CNN Climate Emergency Town Hall: Never Let A Crisis Go to Waste

Christopher Johnson

Christopher Johnson

Christopher is an energy policy/public affairs professional based in Washington, D.C., focused on market-based carbon policy.

Related Post Roulette

160 Responses

  1. Avatar Chip Daniels
    Ignored
    says:

    The unease that self-described conservatives who acknowledge environmental issues feel, is due to the fact that any sort of action to protect the environment violates some of the most fundamental premises of American conservatism.

    It is a collective action problem for people who celebrate privatization, and it requires us to view property as a unified, seamless network instead of a patchwork of individual parcels. And since poverty is the most powerful driver of despoliation, it requires us to work towards economic equality.

    But the same could also be said of national defense. I’m not the first person to note the irony that the biggest and most powerful organs of the state are precisely the ones most celebrated by conservatives (Defense and the police).

    Conservatives made their peace with the Leviathan of defense, based on its urgent necessity.

    So maybe there is a conservative case to be made that the urgent need of environmental destruction justifies a large aggressive government and collective action, a National Green Defense you might call it.

    And if it helps, in the same way that the Rockefeller Republicans pointed out that their embrace of the New Deal was the preferable alternative to the Red Menace, I am happy to work with my Antifa cadres to shore up the left jamb of the Overton window.Report

    • Avatar George Turner in reply to Chip Daniels
      Ignored
      says:

      Well, I think our national defense capabilities can play a huge role in Sander’s idea to limit Third World population growth, but I also think that it will guarantee that these CNN debate clips will end up on the History Channel for the next hundred years. Some somber narrators will point out how politicians openly promoted the most insanely destructive and idiotic ideas in modern history.

      I’m also pretty sure Karl Rove must have sponsored their Town Hall to produce the “Ban Everything!” compilation clips that will circulate for years.

      Yep, we’re going to save the planet by switching from plastic straws in paper wrappers to paper strays in plastic wrappers, along with banning cars, natural gas, oil companies, nuclear power, air travel, meat, cheese, and babies, as China and India laugh hysterically and take over.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
      Ignored
      says:

      Should we invade Brazil and protect the Lungs of the World?

      What is to be done about China? India?

      Would we be better off if we were responsible for providing resources to 2 Billion people instead of 7 Billion people?Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        You misunderstand me.
        The Green New Deal is my side of the aisle.
        The National Green Defense is on his side of the aisle.

        In all seriousness, I’m of the opinion now that the frameworks of our political discourse, of market economics versus command economies are not suited to the 21st century.

        They were born out of the massive centralized industrialization of the late 19th century and addressed concerns of how to apportion the fruits of that change.

        I have a hunch that the problems of environmental destruction, fragmented family structures and global technology will cause us to have to reevaluate our ideas of society, property and work in ways we aren’t able to see yet.

        Just as an example: We’ve talked here about water rights and how they are utterly unlike other property rights, because water doesn’t behave like land or goods; It doesn’t stay still or have a maker like other forms of property. So the laws that govern it are bizarrely complicated and ignore any from of Lockean ownership or free market dogma.

        Environmental problems will be resolved by millions, billions of stakeholders in a decades long struggle across the globe, and pull in assorted tangential issues such as birthrates, cultural taboos and totems, economic interests and more besides.

        Fasten your seatbelts; its going to be a bumpy century.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
          Ignored
          says:

          Hey, so long as I’m part of the 2 Billion, I’m down with whatever we come up with that resolves this.Report

        • Avatar George Turner in reply to Chip Daniels
          Ignored
          says:

          And the sad thing is, the important decisions will be made by people who too dumb not to lick Tide pods.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Chip Daniels
          Ignored
          says:

          Should we invade Brazil and protect the Lungs of the World?

          What is to be done about China? India?

          Would we be better off if we were responsible for providing resources to 2 Billion people instead of 7 Billion people?Report

        • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels
          Ignored
          says:

          It is a collective action problem for people who celebrate privatization, and it requires us to view property as a unified

          Approach this from a collective action point of view and you’re going to suffer all the problems previously pointed out and more. Cap and Trade gets hijacked by “cronyism, weird accounting, and temptation to pick winners and losers.” The entire thing becomes an exercise in virtue signalling and misuse of gov power.

          Coyoteblog has it right. Put in a meaningful carbon tax, get the gov out of the business of micromanaging winners and losers and we’re there.

          So maybe there is a conservative case to be made that the urgent need of environmental destruction justifies a large aggressive government and collective action, a National Green Defense you might call it.

          The Defense department is a mess of governmental disfunction, with the only limiting factor that we periodically go to war and are forced to measure what works and what doesn’t.

          A “Green Defense Dept” would have no way meaningful way to measure its success so we’d end up with no upper limit on the level of gov dysfunction and misuse. Real world collectivest governments are typically also massively polluted.Report

          • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Dark Matter
            Ignored
            says:

            What prevents a Carbon Tax from getting hijacked by “cronyism, weird accounting, and temptation to pick winners and losers”?

            I’m not at all opposed to a carbon tax.

            But since the people who will design and implement such a thing are the very same people who would design and implement global trade agreements or environmental laws or anything else, I’m not seeing how a carbon tax is immune to the same pressures.Report

            • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels
              Ignored
              says:

              I’m not seeing how a carbon tax is immune to the same pressures.

              It’s simpler. It’s like the difference between a sales tax and the income tax code.

              With a carbon tax Exxon pays the gov and passes it on to everyone who buys gas (exactly like a sales tax). This is predictable which is good for business. It also won’t eliminate carbon which is why environmental purists don’t like it.

              Cap-and-trade can be done lots of ways, but it quickly gets pretty ugly in practice. The gov in theory could (or is supposed to) set the amount of allowable carbon to zero so everyone needs to trade for it to offset their emissions… however this is expecting our brave politicians to destroy jobs and destroy vast amounts of the economy so that doesn’t happen.

              We’ve seen credits handed out for almost zero. We’ve seen “tax-rebate” style deals where someone says they won’t build a factory unless the gov figures out how to get them carbon credits.

              There is no natural and obvious price of credits for things like planting a tree or whatever so there’s lots of opportunity for games to be played there. There’s “industry X is favored/important so it shouldn’t need to pay credits”.Report

              • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Dark Matter
                Ignored
                says:

                however this is expecting our brave politicians to destroy jobs and destroy vast amounts of the economy so that doesn’t happen.

                Uh, the exact same logic, except moreso, is why people argue against a straight tax. Namely, it’s going to make a lot of things cost more.

                The entire premise of, and problem with, cap-and-trade is that it basically should start out entirely neutral. The average business in whatever field shouldn’t have to pay anything, because the ‘cap’ should be right above there. Businesses that produced more CO2 than the average need to purchase credits from businesses that produce less. Over time, the government would slowly start reducing the caps, forcing everyone to either get more efficient…or not.

                The problem, of course, is that this is stupid. As you point out, it requires picking winners and losers. You have to figure out what average is, which can be different for different size places, you have to calculate product output somehow, it’s a giant mess.

                What I would like to see is neither a cap and trade _or_ a straight up tax. I’d like to see auctions. Just…straight-up auctions for CO2 disposal rights.The government has X amount of CO2 it’s willing to let people put into the air, and if people want to do that, they better start bidding the right to the amount they want. And if gasoline or propane is sold for personal use, the seller has to include the CO2 disposal rights in it.

                Have fun bidding against environmental groups that are going to buy CO2 disposal rights up and not use them. Probably not a huge amount, but I can see them bidding at the lower end, knocking out other cheap bidders.

                The entire nonsense with cap and trade is that the plan is to let certain industries get away with producing more CO2 than others, which is…picking winners and losers. I say, everyone has to pay the same for CO2 disposal, period.

                The problem, of course, is international manufacturers, which I don’t really know how to deal with…but that’s a problem in _all_ things like this.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to DavidTC
                Ignored
                says:

                Uh, the exact same logic, except moreso, is why people argue against a straight tax. Namely, it’s going to make a lot of things cost more.

                That’s part of it, but a big part is lack of trust in the gov. The amount taxed would be very large. In theory an “externalities” tax is supposed to be use to address the problems created by GW.

                In practice that’s so vague that we end up with AOC’s “no progressive cause left behind” war on capitalism. Handing the gov a massive slush fund seems like a bad idea. It’s not going to be used to promote nuclear and we’re already dealing with hurricane damage without it.

                The carbon tax on the table supposedly would replace our payroll taxes. That would be a big step towards ending the gov’s efforts to destroy jobs, and the amount of economic damage created by the tax would be balanced by the good of removing payroll taxes.Report

    • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Chip Daniels
      Ignored
      says:

      Agree with every word of this Chip. Well-said.Report

    • Christopher Johnson Christopher Johnson in reply to Chip Daniels
      Ignored
      says:

      I’m of a similar sentiment regarding the Overton Window, though I don’t think American conservatism precludes environmental effort. Libertarianism does, but classical liberalism and Burkean conservatism do not.Report

      • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Christopher Johnson
        Ignored
        says:

        Depends on how far down the libertarian rabbit hole you are. If you are complete Night Watchman state, then yes, environmental effort is limited to what individuals are willing to do.

