce carbon emissions. After all, if all the money raised through the tax is ultimately returned to taxpayers in one form or another, where’s the incentive to reduce spending on gasoline, the largest source of CO² in BC?

Source: BC Government, sustainability page

Well, it has worked. A 2015 review of the existing research on the tax’s efficacy found that up to that point, all the studies indicated a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of around 9%. Furthermore, that gasoline sales had dropped anywhere between 7% and 17%. One study found that commercial demand for natural gas had plunged a whopping 67% since the initiation of the tax (coal is not used to any significant degree in BC). These decreases occurred in spite of the fact that the province saw slightly higher annual economic growth than Canada as a whole in the years immediately following the 2008 financial crisis, as well as steady population growth.

It’s important to remember that even a revenue-neutral carbon tax can still function as a tax increase for a significant emitter of CO². The government hasn’t committed to making sure no one pays more in taxes, only that all the money the tax generates goes back to the public in one way or another.

Under a revenue-neutral carbon tax program, those inclined to use cleaner technologies can reduce their taxes considerably below what others in roughly the same financial boat are paying. A low-income person who decides to purchase a car instead of riding his bike or using mass transit still gets to pocket the quarterly refund payments. But unlike his friends who choose cleaner alternative modes of transportation, his refund payments will go entirely toward offsetting the additional cost of gasoline instead of groceries, rent, or other necessities.

It’s difficult to imagine citizens from the French countryside invading Paris to protest quarterly tax credits or reductions in their income taxes intended to offset a 25¢ per gallon gasoline tax. Even if polls indicated opposition to the new tax, as they did initially in BC, it’s hard to work yourself up into a lather about it when the government can demonstrate that your overall tax burden hasn’t really changed. And, in all likelihood, what was at first mild opposition or ambivalence would eventually become support once people began to realize the benefits.

The inescapable reality we now face is that whether we tax carbon or not, the cost of emitting so much of it will only be going up from this point forward. Whether it’s coastal buildings washing into the sea or houses built near the edge of a forest burning to the ground, there’s no avoiding climate change’s toll. A carbon tax that disincentivizes the use of fossil fuels ultimately benefits both the environment and people. Hopefully, from now on national, regional, and local governments will learn from British Columbia’s example as well as France’s mistakes.

Follow Craig on Twitter or read him at Medium.com

The Media’s Molestation of Mueller and Climate Science

Glenn Verasco | Thailand

I am embarrassed to say that my most recent post was back on September 24th of this year. To put that in perspective, this was in the midst of the Kavanaugh confirmation fiasco and more than a month before midterm elections.

I have some legit reasons for being less able to publish recently, but I’m not here to make excuses. Instead, in an attempt to reignite my creative flame, I will indulge in a stream-of-conscious-like list of opinions on happenings in current events, politics, and news.

Climate Change

Based on my own perception through the lens of social media, there seems to be an increase in climate-related articles and op-eds pouring out of the web. This is likely due to the Trump administration’s supposed disregarding of a federal climate report as well as recent revelations of the international community’s astounding failure to curb carbon emissions (they are once again on the rise).

As an avid snorkeler and explorer of the natural world, I have a special interest in the environment and the life that abounds within it. However, being a nature lover does not make me an environmentalist. I firmly believe that the well-being of the individuals who comprise mankind vastly outweighs environmental conservation and that those who wish to preserve the natural world ought to bear the burden of doing so, rather than using legislation and the brute force of the state to shift the cost onto others.

I am also a glutton for logic, or perhaps, something of a logic addict. I do not mean to say that I am the most logical person in the world (as the simulation of logic, being just as satisfying as the real thing, is bound to fool me more than once in a while), but that I depend on logic to feel content.

Being interested in nature without being an environmentalist and being a logic glutton or addict has resulted in my opinion on climate change and climate policy culminating as follows:

  • Climate Change will probably cause some problems in the future, but the solutions proposed in mainstream politics are impossible (in terms of political will [see France’s anti-gas tax riots]), ineffective (in terms of mitigating temperature rise), or worse than simply allowing Climate Change to take its toll (in terms of economics and quality of human life [this would not be a reason cited by an environmentalist, which I am not]).
  • The best way to deal with Climate Change is to have faith in supply-side economics (which is creating a vastly underappreciated utopia). As I laid out in a post about two years ago, maximizing economic growth and innovation via deregulation and decentralization of government is the best way to continue humanity’s miraculous rise from poverty and despair, which will, in turn, allow more people the luxury of being able to care for and nurture the environment in addition to providing abundant and reliable resources to alleviate the damage caused by Climate Change in the future (oddly enough, Jordan Peterson laid out my ideas quite eloquently during a recent appearance at Cambridge University… has he been reading my blog?).

The Mueller Probe

The three branches of the United States federal government are as follows: executive, legislative, and judicial. The executive branch mainly deals with government personnel and international relations, the legislative branch makes the laws, and the judicial branch settles disputes.

