January 2009

In testimony today before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, former Vice President Al Gore recommended that Congress take dramatic action to combat the threat of global warming, including passing the pending economic stimulus bill which includes billions of dollars in taxpayer handouts for alternative energy. Gore neglected to emphasize, however, that he is the Chairman of a for-profit investment fund that would directly benefit from greater subsidies for so-called “clean” energy projects.

“Former Vice President Al Gore has warned that we need to examine the financial interests of people in the global warming debate. Fair enough,” said Competitive Enterprise Institute Director of Energy & Global Warming Policy Myron Ebell. “What we discover in looking at the policies that Mr. Gore advocated in his Senate testimony is that they will make him and his friends extremely wealthy at the expense of consumers, who will be stuck with skyrocketing energy prices.”

Gore’s company, Generation Investment Management, states that its investment strategy, in part, is to “find, fund and accelerate green business.” The companies targeted by renewable energy subsidies, grants and other federal spending are the same ones Gore and his partners are betting on to turn large profits. There’s nothing wrong with making a profit, but doing so at taxpayer expense rather than in a competitive marketplace is generally considered cynical and greedy – far from the disinterested environmental activist image that Gore presents to the world.

“Gore’s concerns are overblown and his ‘solutions’ remain grossly expensive pipe dreams,” said Senior Fellow Iain Murray. “Global warming is a potential risk, but Gore’s program represents a potentially disastrous misallocation of resources – straight from our wallets to his bank account.” 

Al Gore, the lobbyist

by Julie Walsh on January 28, 2009

in Science

In a letter dated January 26th, 2009 Al Gore’s company Generation Investment Management sent a coalition letter along with other institutional investors representing $1.7 trillion in assets to Senate Majority leader Harry Reid. The letter asked for:

1) longer-term economic incentives including extending the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for five years or more,

2) funding for energy efficiency programs – such as retrofitting buildings,

3) federal funds to flow to states that allow utilities to treat energy efficiency comparable to new supply; states that adopt energy efficiency resources standards to achieve energy savings goals; or, states that adopt strong building codes to encourage energy savings, and

4) that part of the funding in the stimulus package should be directed toward modernizing and improving the electric grid system.

Today, two days later,  Al Gore, The Climate Protector, testified to the Senate Foreign relations Committee of the need for:

1) renewable tax credits and “small” grants for wind power and solar,

2) energy efficiency and conservation,

3) decoupling (giving utility companies a guaranteed source of revenues and Gore’s declared “single most important measure”), and

4) the need for a new electric grid.

He also frequently mentioned solar energy (an extremely expensive source of energy), deforestation (big area of carbon trading) and soil carbon credits (they need the farm votes).

Of course, Chairman Gore punctuated these requests by the possibility of every earthly catastrophe befalling us if we don’t grant him his requests.

No TV station seems to be covering this live, but you can watch here.

Kerry in his introduction says “if there was a cost-free way of tackling climate change, we’d take it, but there isn’t.” There is (at least comparatively) – adaptation – and Kerry, Gore and their ilk have stood in the way of research and implementation of adaptation. Lugar makes this point in a slightly confused fashion (and gives too much credence to the finagled Stern Report), but eventually gets good on the subject of biotech.

Gore links global warming, financial crisis and terrorism as all caused by our use of coal and oil. How convenient for him. Oh, and China as well. Urges Congress to pass “the entirety” of the shtimulus bill. Presumably including the resodding of the National Mall as a vital step in combating the climate crisis.

Says Kyoto II must be negotiated this year, not next. I presume he will strongly criticize the Administration when this doesn’t happen.

Says developing companies are leading the way. Praises Brazil for its bold leadership – when they are investing over $100 billion in oil exploration over the next 5 years. There’s an inconvenient truth for you, Al. And what about the gorilla in the room – China?

Praises Reagan for leading the Montreal Protocol, which he says is a model. This was debunked by CEI ten years ago.