        Heading back to the surface and you see more things like leveraging tax incentives, etc. (e.g. eliminate property taxes for land used for solar or wind production, while increasing taxes on land used for oil extraction).Report

  2. Avatar Dark Matter
    Ignored
    says:

    First, great article.

    While the threat of climate change is absolutely severe and urgent, it is hard not to see Democratic rhetoric motivated less by genuine concern and more by the same kind of populist demagoguery that motivates the President’s claims of “emergencies” involving migrant caravans, Islam, and international trade.

    Why “hard not”? The Dems don’t really view climate as a crises, they just want to claim they do. The majority of this article makes that clear.

    Are they screaming for nuclear power? If yes, then we can finally move on this. If no (and it is “no”), then there is no solution and denuclearization is viewed as vastly more important than de-carbonization.

    In 2050, where he is proposing we set the goal of net-zero emissions…

    If I’m elected I promise future politicians will make this happen. Future politicians will make the painful trade offs I won’t.

    Any plan that has something like that as a plank in the plan should be suspect.

    The damage climate change could cause if temperatures increase at the current rate economically is estimated at 7.2 percent GDP by 2100.

    Over a 70 year period, so that’s 0.1 percent a year or something which rounds effectively to zero. At a handwave, the solutions on the table are way more expensive than that.

    We’re not in enough pain yet to do anything about this.Report

    • Christopher Johnson Christopher Johnson in reply to Dark Matter
      Ignored
      says:

      >Why “hard not”? The Dems don’t really view climate as a crises, they just want to claim they do. The majority of this article makes that clear.

      >Are they screaming for nuclear power? If yes, then we can finally move on this. If no (and it is “no”), then there is no solution and denuclearization is viewed as vastly more important than de-carbonization.

      I think polling shows that the *voters* and some of the candidates take the issue as serious as their rhetoric shows. But I agree that many of the candidates seem to care more about political expediency than the climate.

      >If I’m elected I promise future politicians will make this happen. Future politicians will make the painful trade offs I won’t.

      >Any plan that has something like that as a plank in the plan should be suspect.

      Absolutely. One thing I didn’t get into much in this piece was the structural issues with implementing these policies. They were asked many questions about HOW they would pass this stuff, and ensure it has a lasting legacy (where Obama’s climate efforts failed). The answers ranged from ending the filibuster to using budget reconciliation. But even when this is considered, most of the effects of any climate legislation (other than the carbon tax) probably would not be felt immediately, so you make a fair point.

      >Over a 70 year period, so that’s 0.1 percent a year or something which rounds effectively to zero. At a handwave, the solutions on the table are way more expensive than that.

      >We’re not in enough pain yet to do anything about this.

      GDP is measured on an annual basis. By 2100, we would be missing 7.2 percent of GDP every year because of climate change, if the models hold true. We likely will never know how accurate these are because the status quo is unlikely.Report

      • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Christopher Johnson
        Ignored
        says:

        GDP is measured on an annual basis. By 2100, we would be missing 7.2 percent of GDP every year because of climate change

        I had it right. 1.001^70 is 1.072 (i.e. an extra 7.2%)

        They are claiming we’re going be growing at 0.1% less than we would otherwise. (BTW these figures match up exactly so I expect I’ve reverse engineered their reasoning.)

        “Missing 7.2% of GDP every year” would mean every 8.5 years HALF the economy is destroyed. It’d be like holding a new atomic war every 8 years. In a century we’re back to the stone age (or extinct).

        What they mean is the economy in 70 years will be 7.2% less big than it would be otherwise.

        However they’re assuming there’s no cost, AT ALL, to getting rid of carbon. Magic handwave and we just do it. Put some real world costs in there and this line of reasoning falls apart because the amount of money to decarbonize is more than the savings.

        Edit: Unless they’re serious about “a nuclear war every 8 years” in which case they’re claiming humanity is seriously in danger… but our first priority needs to be no nukes and raising the minimum wage.Report

        • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Dark Matter
          Ignored
          says:

          From what i can see M2 doesn’t survive 30 years.

          With that aside I propose to calculate the effects on velocity of money and spit ball how viable this is.

          Calculate the V for today, V for each ten years into the future.

          The problem I run into, is what assumptions are being made to the price component? What price assumptions are being assumed 10 years, 20 years, taken all the way out to 70 years.

          I’m assuming that M2 is doubling about every 10 years.Report

  3. Avatar Michael Siegel
    Ignored
    says:

    Great article. Of course, I say that because I’ve been beating this drum for a while. 🙂 But it’s hard to take the climate threat seriously when the Democrats don’t.

    Coyote Blog had a really good picture of what a good conservative climate policy might look like: http://coyoteblog.com/coyote_blog/2018/09/trans-partisan-plan-1-addressing-man-made-global-warming-with-a-plan-that-could-be-supported-by-both-democrats-and-republicans.html?doing_wp_cron=1567737989.8549849987030029296875 Carbon tax, eliminate most subsidies, overhaul nuclear power, clean up coal.

    I would add to that pour money into tech research. And not just research, but into long shot crazy programs like power satellite or nuclear fusion. Many of those projects will fail, but some will succeed. And I would say deregulation so that new tech can be deployed much more quickly.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Michael Siegel
      Ignored
      says:

      I agree with this. I’m pretty sure that treating this like a moral issue will doom it to failure. We have to treat it like an engineering problem. Reducing emissions isn’t even the floor anymore. We need to be reversing things and that means that we need to eliminate them.

      It’s a collective action problem too… which means that there are a lot of individual things that individuals will need to be doing (and, good lord, they need to *STOP* telling us to eat insects between bites of steak and telling us to drive less between intercontinental plane trips)…

      But the things that will turn this around and put us in a good place haven’t been invented yet.

      And they need to be.Report

      • Avatar Jesse in reply to Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        I always love this argument

        Rich Person says something about climate change – “they’re hypocrites, because they don’t walk everywhere and eat only soylet.”

        Poor person / actual climate activist says something – “They’re left wing weirdos who don’t understand how real Americans work and live.”

        It’s almost like you’re looking for a reason not to listen to anybody, because you actually believe that climate change isn’t important enough to actually effect your life.

        Which is fine, but don’t tell me you care about climate change, butt then tell me you think you should continue to live in a tax subsidized suburban sprawl, while driving everywhere, and eating pounds upon pounds of meat.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jesse
          Ignored
          says:

          My argument is that if that somebody’s argument is that this is a crisis, then the person who is telling me that this is a crisis and that, because it is a crisis, I need to change my life, then the person who has told me that this is a crisis will not have a whole lot of credibility if they have not changed their lives.

          We used to understand this in the days of Televangelists.

          Hey, I understand that you can *ALWAYS* take it to the opponent and talk about them personally instead of their argument and that doing so is a tell that you’re looking for excuses to not change rather than for actual arguments about whether someone should change.

          We saw this before medicinal a lot… (and, yes, on both sides):
          If you smoke marijuana and you think that marijuana should be legal, your argument can be dismissed because you’re arguing in your own self-interest.
          If you don’t smoke marijuana and you think that marijuana should be legal, your argument can be dismissed because you have no idea of the habit-forming nature of marijuana.
          If you smoke marijuana and you don’t think that it should be legal, your argument can be dismissed because maybe you should turn yourself into the police instead of talking to me?
          If you don’t smoke marijuana and you don’t think that it should be legal, your argument can be dismissed because you don’t know what you’re even talking about and you want people to go to prison.

          And none of that has to do with policy.

          *BUT*. If you are hoping to get people to change policies? If you want them to make radical lifestyle changes and join in on a huge collective action problem? You’ll do a better job of convincing them if you practice what you preach.

          I don’t know why this is a controversial observation.

          (But, at the end of the day, I think that this is a problem that will be solved through engineering and wide-adoption of the engineering.)Report

          • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird
            Ignored
            says:

            You criticize society, yet you take part in society. Curious!Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
              Ignored
              says:

              It’s true that that argument can consistently be made about anybody who says “you need to change”.

              That said, if you are hoping to get me to change, it would be kinda nice if you do the things that you’re asking me to do.

              If you aren’t doing the things that you’re asking me to do, I find myself in a place where I wonder “what in the hell is going on here?”

              I don’t know why this is a controversial observation.

              Larry Craig wasn’t *THAT* long ago.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                I mean, if I was talking about some of the problems with getting nuclear power established as an option and I kept talking about the need to convince the general public before we could really establish it as a policy, and someone kept telling me BUT NUCLEAR IS GREEN!

