Breakthrough Institute

Post image for Why Is Congress Lethargic about Energy?

This week National Journal’s Energy Experts Blog poses the question: “What’s holding back energy & climate policy.” So far 14 wonks have posted comments including yours truly. What I propose to do here is ‘revise and extend my remarks’ to provide a clearer, more complete explanation of Capitol Hill’s energy lethargy.

To summarize my conclusions in advance, there is no momentum building for the kind of comprehensive energy legislation Congress enacted in 2005 and 2007, or the major energy bills the House passed in 2011, because:

  • We are not in a presidential election year so Republicans have less to gain from passing pro-energy legislation just to frame issues and clarify policy differences for the electorate;
  • Divided government makes it virtually impossible either for congressional Republicans to halt and reverse the Obama administration’s regulatory war on fossil fuels or for Hill Democrats to pass cap-and-trade, carbon taxes, or a national clean energy standard;
  • Democrats paid a political price for cap-and-trade and won’t champion carbon taxes without Republicans agreeing to commit political suicide by granting them bipartisan cover;
  • The national security and climate change rationales for anti-fossil fuel policies were always weak but have become increasingly implausible thanks to North America’s resurgence as an oil and gas producing province, Climategate, and developments in climate science;
  • Multiple policy failures in Europe and the U.S. have eroded public and policymaker support for ‘green’ energy schemes;
  • It has become increasingly evident that the Kyoto crusade was a foredoomed attempt to put policy carts before technology horses; and,
  • The EPA is ‘enacting’ climate policy via administrative fiat, so environmental campaigners no longer need legislation to advance their agenda.

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Post image for Hansen’s Study: Did Global Warming Cause Recent Extreme Weather Events?

A study by NASA’s James Hansen and two colleagues, published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), finds that during the past 30 years, extreme hot weather has become more frequent and affects a larger area of the world than was the case during the preceding 30 years. Specifically, the study, “Perception of climate change,” reports that:

  • Cool summers occurred one-third of the time during 1951-1980 but occurred only 10% of the time during 1981-2010.
  • Very hot weather affected 0.2% of the land area during 1951-1980 but affected 10% of the land area during 1981-2010.

Hansen is the world’s best known scientist in the climate alarm camp and a leading advocate of aggressive measures to curb fossil-energy use. He and his co-authors are up front about the policy agenda motivating their study. The “notorious variability of local weather and climate from day to day and year to year” is the “great barrier” to “public recognition” of man-made climate change and, thus, to public support for policies requiring “rapid reduction of fossil fuel emissions.” When heat waves or drought strike, the authors want the public to perceive global warming. On Saturday, the Washington Post published an op-ed by Hansen summarizing the study’s results.

Heat waves will become more frequent and severe as the world warms; some areas will become drier, others wetter. Those hypotheses are not controversial.

What the Hansen team concludes, however, is controversial. The researchers contend that the biggest, baddest hot weather extremes of recent years — the 2003 European heat wave, the 2010 Russian heat wave, the 2011 Texas-Oklahoma drought, the ongoing Midwest drought — are a “consequence of global warming” and have “virtually no explanation other than climate change.”

There’s just one small problem. The reseachers do not examine any of those events to assess the relative contributions of natural climate variability and global warming. The study provides no event-specific evidence that the record-setting heat waves or droughts would not have occurred in the absence of warming, or would not have broken records in the absence of warming.  [click to continue…]

Post image for Government Did Not Develop the Internet

Proponents of green energy subsidies[1] are quick to claim that the U.S. government created the internet as we know it. Their reasoning is as follows: If only Uncle Sam would do for solar power what it did for the internet, then we could achieve the clean energy breakthrough that will deliver America to a carbon-free energy future.

This line of thinking is misguided, because it conflates “research” and “development.”

“Research” is the “diligent  and  systematic  inquiry  or  investigation  into  a  subject  in  order  to  discover  or  revise  facts,  theories,  applications,  etc,” according to This process of discovery is amenable to top-down control. A priori, a research team sets out to investigate a particular phenomenon. “Development,” however, is different. This is the process by which a technology becomes valued by consumers. It is recalcitrant to top-down controls; rather, it is a function of tinkering by myriad actors.

To put it another way, government research created the internet, but it took many, many smart, opportunistic people to develop the internet.

Consider a brief history that serves to clarify my point. From 1965-1989, the US military and the National Science Foundation created the internet. In 1989, a private telecommunications company, MCI, gained commercial rights to use the internet. Then, “During the 1990s, it was estimated that the Internet grew by 100 percent per year, with a brief period of explosive growth in 1996 and 1997. This growth is often attributed to the lack of central administration, which allows organic growth of the network, as well as the non-proprietary open nature of the Internet protocols, which encourages vendor interoperability and prevents any one company from exerting too much control over the network.” (from Wikipedia)

So, government had zero to do with commercializing internet. Indeed, the internet grew by leaps and bounds only after it was loosened from the grip of the state.

Green energy enthusiasts claim that government can do R&D, and they point to the internet as evidence for this assertion. They are mistaken. While it’s debatable whether government should do the “R,” it is irrefutable that government can’t do the “D.”

[1] Most recently, the much-ballyhooed “post partisan” climate plan released today by the Breakthrough Institute, the Brookings Institute and the American Enterprise Institute.