There is no FBI or Robert Mueller branch of government, and, regardless of how anti-Libertarian Trump’s policies are, I am growing sick and tired of unelected, extra-constitutional bureaucrats trying to run the show in Washington. The FBI and their special counsel are subordinate to the president whether you like the president or not.

I am undecided on how exactly to feel about Robert Mueller. Dan Bongino is in the midst of presenting a compelling case against the entire Russia-gate operation, essentially calling it a red herring being used to undermine Trump and, possibly more malevolently, cover up illegal intelligence activity directed against the Trump campaign during the Obama administration. I have not read Bongino’s book, so I am sticking with compelling for now.

#TheResistance (which includes the whole of the mainstream media as far as I can tell) has been telling me for about two years that Mueller and the gang are inches away from bringing the Trump presidency crashing to the ground. Watergate will look like jaywalking, by comparison, they say. But as so-called bombshell after so-called bombshell fades into oblivion, the little confidence I had in this stale fairy tale has completely evaporated.

Mueller needs to sign his book deal and find a new hobby.

Climate Change, Mueller, and Media

There’s a bit of a tie-in between the Mueller probe and Climate Change, which the media has brought about.

After the aforementioned federal climate report was made public, major media outlets pounced on the revelation that the US economy could shrink by 10% by the end of the century. Incredibly important information is, I suspect, intentionally (though maybe stupidly) left out of this claim. For starters, the 10% reduction is not in relation to the current economy. It’s 10% of the projected economy of 2100, which is expected to be 300% of today’s economy per capita. This means the economy of 2100 will be, as Bjorn Lomborg puts it, “a slightly smaller bonanza.” Furthermore, the report uses predictions of improbably high levels of warming. As Lomborg writes:

“[The 10% figure] assumes that temperatures will increase about 14 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century. This is unlikely. The US climate assessment itself estimates that, with no significant climate action, American temperatures will increase by between 5 and 8.7 degrees. Using the high estimate of 8.7 degrees, the damage would be only half as big, at 5 percent.”

Mentioning these factors should reduce anxiety over climate change consequences and contradicts the likelihood that they will occur at all.

The main takeaway from all of this, even for those who disagree with me about climate and environmental policy, should be that it is the media, not the scientists, who are spreading hysteria about the future of the natural world.

The same is true of the Mueller probe.

Robert Mueller is not going on national television exclaiming that the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency is upon us. He is not trolling the president and his associates with hyperbolic headlines or spreading conspiracy theories on Twitter.

Mueller is, on occasion, releasing information about largely benign findings uncovered by his investigation and making no comment on what they mean in regard to the president’s future or past.

Anti-Trump media outlets like CNN and The New York Times, by politicizing issues like Climate Change and the special counsel, are tarnishing the reputations of experts in their fields, be they prosecutors or climatologists. They are replacing rational discourse with hackneyed talking points. And they are ruining any chance the public they claim to serve may have to engage with complex and important issues in an adult and civil manner.

Yemen

Spencer Neale at 71 Republic compiled a list of the 37 senators who recently voted to continue the War in Yemen. All 37 are Republicans, which illustrates why Libertarians must invade the GOP or vote third party, not succumb to the lesser-of-two-evils ultimatum. Political correctness and reckless welfare spending are not worse than endless war and the bill that comes with it, so the Democrats should not be avoided any more than the Republicans. Both are plagues upon the USA.

By the way, Americans are still dying in Afghanistan. What the hell are we doing over there?

***

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A Glass Half Full is Still a Serving of Possibility

By Craig Axford | Canada

The poet Florence McLandburgh, writing under the pen name McLandburgh Wilson, described the two competing perspectives we have convinced ourselves people see the world from using a pastry metaphor:

Twist the optimist and pessimist

The difference is droll:

The optimist sees the doughnut

But the pessimist sees the hole.

But who sees both the doughnut and the hole? Who sees the baker filling tray after tray with colorful pastries to say nothing of the sugar cane workers toiling under a tropical sun to provide him with the sugar to sweeten them? The world is far more interesting and complex than those who would have us see only the optimist’s doughnut or the pessimist’s hole would have us believe.

What optimism and pessimism really function as are ready-made prediction generators. Because they are outlooks, not the product of careful analysis, they apply their built-in doughnut vs. hole perspective to everything they encounter before bothering to learn much if anything about it. Optimism and pessimism, like most ism’s, presume to know the world without having to make any real effort to understand it.

Rarely, if ever, does a realist find life presenting her with situations that obviously justify either cheerful prognostications or dire statements regarding pending doom and gloom. Because the universe is a probabilistic place, the chance that things will turn out favorably eventually is constantly being weighed against the possibility of failure. Optimism and pessimism place extra weight on their respective side of the scale before we even have a handle on the full extent of the problem.