                Sure. I don’t disagree. But I’m talking about changing general perceptions and trying to get them on board.Report

            • Avatar George Turner in reply to Chip Daniels
              Ignored
              says:

              Andrew Yang is telling people to abandon the coasts and move inland, while Obama just bought a beach-front mansion for $15 million.

              This falls under judging people’s real beliefs by their actions instead of their words, or less charitably, scaring the heck out of folks so they sell in a panic, dropping local real-estate prices so you can buy low because you know the panic you promoted is nonsense.Report

          • Avatar veronica d in reply to Jaybird
            Ignored
            says:

            The “You need to work harder to convince me” argument is just as bogus. It’s all bullshit and posturing.

            I have a simple theory: by the time the climate crisis becomes undeniably grave, it will be too late.

            This saddens me. On the other hand, I don’t have kids, and I’m in my fifties, so from a personal perspective — Look, I’d rather people in the future would thrive rather than the opposite. But I’m just one person and the world is large. I do what I can trying to convince stubborn shitheads that climate change is real, and we need to do something collectively — but we won’t, because the only way to organize large groups of humans is war. We’ll march in lines to kill people, and noting else.

            So fuckit. You can make mouth noises about all the shit liberals should do to convince you, but whatever. It’s all narcissistic bullshit. You don’t matter. I don’t matter.

            Humanity could have been better than this, but we weren’t.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to veronica d
              Ignored
              says:

              It’s all bullshit and posturing.

              YES! You totally understand where I’m coming from!

              My argument is simple: if you want me to change my life, set an example. If you aren’t willing to set an example, you shouldn’t expect other people to take your argument about the urgency of this issue seriously.

              I don’t see why this is controversial.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                I think what she’s saying is that virtuous persons, like herself, don’t need to convince assholes like you of anything, because if you just recognize that they’re right then you’ll understand why it’s important for them to fly to places while you starve in the cold dirty darkness, and if you don’t recognize that they’re right then you’re incapable of understanding no matter how much they explain it to you.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to DensityDuck
                Ignored
                says:

                This is where my upbringing as a hardcore evangelical is getting in the way again.

                I have already played this game.
                Been there. Done that. Bought the t-shirt. The t-shirt was made from recycled plastic bottles.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                Yes, you do seem to want to frame this as some sort of evangelism, like we are all trying to save Jaybird’s soul.

                As if that’s what environmental destruction is all about, a group wanting to inflict what they see as a rightful order on the world, and police Jaybird’s diet and choice of lightbulbs.

                Um, no.

                As I’ve listed many times, thousands of farms across the American west are already being forced by shrinking water supplies to change how they practice. Today, right now.

                When you goes to the grocery store, those changes will be reflected in your bill.
                Along with the changes in your electric bill, gasoline bill, insurance bill, tax bill.

                You are already, right now, today, engaging with climate change. Climate change is driving the decisions you make when you sit down to balance your checkbook and plan your major life events.

                You may not be interested in climate change, but climate change is most definitely interested in you.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
                Ignored
                says:

                This is confusing. My argument isn’t “WE’LL GROW ORANGES IN ALASKA”.

                My argument is that we have to pick between two things:

                A: This is a collective action problem and we need to get more people on board with the collective action
                B: We’re well beyond the scope of collective action and now have to rely on engineering to get us out of this hole we’ve gotten ourselves into

                (and this is an inclusive or, not an exclusive one)

                I am a *BIG* fan of B. We totally need to get to building stuff now.

                But when it comes to A, part of what is involved with solving the problem of people not joining up with collective action in a democracy is getting enough of them to change their minds.

                Right? Do we agree with that? It strikes me as trivially true to the point of banality.

                I have no idea why noticing this is controversial.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                The problem with an Engineering Solution is that it doesn’t punish the naughty people.

                Which is what this is about, really. Climate change can be moderated or mitigated, but this is such a juicy, delicious, just utterly *scrumptious* chance to punish the naughty people, and so that’s what we’re going to do, and if you start to complain we can retreat to the bailey of “the planet is DYING, you UTTER FOOL, don’t you CARE about that?!”Report

              • Avatar veronica d in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                You’ll always be able to find a hypocrite. Likewise, there are plenty of people who practice what they preach.

                There isn’t much “new information” to be had. You know what you need to know. You’ll make the choice you’re gonna make. Pointing at “libruls” or whatever is bullshit.

                But as I said, when the cost of climate change becomes undeniable, it will be too late. Trying to blame “the left” for not convincing you is facile.

                They won’t convince the oil companies either. Choose your politics — but on the other hand, we’re basically fucked.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to veronica d
                Ignored
                says:

                This is confusing. My argument isn’t “WE’LL GROW ORANGES IN ALASKA”.

                I see this as an engineering problem first and foremost and the solutions involve engineering solutions. My worries are about how the things we need haven’t been invented yet and we need to get those things invented.

                Now, to the extent that this is a collective action problem, we need to get other people on board.

                And my position is fairly straightforward and uncontroversial: If you want me to change my life, you have to have adopted the changes you want me to adopt.

                If you have not, I have no reason to treat your assertions that it is imperative that I change my life as an imperative.

                Again. I have no idea why in the hell this is controversial.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                You seem to think this is a choice you get to make.
                It isn’t.
                No one is asking you to change your life.

                Your life is already changing, with or without your permission.

                The rest of your fellow citizens are discussing what changes in policy we collectively want to enact. Taxes to go up or down, subsidies to increase or decrease, tariffs to enact or not.

                Policies you will live with, and comply with, whether you like it or not.

                Of all the possible choices you have in front of you, the status quo is not one.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Chip Daniels
                Ignored
                says:

                “you’ll have the choice made for you by the rest of society, and you don’t get to ask why other people got a different choice”

                and yet you consider yourself an opponent of entrenched privilege! Curious!Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
                Ignored
                says:

                The rest of your fellow citizens are discussing what changes in policy we collectively want to enact.

                Yes. And I am saying that the policy proposals that require that *I* live a certain way but you don’t have to live that certain way will be DOA.

                I don’t see why this is controversial.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                DOA?
                Why would you think that?

                We live in a world chock full of laws that mandate that *you* live a certain way but *I* do not.

                And those laws are really, really popular.
                Popular, that is, with people who take part in the process and work together with like minded people.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
                Ignored
                says:

                “DOA? Why would you think that?”

                Because I remember Larry Craig.

                And Prohibition.

                And the War on Drugs.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                You keep circling back to the idea that environmental destruction and efforts to combat it is like personal sex habits or drug use.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
                Ignored
                says:

                No. It’s my position that the way we’re going to fight it is through engineering and collective action.

                And if you want collective action, you’re going to need a critical mass of people to agree with you. Not everybody, but *ENOUGH* people. And to persuade *ENOUGH* people, it will require deeds in addition to mere assertions of moral superiority without deeds.

                I mean, maybe engineering will be enough. I hope it will be.

                Because starting from a position of incredulity that you should be held to the standards you’re calling for is probably not going to change a sufficient number of peoples’ minds.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                Aren’t you really just speaking for yourself here?

                I mean, we have scads of examples of people wanting standards, even while those in power and influence don’t themselves comply with them.

                Trumpists really really want immigration restrictions yet are unfazed by reports that Trump uses illegal immigrant labor;
                People pounding their shoe on the table for capitalism, yet receiving subsidies;

                None of these examples ever had the slightest impact on the popularity of immigration restrictions or capitalism.

                Even your examples point away from your argument.

                Larry Craig’s scandal had zero impact on anyone’s view of Christianity or even conservatism.

                Hypocritical advocates of Prohibition and the drug war, who themselves used the drugs, haven’t moved the needle even a millimeter.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
                Ignored
                says:

                I mean, we have scads of examples of people wanting standards, even while those in power and influence don’t themselves comply with them.

                If your argument is that “we want standards”, then I agree with your argument.

                If your argument is that “we want standards enough that we don’t care if they don’t apply to the privileged”, I’m not sure that I agree with that argument.

                I admit that the War on Drugs worked like that…

                But as soon as we started applying the War on Drugs to the ‘burbs, we got medicinal and then, when the cops wouldn’t slow down, we got recreational.

                I don’t see why that won’t happen again.

                Explain it to me.

                Larry Craig’s scandal had zero impact on anyone’s view of Christianity or even conservatism.

                You remember the Larry Craig scandal differently than I do.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                The weakness of tu quoque is that it is a nonsequitur.

                It isn’t a weak argument, it really isn’t any sort of argument at all, and doesn’t follow from the opening premise.

                “Larry Craig got busted in a toilet hur hur”.

                That’s not an argument, it’s an observation.

                Does it argue that if even Christians do it, well by golly, we should all go out and do it?

                Or does it argue that it is indeed terrible behavior, and Larry Craig should stop being the spokesman for piety?

                It doesn’t argue either one. It makes no argument of any kind.

                Likewise, your example of the drug was points away from your premise.
                The consequences of the drug war brought the sacrifice home for a lot of people, and they turned against it.