Here comes the slideshow! All of a sudden it’s “some scientists,” not all scientists. Interesting. Arctic graphics all very impressive, but fact remains that there are strong arguments that the changes there are natural. Gore remains worried about Greenland. He’s out of date.

No real change in Gore’s arguments about glaciers, beetles and wildfires from An Inconvenient Truth. All are dealt with in Marlo Lewis’ magnum opus Al Gore’s Science Fiction. Still wants to link Hurricanes to Global Warming, despite retreats on that from scientists.

Shows he’s read ‘How to Lie with Statistics’ in his contemptible attempt to say disasters now are worse than they were. Roger Pielke Jr and Indur Goklany have both debunked that notion comprehensively.

On oceanic acidification, there is a splendid new study from SPPI that really puts that question to rest.

In questions, Gore endorses 350ppm as the “target level” for CO2, and notes that some people don’t think we can do “what the science mandates.” Very revealing phrasing. To those in the coal industry, he says that new energy jobs will give them “even better jobs.” I’d like to see the evidence for that specific claim.

Says wind power is now fully mature and competitive. So no subsidies needed, then? No, he says it can expand its role with subsidies. Aha. Meanwhile, perhaps someone should tell the backers of the London Array.

Also says that solar is mature too. The plain fact is that all forms of solar energy are remarkably inefficient, and the best summary of why is in William Tucker’s new book, Terrestrial Energy (and Tucker supports strong action on global warming).

Unfortunately, technical problems made me miss the rest of Kerry’s questions, so I’ll end there.

Bottom line: nothing new from Gore, despite his assertions to the contrary. His concerns are overblown and his “solutions” remain grossly expensive pipe dreams. I personally believe global warming is a risk, but Gore’s program represents a potentially disastrous misallocation of global resources.

Apparently, global warming is now irreversible. Or, at least, it is if you don’t consider any of the policy options that might, you know, reverse it. As Roger Pielke Jr points out, the study didn’t examine the potential for geoengineering:

Geoengineering to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere was not considered in the study. “Ideas about taking the carbon dioxide away after the world puts it in have been proposed, but right now those are very speculative,” said Solomon.

Then only reason geoengineering remains speculative is because the global warming industry is locked into one policy model: mitigation. If adaptation is the red-headed stepchild of global warming research, geoengineering is the unacknowledged bastard, kept tied up in the basement and fed only with a bucket of fish heads.

Meanwhile, the McKinsey Global Initiative has come out with version 2 of its “we can save the world very cheaply” report, which is available if you register and give them your email address via the links here. The fiendish consultants have disabled the ability to cut their charts out, so you’ll have to get a copy for yourself, but their Exhibit 1 shows that all the “affordable” options are to do with energy efficiency, not grand new green energy projects, which are much more expensive and require aggressive carbon pricing (and this needs to be born in mind as well). Furthermore, these are truly global initiatives – something has has to be done everywhere, around the world – as Exhibit 4 makes clear. Something we can do quite affordably may be a different kettle of fish heads for the developing world. If you can’t afford an incandescent lightbulb, you can’t afford an LED lamp, whatever the CO2 abatement potential is. I hope to provide a full response to the McKinsey paper soon.

In his remarkable rise to power, President Barack Obama has overcome some of the country’s most formidable politicians–from the Bushes and the Clintons to John McCain. But he may have more trouble coping with a colleague he professes to admire: former Vice President Al Gore.

President Barack Obama last Saturday revealed that his economic stimulus plan commits $32 billion to create enough new renewable electricity by 2012 to power 6 million homes.

By comparison, the Navajo Nation in the Four Corners region plans to build enough coal-fired power by 2012 to supply 4 million homes in the rapidly growing southwest.

Both plans would power a similar number of households by 2012. The difference between the two plans is that Obama’s renewables need $32 billion in taxpayer money to compete with conventional energy sources, whereas the Navajo Nation’s coal projects can make a profit without lavish government handouts.