So far in the human experience neither the enthusiastic ‘Everything will turn out okay in the end’ nor the defeatist ‘We’re screwed’ have proven themselves accurate summations of our experience. The jury is still out, and it is going to remain out until extinction finally catches up with us. To extend our race against time constructive assessments are what’s called for.

To clearly understand the possibilities inherent within a situation it’s necessary to take a somewhat longer view than either those prone to wearing rose tinted glasses or their counterparts dressed in rain-gear expecting the sun to give way to a downpour at any moment tend to take. Optimism and pessimism, to the extent they are useful attitudes at all, are best suited to assess proximate personal circumstances that lend themselves to quick calculations and linear thinking. Will you do well on your final exam? Or, will you get the job you just interviewed for? Will someone you’re attracted to agree to go out on a date?

A realist, on the other hand, is curious rather than either Pollyanish or circumspect. She is a possibilist with a willingness to risk a certain amount of failure in order to test the limits of what can be done. She knows that in the long run mistakes are as crucial to success as positive results are.

Neither optimism nor pessimism sees failure as a silver lining, though the optimist will often say they do after the fact. Their focus is on likely outcomes rather than possible ones, which leads each to ultimately see success or the lack thereof only as a confirmation of their earlier predictions about how things would go.

It’s easy to forget that the very act of predicting the likelihood of a particular outcome has the potential to make the outcome we predict more likely than it would be otherwise. As part of the equation, not objective calculators of it, the act of viewing the world optimistically, pessimistically or realistically each come with considerable ethical baggage. We owe it to ourselves and our posterity to cast the problems we encounter in a light that maximizes the chances things will turn out as they should.

Because the attitudes we bring to the issues we face come with an inherent self-fulfilling prophecy quality, neither optimism nor pessimism is ethically scalable much beyond our own personal day-to-day affairs. For example, it isn’t a long cognitive walk from taking the position that we don’t think people will deal with climate change to losing faith that people can deal with it. Once we’ve concluded that’s the case there’s no point in trying and presto, our prediction that anthropocentric climate change cannot be resolved comes that much closer to becoming a reality.

Likewise, the “optimistic” view that the market, technology or some combination of the two will come to the rescue without us really having to do much of anything at all justifies inaction. In this case, instead of taking a fatalistic dose of pessimistic cyanide to kill our political will we’ve gotten drunk on wishful thinking. But either way, climate change becomes less likely to ever be proactively dealt with.

Will and won’t are conclusions about a future we don’t believe can be changed. They do not call us to action but rather summon us to take our seats. Likely and unlikely are better. They, at least, accurately describe our world in probabilistic terms. But if our goal is to inspire people to make the world a better place, likely and unlikely are hardly words that stir the soul.

However, if we find things that we can do that we also should do, with the right arguments it’s possible to get people to move mountains to get them done no matter how difficult they may seem at first. Optimism and pessimism only deal directly with how likely we are to do the right thing. By themselves, neither offers an inspiring vision of their own for why the right thing is both possible and worthwhile.

American politics provides us with a case study in just how toxic pessimism, in particular, can be. Until Bernie Sanders nearly toppled Hillary Clinton’s dream of winning the Democratic nomination in 2016, Democrats in the United States were extremely fond of arguing that Americans won’t accept a truly universal healthcare system. It was primarily for this reason that a public option never even received a floor debate during the struggle to pass Obamacare in 2009 and 2010.

Until 2016, with each consecutive election cycle that passed without anyone making the principled argument for Medicare for all the likelihood of the American people ever really embracing the concept appeared to drop even further, thereby confirming the conviction that Americans won’t accept it. We see a similar dynamic at work in the gun control debate, which likewise is full of rhetoric about what the American people will and will not politically accept and almost completely devoid of any discussion of what a truly rational gun policy should be.

What Senator Sanders did in 2016 showed the left the merits of framing their arguments around what both can and should be done instead of what they’ve convinced themselves will or won’t happen. He proved that just by forcefully arguing for what he believed was right, the needle of public opinion could move to make the unlikely more likely.

Politics is supposed to be the art of the possible. What’s possible has to do with what can occur, improbability aside. What’s likely to occur in the near to medium-term can serve as a worthwhile calculation when it comes to determining the degree of difficulty and formulating strategy, but should never get in the way of fighting for the right thing when it is possible to do it.

Probable and possible are not the same thing, in spite of our tendency to conflate them. As leaders like Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, FDR, Martin Luther King Jr., JFK, and RFK all understood, what is possible but improbable today can become probable tomorrow if we consistently and unwaveringly pursue it.

Florence McLandburgh was right to associate optimism and pessimism with a sugary pastry. Cognitively speaking both are full of empty calories. They draw attention away from our aspirations with unfounded speculation about the relative ease or difficulty associated with making them a reality. Life is full of possibilities. That’s really all anyone needs to believe in order to keep moving forward.

Follow Craig on Twitter or read him on Medium.com
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