                Except they didn’t turn away from it because they saw rich anti-drug people smoking weed with impunity.
                So it doesn’t offer any support whatsoever for your premise.

                If you want to make an argument that “Once people actually feel the pain of environmental laws they will turn against it” you might have a case.

                But it won’t have anything to do with celebrities flying in airplanes and eating steak.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
                Ignored
                says:

                While I appreciate the argument that “tu quoque is not a real argument”, my argument is not that tu quoque is a real argument.

                My argument is that, if you want people to change their minds, you’re going to have to persuade them.

                I don’t see why this is controversial.

                Likewise, your example of the drug was points away from your premise.
                The consequences of the drug war brought the sacrifice home for a lot of people, and they turned against it.

                The War on Drugs that they were fine with when it was arresting People Of Color was something that they stopped supporting when it applied to them.

                If your suggestion for environmentalism is that we come up with standards for the 3rd and 4th World countries out there that 1st World countries won’t have to follow, let me say that, sure, that’s a set of standards that will *FLY* through the various parliaments.

                If that’s all we’re going for, then I suppose we can be pleased that we’re in agreement.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                “Your argument is not persuasive to ..oh, not ME, but those millions of other people out there.”

                This is the “ventriloquist voice” argument.

                You’re are delivering your own opinion, as if it were the position held by legions of people not present and who can’t take part.

                You’re right in one regard, that preaching austerity while indulging makes the sell difficult.

                Except…that holds true only sometimes, and is far from any sort of ironclad law of politics.

                And actually, “we” are not selling anything.
                When people have their own motivations and reasons for austerity, they do it even when the elites don’t.

                Malaysians and Chinese and Brazilians grasp the dangers of climate change, separate and apart from anything Americans might say.

                In fact, the Trump presidency has shown the remarkable shrinking of the American voice from the world stage. The EU, the Asian nations, the African nations…they are all discussing and taking action, regardless of what Trump says or doesn’t.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
                Ignored
                says:

                This is the “ventriloquist voice” argument.

                Let me put together something more formal, then.

                Here are my premises:

                G = Fully Green Model
                P = Collective Action
                Q = Buy-in on the part of greater society
                R = Buy-in on the part of the elites calling for buy-in elsewhere

                Here is my argument:

                ~P -> ~G
                ~Q -> ~P
                ~R -> ~Q

                By implication:
                ~R -> ~GReport

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                Don’t worry. These people aren’t terrifying or anything.Report

              • Avatar George Turner in reply to JoeSal
                Ignored
                says:

                Swedish professor urges eating human flesh to save the climate

                I’m usually the first on board with promoting long pig, warning people that they should decide which children to eat first before we get two inches of snow and risk running out of milk and bread for a whole day.

                But I don’t really see how eating people benefits the environment, other than perhaps making significant reductions in the human population by having Burger King serving McDonald’s customers and McDonald’s serving Burger King customers.

                So I’ll just save this suggestion in my filing cabinet under “Climate Alarmism is a Mental Disease.”Report

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to George Turner
                Ignored
                says:

                Yeah, but you have to be careful about consuming that antifa long pig, it could give ya Maddow disease.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                “I have no idea why in the hell this is controversial.”

                They see it as you saying “I’ve found some dudes who fly on airplanes, THEREFORE GLOBAL WARMING ISN’T REAL AND WE DON’T HAVE TO DO ANYTHING.”

                Because they aren’t actually having a discussion, they’re following a script that’s written in their heads, and you’re playing the part of The Climate Skeptic, and that guy is a real asshole and he always says the same things. That you say other things is irrelevant, because your words are fuhfuh to them; you might as well be singing in Italian with them following a libretto.Report

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                Remember way back when I made a case that rule of law was maybe a individual construct?

                Me: If I am expected to do this thing X that is just, I would expect everyone to do this thing X that is just.

                The Good Society: That’s nonsense, you have to do X because we said it was good and just, don’t judge us on what we actually do!

                Me: ……….Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to JoeSal
                Ignored
                says:

                Externalities and collective action problems aren’t constructs.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                “Externalities and collective action problems aren’t constructs.”

                this is the part where you explain how certain people aren’t responsible for solving collective action problemsReport

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to DensityDuck
                Ignored
                says:

                Is it?

                What am I going to say?Report

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                Haha, actually the topic is climate change and the main parameters to that are predictions about what will happen in the future.

                To construct a prediction there has to be a collection of objective data and truth. The prediction would have to be constructed within limits of scientific objectivity.

                If the work was done correctly you could say you have identified a externality or a problem.

                But I don’t think there is a truly scientific person alive who wouldn’t ask how you constructed your prediction model.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        The problem with treating it like an engineering problem is that the solution is already here: build nothing but nuclear power plants, everywhere, forever.Report

        • Avatar JoeSal in reply to DensityDuck
          Ignored
          says:

          ya gotta understand Duck, there are good breeders and bad breeders……Report

        • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to DensityDuck
          Ignored
          says:

          The problem with treating it like an engineering problem is that the solution is already here: build nothing but nuclear power plants, everywhere, forever.

          +1. To a first approximation, yes, that.

          Many things fall away as quibbles if you fix the main grid. Smart grid, energy transmission, air pollution, etc become less important or are greatly reduced as concerns.

          We’re still left with cars, but electric cars fueled by clean electricity is fine while cars plugging into the nearest coal plant isn’t.Report

    • Avatar Jesse in reply to Michael Siegel
      Ignored
      says:

      I mean, aside from the hit on subsidies, that’s a perfectly fine beginning, but it doesn’t begin to do enough.

      If it was the plan signed by President John McCain in 2002, OK. Now, it’s like talking about making sure the stove was turned off after the house is already on fire.Report

      • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Jesse
        Ignored
        says:

        aside from the hit on subsidies…

        A lot of those subsidies are virtue signalling. If the underlying technology can’t succeed even with a carbon tax making them more efficient, then they don’t deserve to exist.

        that’s a perfectly fine beginning, but it doesn’t begin to do enough.

        What would you suggest?Report

    • Christopher Johnson Christopher Johnson in reply to Michael Siegel
      Ignored
      says:

      This is my dream plan. And as for innovation, I think one area where government spending makes sense is in research, as seen by NASA and DOE’s National Labs. If we increased ARPA-E spending by 100x, that would not be a waste of tax dollars, in my opinion.Report

    • Avatar James K in reply to Michael Siegel
      Ignored
      says:

      That’s a solid policy policy platform, it takes the problem seriously and proposes solutions that work with market mechanism instead of against them. I also agree with putting money into tech – the way to break the political problem of addressing climate change is to lower the cost of transitioning to new energy sources and technological development will speed that process up.Report

  4. Avatar Mike Dwyer
    Ignored
    says:

    Just wanted to say, great post Christopher. Agreed with all of it. I have said for years that the best strategy has to be creating financial incentives for everyone to embrace the changes we need to make. I don’t need someone to believe that climate change is real, I just need them to do it. Making that choice financially beneficial is the best way to get there.Report

    • Christopher Johnson Christopher Johnson in reply to Mike Dwyer
      Ignored
      says:

      Thanks so much! I wrote my undergrad thesis on carbon pricing, so I’d be lying if I said it’s not a personal policy preference, but I’d like to think I have that preference because it works and it makes sense.

      Consumers deserve to know the intangible effects on the planet that production has, and carbon fees directly address that!Report

  5. Avatar DensityDuck
    Ignored
    says:

    I’m a little surprised to see large-scale geoengineering described as “climate nihilism”. I guess “we need BIG solutions, HARD solutions, and we need them NOW” only counts when it’s your solutions they’re proposing?

    I mean, if you want to get all snotty about climate science, suggesting that aerosol particulates could increase the planet’s albedo and cool the surface is about as climate-sciencey as you can get.Report

    • Avatar George Turner in reply to DensityDuck
      Ignored
      says:

      Here’s an easy calculation for mitigating sea level rise by pumping sea water onto vast areas of the arctic and Antarctic where it will stay frozen through the next major glaciation.

      The area of Earth’s oceans is 360 million square kilometers, or 3.6e14 square meters.

      Sea level rise is 3.4 mm/year and we’d like to drop it back to 2.4 mm/year, which is about the rate or rise in the 1990’s, or even reduce it to zero.

      1 mm of rise across an area of 3.6e14 square meters is a volume of 3.6e11 cubic meters, with a sea-water weight of 3.7e14 kilograms.

      Pumping 3.7e14 kg of mass upward by 100 meters represents 3.6e17 Joules of energy, or 1.0e11 kilowatt hours. At 85% pump efficiency, the input will have to be 1.19e11 kilowatter hours.

      At the current average US cost of $0.12 per kilowatt hour, the cost per year of abating 1 mm of rise is $14 billion dollars. Reducing the rise to zero would cost $48.4 billion a year and require 46 Gigawatts of electrical capacity running 24/7. That’s 4.3% of the US installed electrical capacity.