Perhaps Obama's team of the best and the brightest can make sense of it, but I, for one, am very confused: How does expensive energy stimulate the economy? 


The Green Stimulus

by William Yeatman on January 27, 2009

Several House committees marked up the Democratic leadership’s $825 billion stimulus package this week.  The number and cost of the so-called green jobs to be created by the bill is a little less mysterious thanks to the good work of my colleagues Iain Murray and Jonathan Tolman.  Iain has listed the line items that could be construed as reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  These items total $57 billion, of which new programs totaling $32.3 billion have job numbers attached.  These programs would create 353,000 new green jobs at an average cost of $91,000 per job.  That’s a small start to the Obama campaign’s pledge to create 5 million green jobs at a cost to taxpayers of $15 billion per year for ten years.  After the election, the campaign lowered that pledge to 2.5 million green jobs, but the cost remained the same.

The House Ways and Means Committee on Thursday voted for $20 billion in tax breaks for wind and solar power and energy-efficiency improvements.  Since loans for new windmills have dried up, the bill tries to spur investment by allowing an immediate 30% investment tax credit in place of the current production tax credit taken over ten years.  According to a Reuters story, Senator Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, today unveiled his version of the $275 billion tax cuts that are part of the stimulus package.  It includes “about $30 billion in tax breaks and incentives aimed at creating energy jobs.”  We’ll have to wait to see how many green jobs they claim will be created by the House and Senate tax provisions.

The House has scheduled a floor vote on the whole stimulus package for next Wednesday, 28th January.  The Senate will begin committee mark-ups next week.

Krugman is Wrong – Again!

by Iain Murray on January 26, 2009

in Science

Boy, that wacky Paul Krugman. The newly-crowned Nobel laureate (they should be allowed to wear a laurel wreath everywhere they go, so we’d know of their brilliance), fresh from revealing how little he understands the history – or purpose – of liberalism, shows he knows diddly-squat about Air Traffic Control.

In today’s column he argues, plonkingly,

Here’s how to think about this argument: it implies that we should shut down the air traffic control system. After all, that system is paid for with fees on air tickets — and surely it would be better to let the flying public keep its money rather than hand it over to government bureaucrats. If that would mean lots of midair collisions, hey, stuff happens.

Unfortunately for Krug, the fact is that the public sector does a pretty poor job of Air Traffic Control. Not because of large numbers of accidents – that doesn’t happen anywhere much these days – but in terms of waste and inefficiency. American ATC is based on a system of beacons from the early days of air transport. Those have long since been superseded in safety terms by GPS and other innovations, but the system is still based on them. Liberalizing ATC actually makes a huge amount of sense, which is why plenty of governments around the world have done it, without seeing mid-air collisions, erm, explode. As I say in the new Agenda for Congress:

Liberalize Air Travel. … Privatization and modernization of the air traffic control system not only would allow faster flights and less delay at airports but save up to 400,000 barrels of oil per day, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions accordingly. And there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Canada’s successful air traffic control privatization offers a useful model.

You can only really object to that if you’re a socialist dogmatist, or your thinking is stuck in the 1930s. I’m not sure which is the case with El Krug.

For a broader picture, Jon Henke does a great job of commenting on the entire column over at The Next Right.

Barack Obama in his inaugural speech promised to “roll back the spectre of a warming planet.” In this context, it is worth contemplating a passage from his book Dreams from My Father. It reveals a lot about the way we view the world’s problems.

Holdren All Wrong

by William Yeatman on January 26, 2009

in Blog

At the end of “Science and Government,” his Godkin Lectures at Harvard nearly a half-century ago that revealed some disastrous wartime scientific misjudgments of the British government, Sir Charles P. Snow offered one reason why it is important to have scientists in government: They have something to give that “our kind of existential society is desperately short of: That is foresight.”