      So that’s one possible engineering solution to sea level rise, with costs.

      From there, someone could argue that we don’t need to reduce the rise to zero, just keep it from further accelerating. Someone else might point out that $0.12/kwh includes all the costs for maintaining an expansive electrical grid that runs all the way to your house, and that coal-fired electricity production costs at the mine mouth is more like $0.02/kwh.

      However you analyze the idea, you’re looking at a normal engineering solution the way we’d look at any other engineering project, as opposed to proposals to revamp economics and the human heart to appease the angry sea gods.Report

    • Christopher Johnson Christopher Johnson in reply to DensityDuck
      Ignored
      says:

      I think I take it from the perspective of “we are basically screwed in terms of emissions reduction and limiting future temperature rise, so we need to re-terraform Earth” seems like it is basically giving up in favor of an expensive, risky solution. We know the costs and effects of reducing emissions, while geoengineering is a massive question mark. It’s wrong to rule it out, but it should not really be part of the discussion except as a last resort.

      I don’t see it as substantively different from “we need to plan on colonizing the moon/Mars because [insert post-apocalyptic plotline of WATERWORLD/MAD MAX/THE ROAD/etc.].”Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Christopher Johnson
        Ignored
        says:

        So, yes, “we need BIG solutions, HARD solutions, and we need them NOW” only counts when it’s your solutions they’re proposing.

        I’m serious about this–you cannot assume that everyone will agree with your conclusions in a complex discussion like this. You’re acting like everyone will just inherently agree that sea-level rise is an awful thing that will just ruin everything. What if they don’t agree?Report

        • Christopher Johnson Christopher Johnson in reply to DensityDuck
          Ignored
          says:

          Then they’ll drown, I guess?

          Sorry, had to.

          But seriously, Congress only needs a critical mass of support for these policies, and I am confident that the solutions I’m proposing are bound to be more popular because of opportunity cost. We can address it now with some relatively big and radical ideas (carbon taxes, nuclear and CCS innovation, etc) or we can go the (in my opinion) much riskier route of geoengineering or bailing on Earth once the problem is irreversible. The tail risk on climate change is REALLY dire, so I don’t think most people will have a wait-and-see mindset and support preventative action now.

          And if we are wrong, and it ends up not being that bad (which is, to say the least, highly unlikely), I think this kind of gets to the heart of being concerned that the stuff I’m proposing was unnecessary, or radical in the wrong ways:

          You may ask “what if it’s all a hoax/we are already past the tipping point, and we created a better world for nothing?”

          Energy Independence
          Preserve Rainforests
          Sustainability
          Green Jobs
          Livable Cities
          Clean Energy
          Clean Water & Air
          Healthy Children

          etc.

          The radical nihilistic solutions don’t make anyone’s life better, they just stave off extinction, which my proposals ALSO do.Report

          • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Christopher Johnson
            Ignored
            says:

            “You may ask “what if it’s all a hoax/we are already past the tipping point, and we created a better world for nothing?””

            Except you aren’t telling me that it’s about creating a better world, you’re telling me about the “tail risk”, you’re telling me that we have to do something right now right now RIGHT NOW or we are ALL gonna DIE.

            My point in all of this is not that we shouldn’t be taking steps to reduce environmental impact, my point is that you’re engaging in pre-shaming of people who don’t agree that your ideas are the right ones, and if you think that you’re Obviously Right and it’s Too Late For Talking and that people are just gonna go with you because of that then you’ve got another think coming.

            You really do need to be prepared for the guy who says that if it’s about creating a better world then he can create a pretty darn good world up in the Yukon Territory, and he can have plastic straws up there if he wants.Report

            • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to DensityDuck
              Ignored
              says:

              There is an element of “What risk is being mitigated?”.

              Sure, climate change means the Atlantic hurricanes get stronger and more frequent, and the people who have multimillion dollar homes alone the coast and in Florida swampland are in bad shape.

              But that is part of the risk of living along the coast and in swampland, that storms are gonna get ya.

              Heck, even farming isn’t that dire, since we have ways of growing food indoors, or underground, or just shifting towards the poles.

              Will it cost money?

              Yes, most certainly.

              Which is cheaper?Report

              • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Oscar Gordon
                Ignored
                says:

                The risk being migrated is basically re-rolling the dice on the world.

                If we knew the actual problem was ‘temperature is X degrees different in this location and sea level X inches higher’…that’s easy.

                The problem is, we don’t even know that. Weather and ocean patterns are weird. But…let’s pretend we understand them.

                We then would realize we’ve facing something we really can’t calculate: Living systems.

                The world is made of vast feedback loops consisting of all sorts of very complicated things, and those loops change over thousands of years…and even at that scale there is sometimes wholescale collapse.

                Over the past century, mere _invasive species_ have become a huge problem, to the point that the world is taking large steps to try to contain them.

                But…what happens when the invasive species is the one right next to you? An area suddenly becomes habitable for a species that used to be limited to a few hundred miles away. And that species drives out another, and now some other species that used to eat the other one can’t make it, etc, etc.

                This sort of stuff does happen in nature, but it happens either one species at a time via evolution or human dumbness in introducing species into wrong places or making other species go extinct. Or it happens on geographic time.

                When it happens all in one bang…it’s not some trivial ‘Everything just moves slightly north’ situations. It’s massive die-offs. It’s already started happening. There have been large die-offs in Wisconsin’s lakes due to summer heat spikes…which, again, by itself would be minor…but changes like that _ripple_. What depending on those fish? What depended on that? The entire ecosystem can’t just relocate north, lakes don’t work that way.

                Rerolling the dice on the world’s climate seems almost trivial for humans. A few relocation of endangered cities, farms moving a bit, but the problem is…we don’t exist alone on this planet.Report

              • Avatar veronica d in reply to DavidTC
                Ignored
                says:

                It’s the scale. In the past, poor collective actions decisions could wipe out a village or even a kingdom. Now we operate at a global scale with global effects.

                We cannot predict the outcome, except we can say something will happen. It will be weird, unpredictable, and global.

                Also, there is no turning back, once we pass over a bifurcation point. Once we shift into a new attractor zone, marginal changes cannot move us back into our current stable-ish region of phase space. We’ll be in a different region. It will be unpredictable. What will happen?

                Engineering isn’t going to help much — you all understand that, right? It will be like getting a jet airplane out of a flat spin using only teaspoons as control surfaces.

                Well, we can try random global changes like — I dunno — introducing some new bacteria or whatever, which maybe will shift us past a different bifurcation point into some other region. Yay. That sounds fun. Nothing could possibly go wrong.

                Dumbasses.

                Of course, I can’t convince some dipshit Fox viewer of this. I won’t bother to try.

                Eat local sourced kale! Or don’t. The stuff is yucky anyhow.

                It doesn’t matter. It’s too late.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to veronica d
                Ignored
                says:

                How do you feel about nuclear power?Report

      • Avatar George Turner in reply to Christopher Johnson
        Ignored
        says:

        Well, say we can fix the sea-level problem for $10 billion a year just by pumping water uphill. That actually solves the sea level problem, and it’s likely cheaper than paying people to worry about the problem.

        The mindset alone brings forth related issues.

        Say I stick with the $0.12/kwh price that comes to $14 billion per mm of sea-level rise abated. Is reducing sea-level rise by 1 mm worth $14 billion?

        Suppose there aren’t noticeable benefits unless we abate an entire foot of sea level rise, with the benefit mainly showing up as a slight decrease in hurricane damage from storm surge. Instead of 5 feet of flooding you get 4 feet of flooding, perhaps cutting the flooding cost by 20% and overall damage (because wind isn’t affected) by maybe 10%.

        My cost for abating a foot of rise is $4.3 trillion dollars. The average cost of hurricane damage in the US is $28 billion a year, and my geo-hack is only preventing 10% of that, or $2.8 billion a year in damage. I’m out $4.3 trillion, plus the interest on that amount, which even at 2% comes to $86 billion a year. I’m also continuously spending $48 billion a year to keep 3.3 mm/year of rise from happening, so my total spending is about $135 billion a year to save $2.8 billion a year.

        That’s a very poor financial trade-off.

        So I’d look at worldwide hurricane damage and see if the damage in other countries could improve the cost benefit analysis. I’d dig into data on global shore-line maintenance costs and the costs of protecting cities from much larger amounts of sea-level rise to see if those expenses could justify my proposed spending program.

        I’d look at ways of lowering my projects abatement costs with ideas like on-site nuclear plants that might produce electricity at $0.02 per kwh, and then rate the technical and political feasibility of those projects, the history of large project overruns, and the like.

        I would strive to produce hard engineering and financial numbers so I could go to the customers (various nation states or the UN) and be able to defend an analysis that shows whether they should pay for abatement or whether it would be cheaper just to eat the costs of rising sea levels as those are incurred.

        That’s an entirely different approach from saying “Humanity is going to wiped out in twelve years unless you ban modernity, stop having kids, and give me all your money!”Report

  6. Avatar DavidTC
    Ignored
    says:

    The failure to support a carbon tax is why conservative politicians can’t be taken seriously about _anything_.

    Here is the process: A problem arises. The left think-tanks come up with some solutions. The right think-tanks come up with other solutions. The right uses their solutions to attack the left’s solutions…but the real humor shows up when the left goes ‘Actually, that idea you guys came up with isn’t half bad. Maybe we should do that.’.

    Externalities in carbon disposal are distorting the market. Distorting the market in energy production, distorting the market in transportation and shipping, distorting the market in manufacturing. The fact everyone can just dump their waste carbon dioxide and methane and other greenhouses gases into the air without repercussions is _seriously stupid_ and endangering society.

    That is a fact. Now, there’s probably other things that are true, other things we should do enviromentally, I don’t know. Having _just_ a carbon tax probably isn’t enough, but we certainly need to have one. And conservatives could have…done that.

    Instead, a bunch of honest conservative policy wonks came up with the idea, an honestly conservative idea to fit within the framework of the free market, the left glanced over, interested, and the supposedly ‘conservative’ politicians ran away screaming. Because the point of carbon tax and cap and trade wasn’t as an actual policy, it’s not something they wanted done, it was just as something they could attack the left’s plan with.

    It’s not just that. They did the same thing with a mandate to purchase private health insurance. They do it all the time.
    I’m fairly well convinced that if the left started proposing expanding nuclear power, to the point it threatened fossil fuel interests, the right would oppose _that_. Right now they’re just proposing it because it’s a reasonable good idea that the left doesn’t like, but the second it becomes a possibility…nope, they’d run from it.

    This is because supposedly conservative politicians are not serious. They haven’t been serious for decades. There are, sadly, a bunch of serious policy wonks creating serious Conservative Solutions(TM) to problems, and…that’s not what conservatives politicians do. They instead do what they’re paid to do by their donors.

    This is also why it doesn’t matter what silly ideas candidates for president have. The thing is, presidents don’t generally make policy…they set policy direction. Candidates putting forward some unserious ideas WRT climate change are meaningless, because there are a lot of _very serious_ policy wonks that will be actually writing the plans.

    And the Democrats still listen to their wonks, instead of being handed legislation by ‘industry groups’, aka, their donors. This is not to say their donors don’t influence bills, or what gets passed, but the bills, at least, originate from a bunch of nerds in a room somewhere who actually _do_ understand what needs to be done to reduce carbon emissions and will do it, despite what Nate Silver seems to think. And they’ll just…throw in the dumb campaign promise somewhere if it’s not harmful.Report

    • Avatar George Turner in reply to DavidTC
      Ignored
      says:

      I think a carbon tax is far less effective than mandating that fossil fuel producers make 200% profit, tax-free. The effect is the same, higher fuel prices for the consumers and decreased consumption, along with decreased GDP growth, but the costs are born entirely by the fossil fuel industry because they have to do all the paperwork and the government doesn’t have to hire a bunch of tax assessors.Report

      • Avatar DavidTC in reply to George Turner
        Ignored
        says:

        I assume you’re joking, but I don’t actually understand your joke.Report

        • Avatar George Turner in reply to DavidTC
          Ignored
          says:

          It’s partly a joke (the part about tax assessors) and partly just an observation that carbon taxes are just a way to raise the costs of fossil fuels. It doesn’t really matter why fossil fuels become more expensive, whether through taxes, scarcity, market failures, embargoes, coal strikes, hurricanes knocking out refineries, or enormous government-mandated profits that can’t be converted into market share by underselling the competition.

          The world had a major decline in oil consumption as the result of the two oil shocks from the ’73 OPEC embargoes and the ’79 Iranian revolution. The first quadrupled oil prices and the second doubled them, and the West responded with a raft of conservation measures and increased fuel efficiency standards.

          The oil producers had profits coming out their ears, but to a consumer, is there any difference between Saudi Arabia instituting a “carbon tax” and keeping the money and Saudi Arabia just charging a fortune for oil and keeping the money? It’s all going into the same royal pocket, yet one is phrasing is claimed to be absolutely virtuous and one is claimed to be despicably evil.

          That tells me that the real difference is just virtue signalling, how a price jump is “branded”. It’s somewhat similar to tobacco, where if a cigarette company causes prices to go up they’re evil greedy capitalists, but if your governor does the same thing he’s “saving the children.”Report

          • Avatar DavidTC in reply to George Turner
            Ignored
            says:

            That doesn’t really make a lot of sense.

            For one thing, it’s an obviously better, from the POV of Americans, that the American government end up with their money vs. Saudi Arabia. Even if they’re rather _no one_ end up with it and they kept it, ‘The government of my country’ ending up with it is blatantly better than the government of some other country. Our government might spend it on something stupid, but…’might’ is the word there. Saudi Arabia couldn’t even _hypothetically_ spend it on something useful for Americans. Same with Exxon Mobile and other oil companies.

            Pretending that an identical cost increase means the market would react identically is silliness, it’s dumb ‘pure math’ economics…and not even good math at that. If I think each dollar that goes to the government is going to get me, let’s say, just ten cents extra governments services for me, that $1.00 a gallon price increase from the government just became $0.90, whereas the $1 from Saudi Arabia is still $1.

            It takes a really special sort of conservative to think the government collecting tax revenue has literally _no_ benefit whatsoever. (If only for debt reduction!)

            Second, when the American government slowly ratches up gas prices in an attempt to reduce usage, it is doing manipulation in service of ‘less gas usage’. And a carbon tax, specifically, is an attempt to move away from gas power plants in general, and also make them more efficient even if built. Power plants are really big things with long-term investments.

            Whereas OPEC manipulation is in service of more money, which not only results in them raising prices, but lowering them when needed, is why right now they’re in a balancing act to keep prices low enough that fracking isn’t profitable. Their aim is eventually that all their oil will be used under what they want, hopefully at maximum price they can get for it.

            A monopoly that keeps prices somewhat high, but not high enough that people will revolt, is not the same as a government that starts slowly increasing a sin tax on things to reduce usage…the _entire premise_ of the behavior of the monopoly is that the prices _shouldn’t_ cause enough harm to cause people to figure out alternatives, whereas the premise of the taxes is that people should. It’s literally opposite goals.Report

    • Christopher Johnson Christopher Johnson in reply to DavidTC
      Ignored
      says:

      “Externalities in carbon disposal are distorting the market. Distorting the market in energy production, distorting the market in transportation and shipping, distorting the market in manufacturing. The fact everyone can just dump their waste carbon dioxide and methane and other greenhouses gases into the air without repercussions is _seriously stupid_ and endangering society.”

      Preach it, brother!Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to DavidTC
      Ignored
      says:

      Hell, a carbon tax can even be levied against other countries in order to encourage them to reduce pollution.

      Worried about China just dumping tons into the air, slap a carbon tax* on all of the stuff they import. Cleaner their factories get, less of a tax they pay.

      *Yes, it’s an import tariff, but don’t tell Trump.Report

    • Avatar James K in reply to DavidTC
      Ignored
      says:

      Externalities in carbon disposal are distorting the market. Distorting the market in energy production, distorting the market in transportation and shipping, distorting the market in manufacturing. The fact everyone can just dump their waste carbon dioxide and methane and other greenhouses gases into the air without repercussions is _seriously stupid_ and endangering society.

      Speaking as an environmental economist, this is exactly correct.

      Instead, a bunch of honest conservative policy wonks came up with the idea, an honestly conservative idea to fit within the framework of the free market, the left glanced over, interested, and the supposedly ‘conservative’ politicians ran away screaming. Because the point of carbon tax and cap and trade wasn’t as an actual policy, it’s not something they wanted done, it was just as something they could attack the left’s plan with.

      This is a perennial problem economists face. People like citing economists when they already agree with them, but it is extremely rare for politicians to actually change their preferred approach based on an economist’s advice.Report

  7. Avatar Michael Cain
    Ignored
    says:

    Re the necessity of nuclear in the US… The Western Interconnect can be carbon-free without nuclear, but both FERC and NERC would have to change a bunch of their rules. There are, in fact, reasons why the WI should avoid thermal power plants in general in the future. I don’t see how the Eastern Interconnect, home to the vast majority of existing nuclear power plants, goes carbon-free without nukes (but would personally prefer that they keep the spent fuel in their own backyard). Texas is… odd.

    A carbon-free electric grid is straightforward (which is not the same as simple, or cheap). Getting the carbon out of transportation, heating, and industry are going to be the hard problems.Report

    • Avatar George Turner in reply to Michael Cain
      Ignored
      says:

      A recent Harvard study, using both theoretical and empirical data, found that wind power causes tremendous surface warming. If the US switched to wind power instead of fossil fuels, we’d save 0.1 C of warming from CO2 but suffer 0.24 C of warming from wind farms.

      Endangered birds hardest hit.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to George Turner
        Ignored
        says:

        We can debate how the study results should affect our choices, but only if you promise to be serious. Start with the direct quote from the article: “Wind beats fossil fuels under any reasonable measure of long-term environmental impacts per unit of energy generated.”Report

        • Avatar George Turner in reply to Michael Cain
          Ignored
          says:

          I believe they were looking at a hundred year time frame, but the lifespan of a wind turbine is notoriously short, currently 12 to 15 years for onshore installations, and I don’t see a long term future for them.

          The study does point out some known problems, such as the efficiency reductions in clustering multiple turbines into a farm.

          Without nuclear or massive hydro power you’re not going to have a workable grid, especially in northern areas, and most of the world doesn’t have much wind, and only a few regions in the West have good winds anywhere near highly populated areas since nobody likes to live in constantly howling winds.

          Extracting energy directly from the Earth’s major atmospheric cooling system might not have been the brightest idea to combat warming.

          The paper does say that solar energy doesn’t have the same problems, and contributes virtually nothing to warming.

          Solar power satellites that beam energy from space are an ideal solution but their large size (required to achieve a narrow beam width for a transmitter and receiver) means they will have an extremely high initial capital cost.

          Nuclear gets around almost all such issues, in terms of land area, emissions, life-span, and siting, but virtually all the Democratic candidates rejected it out of hand.Report

          • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to George Turner
            Ignored
            says:

            The biggest problem for nuclear today is that safe affordable nuclear technology does not exist. Consider, eg, the wonderful experiences South Carolina and Georgia have had with it over the last decade. It can’t just be the US regulatory/legal environment — reactors being finished in China are also years late and billions of dollars over budget. IIRC, at the level of carbon tax generally suggested, coal-fired Georgia electricity with the tax will be cheaper than the new Vogtle nuclear power. Gen IV level safety is still just on paper.

            Wind technology exists today. Here in Colorado, the largest utility buys as much local wind power as it can get because it’s cheaper than anything else. Within a few years Southern California will be buying wind power from Wyoming, delivered over HVDC (as they currently get large amounts of Columbia River hydro power). I sometimes say “for western values of close” as a joke, but there are rich renewable resources close to all of the major metro areas in the West.

            What else does the study say? The surface temperature increase (0.4 °F for the SI-challenged) is a mixing effect in the lowest 500m of the atmosphere, is almost exclusively nocturnal, requires pretty much paving over the Great Plains with wind turbines to get that much effect (a bad idea for other reasons as well), and goes away when the turbines go away.

            Go for it. I’ll support a federal research program to pick a standardized reactor design, build the prototypes, gain operational experience and do the second design to fix the bugs (if the work is done at either Hanford or INL, I also want $100B/yr until the existing messes there are cleaned up). In ten years, or 20 years, the answer may be different. The answer today is build wind and solar farms to displace coal and gas.Report

            • Avatar George Turner in reply to Michael Cain
              Ignored
              says:

              Paving the Great Planes in wind turbines would almost provide enough land area to replace our electrical energy needs at the industry avereage of 85 acres per installed Megawatt, with a roughly 25% utilization factor. But they also want to get rid of our transportation and heating fuel use, so we might have to use about 1.7 million square miles (a square 1,300 miles on a side). However, that’s probably optimistic because our current installations are in the windiest places.

              Germany wind turbines only supply about 27% of the electrical energy and 5% of the total energy needs, and they’re already approaching the limits of stability. To meet their goal of 50% renewables to cover all their energy needs, all the Germany would probably have to be a wind farm.

              But their whole scheme is set to collapse long before they reach that point.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to George Turner
                Ignored
                says:

                … so we might have to use about 1.7 million square miles…

                In case anyone missed that; For perspective, all of Alaska, California, Montana, and Texas wouldn’t be enough.Report

              • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to George Turner
                Ignored
                says:

                Paving the Great Planes in wind turbines would almost provide enough land area to replace our electrical energy needs at the industry avereage of 85 acres per installed Megawatt, with a roughly 25% utilization factor.

                Not an expert here, but is this even physically possible? The turbines absorb the energy from the wind, so if you cover vast, vast areas with them, won’t the ones in front absorb all the energy and kill the wind before it reaches the ones in back?Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Brandon Berg
                Ignored
                says:

                I don’t know either, but that guy who said “We can replace all of our electrical, transportation and heating fuel needs with windmills” must be feeling totally owned about now.

                That’s probably why no one can find him.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Brandon Berg
                Ignored
                says:

                In short, no.

                If you want a more detailed explanation, let me know and I’ll write it up later.Report

            • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Michael Cain
              Ignored
              says:

              Consider, eg, the wonderful experiences South Carolina and Georgia have had with it over the last decade.

              For those who do not know, those two states’ nuclear projects literally bankrupted Westinghouse.

              The Georgia reactors are currently projected to take twice as long to build as they were projected for. And they will cost almost twice as much. (Who am I kidding? By the time they’re finished, it will be more than twice as much.)

              We did come out it better than South Carolina (Well, we hope), whose reactors will never run. Don’t worry, SC electric customers _already_ paid the $9 billion for them!Report

            • Avatar North in reply to Michael Cain
              Ignored
              says:

              This elides a lot though. The French run their whole damn country on nuclear and they haven’t gone bankrupt, the Japanese virtually likewise. The Germans did to until fukashima when they shut it down and now they run their country on cutting down trees everywhere burning it in power plants which strikes me as not exactly an improvement.
              Hell, I’m pretty convinced that the west has abundant solar and wind, you’ve convinced me of that more than anyone. But there’re more places than the west that need power and even the west needs baseload generation does it not?

              But this two step that a lot of climate change advocates do; the “we must spare no expense to decarbonize the economy!!”- ok what about nuclear -“Oh well that’s not economical.” Just discredits the whole enterprise. And I say that as a lefty, not a right winger.Report

              • Avatar James K in reply to North
                Ignored
                says:

                This makes me think that the main cost driver is regulatory – that nuclear is prohibitively expensive because the US government is making it so.Report

              • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to James K
                Ignored
                says:

                See comment below. The new reactor France is building has almost exactly the same cost overruns and schedule slips as the new reactors in Georgia.Report

              • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to North
                Ignored
                says:

                France is becoming a less useful example.

                Macron announced last year that France would reduce nuclear’s share of the electricity supply from the current 72% to 50% by 2035, replacing it mostly with renewables. They didn’t have a real choice — a number of their reactors have engineering problems (“carbon anomalies”), can’t be run safely for the full lifetimes everyone was expecting, and have to be retired.

                Sometime in the last few years, France revealed that the decommissioning fund for the existing reactor fleet is some €50B short of the actual cost. Call it a billion euros per reactor.

                France is building a new reactor using the EPR design. They started in 2007 with an announced finish date of 2012. The current planned finish date is 2022 due to huge cost overruns and manufacturing problems. Current cost overruns are about €8B (~$8.8B), comparable to the per-reactor cost overruns in Georgia. Most of the problems can be attributed to one of two categories: “the design sucks” or “many of the contractors screwed up”. The EPR design has been replaced by EPR-2, which remains paper-only at this time.

                During last month’s heat wave, France shut down four reactors to avoid overheating the rivers they use for cooling and killing off all the fish. Customers in part of the country were advised to sharply curtail electricity use or face rolling blackouts. This one at least has a solution if France wants to pursue it — consumptive rather than pass-through cooling, at a cost of about $1B per reactor.

                The new poster children are Russia and China. Both are actually bringing new nukes online. For both, roughly, construction time is running about ten years and cost about $5B per GW of capacity domestically. Russia has won a contract to build a reactor for Finland at a price of $6.7B per GW and an eight-year construction schedule. We’ll see if they can deliver — in 2028.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Michael Cain
                Ignored
                says:

                Yes all well and good but there remains my basic objection: nuclear as it currently exists is expensive but safe and workable. If expense is no matter to fight climate change then employing nuclear, at least in some places, makes considerable sense. Environmentalists ruling it out makes no sense unless one uncharitably assumes their primary goal is control rather than preventing carbon emissions.Report

              • Avatar DavidTC in reply to North
                Ignored
                says:

                Michael Cain didn’t even mention the Olkiluoto 3 in Finland, which has taken _three times_ as much time and money to build as originally planned.

                I am someone who wants nuclear power (I’ve always said at this point we should be transitioning slowly _away_ from nuclear as we come up with alternatives, because we should have transitioned to nuclear in the 1970s), but it seems fairly undeniable that the companies supposedly able to build nuclear reactors are really really bad at it.

                Astonishingly, impossibly, bad at it. Levels of incompetence that are almost unbelievable.

                And these aren’t really regulatory things. Or, rather, they are, but they are regulatory changes intended to _help_ construction of nuclear power! They were intended as a counter to the 70s and 80s, where regulatory changes during constructions repeatedly screwed over power plants.

                Specifically, you submit a _completely exact_ plan for your plant, and it will be approved as is, and then you don’t spend years having it inspected after before it can turn on. And also no new regulations apply to you once you start construction.(1) So there you go. No more regulatory nonsense gumming up the works, no more Nuclear Regulatory Committee deciding at the last minute you need to tear something down and rebuild it. Just submit exact plans, stick a shovel into the ground, and you’re covered. You’re done with dealing with the NRC. They’ll even let you file in two pieces…preliminary construction so you can get started, and by the time that’s over you’ll have your actual plans certified.

                Just follow those plans exactly.

                So…it turns out that everyone is REALLY BAD at this. So bad it’s almost incomprehensible. Repeated changes had to repeatedly go through and be re-certified, for literally no reason at all. Workers would just…decide to do things differently, the component manufacturers would build them slightly different, and everyone would have to pause and say ‘Oh, we need to get this new thing certified’.

                Over and over and over and over.

                And they were amazingly bad at scheduling, and monitoring, and…like, everything. There’s an incident of something that somehow didn’t get shipped for eight months because someone hadn’t signed some paper, so it just sat there and, presumably, all the workers sat around playing Angry Bird on their phone.

                1) Westinghouse did slightly get screwed over by a new regulation between the general planning stage and ‘have the NRC sign off on the finalized plans’ stage, but it was a fairly minor change. And, as the NRC pointed out, they really should have seen coming….it was a response to 9/11 that had been discussed for like five years at that point.

                Please note while you can find articles claiming this was ‘the problem’, the preliminary construction (which was going on during this and didn’t depend on this) had _already_ slipped something like five months behind schedule only two years into the project, and after the final certification was finished in 2012, the project repeated slipped behind schedule…and at no point were they waiting for that certification, it came before they were ready to start. I.e., people blaming it on the NCR are just trying desperately to figure out how regulation is at fault. Westinghouse got its final plans certified before final construction started, just as it expected, with changes maybe a justifiable extra month or two tacked on near the end of the project (Ha!) having to construct something it hadn’t really planned for. It can’t possibly justify the massive delays that happened after certification…or before!Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to DavidTC
                Ignored
                says:

                So basically the contractors decided to make field alterations and whoever is overseeing the project keeps letting them do that.

                So either the exact plans are not realistic, or the project management is incompetent.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to DavidTC
                Ignored
                says:

                Yes David, but we didn’t change over in the 70’s. Instead both fossil fuel interests and environmentalists combined their influence to enact hostile regulation and smother nuclear power for decades. So we’re behind on the matter. But the indelible fact remains that less technologically advanced and poorer countries than us built entire fleets of carbon free nuclear power plants, ran them for decades and did not go bankrupt. This is not debatable- it is recent history. We can point over and over again to current plants that have been debacles of cost overruns but that doesn’t change the history. It was done before by people with less money and less tech savvy than us- so why can’t we do it now?
                There are a lot of places on this globe where wind and solar is simply inadequate or impractical and there’re times when wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine. Something needs to to fill that gap.

                If environmentalists say “we must decarbonize our economy no matter the cost” and then try and fan dance away from nuclear because it’s “too expensive” no one will take them seriously. Especially since it’s pretty well known that a major reason nuclear power is unfeasible is that environmentalists have engineered the regulatory environment to make it that way. And if environmentalists try and peddle environmental Calvinism to the democratic masses in place of putting every option on the table? They will lose and the climate change will proceed apace. Those are simply political and social realities. This isn’t controversial- hell that’s why the environmentalist movement itself is divided on the matter of nuclear right now.Report

              • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to North
                Ignored
                says:

                But the indelible fact remains that less technologically advanced and poorer countries than us built entire fleets of carbon free nuclear power plants, ran them for decades and did not go bankrupt.

                Do I think we could go all-nuclear in the US power grid? Yes. Do I think it would bankrupt the country? No. Do I think the federal government would have to effectively take over the grid(s) as happened in the countries that went largely nuclear? Yes, absolutely. At a minimum, there are 50 state PUCs that think such decisions are already their job, and some number of state constitutions that wouldn’t allow all-nuclear.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to DavidTC
                Ignored
                says:

                Although, after thinking about it, how EXACT do those plans have to be? Because while the reactor itself, and certain supporting equipment, demand precision that would make your eyes bleed, the entire facility itself does not.

                So how much slack is permitted by the NRC/DOE, and where? Because depending on that, I can make it so you couldn’t build a dog house.

                I mean, we can ask Chip how often and in what ways and extents does the final product of a building deviate from what the architect drew up and submitted for permitting. Realistically, a facility as big as a nuclear power plant is going to need slack in order to get built. If any and every deviation, be it the reactor core or the mens bathroom, requires the NRC to sign off on it, then your reasonable process, isn’t very reasonable.Report

              • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Oscar Gordon
                Ignored
                says:

                Realistically, a facility as big as a nuclear power plant is going to need slack in order to get built.

                Let’s try this… Realistically, a facility as big as an aircraft carrier is going to need slack in order to get built.

                But how much slack? Drop the Navy’s chain of custody requirements on materials? Pass substandard welds? Accept arbitrary changes in some of the structural design by the shipyard workers because following the design takes more effort? Approve the deck where the reactor is going to sit even though it’s four inches out of true? Incorporate major components when it turns out the supplier lied about doing tests?

                That’s a partial list of the kind of problems that have made Vogtle 3 and 4 so expensive and late.

                The best argument the small modular reactor people have is “we can build them in a factory, repeatedly, with decent quality control.”Report

              • Avatar George Turner in reply to Michael Cain
                Ignored
                says:

                I like small modular reactors, molten salt reactors, and lots of other innovative ideas.

                However I think the history of regulatory burdens, overruns, cancellations, and failure have created a mindset where everyone is pretty sure no such projects will succeed. The projects can’t attract investors because none of them will actually get built, and they won’t actually get built because, among other things, they won’t attract investors.

                Optimism slowly gave way to pessimism, and that’s how I would describe nuclear power development. It’s the opposite of Silicon Valley’s mindset that any wacky idea can succeed. Instead, I get the feeling that any new nuclear idea, now matter how brilliant, is doomed to failure – just because that’s how it always is.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to George Turner
                Ignored
                says:

                Let’s talk about Movie projects for a moment.

                Think of how good the MCU movies have been, and how many terrible SF movies have been made over the years. Batman vs the Penguin as the Phantom of the Opera? Seriously?

                One of the problems when you get a 100 Million dollar budget for a movie is you’re putting together a group of people who aren’t practiced at working together. Or maybe the Special Effects guys are a team but they’ve never interfaced with the other teams.

                The MCU has gotten to the point where they’re cranking out a movie every 3 months, so everyone has a steady job, has worked out multiple process bugs, fired people who were bad for the process, and so forth.

                A nuke reactor is the same thing but much worse. It’s a one off project. Hundreds of millions or Billions of dollars is at stake but the success of the total project is years out and may not line up with your personal short term interests. Figuring out who/what is working and who/what isn’t may be really hard until the project is done and the blame game after the fact will be more about looking for heads to cut off than figuring out how to build the next one right.

                Now if we were cranking these things out at scale we’d figure things out.Report

              • Avatar George Turner in reply to Dark Matter
                Ignored
                says:

                You could say that we’re often building nuclear plants like one-off medieval cathedrals instead of cranking them out like cars.

                The idea that a really big reactor would be more cost effective than a cluster of small reactors my not have been mistaken.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Michael Cain
                Ignored
                says:

                No need to be smarmy, that was the kind of information I was curious about.

                And yes, an aircraft carrier does have slack in the design, in the places where it’s not critical. Even critical features have a certain amount of slack.

                But my question was valid. David said the plans had to be EXACT. And no project of that scale is ever built EXACTLY as drawn. So the NRC can’t demand EXACT plans, without having those plans allow for reasonable engineering variances.

                Now, if the contractors at Vogtle 3 & 4 can’t seem to understand that they can not deviate from the stated variances, then I have to wonder why they are still working the site? Is project management that incompetent when it comes to writing contracts, or are those contractors the only game in town and can thus screw up with abandon because no one else is able or willing to take on the work?

                PS: Given the claims of the modular reactor folks, why are they not being given green lights to build them?

                PPS: Don’t feel obligated to write out an explanation if someone else has already done it. A link is fine.Report

              • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Oscar Gordon
                Ignored
                says:

                The things that are killing Vogtle aren’t slack. For one of the main pieces of structural concrete at Vogtle, the rebar folks deviated significantly from the design. It was correctable using more expensive stronger concrete. But first the engineers had to measure exactly what the rebar people had done, then run the calculations, then file the change with the NRC and get approval. Then there were problems sourcing the different concrete in quantities sufficient to meet a single-pour requirement. The project has been filled with that kind of shit: major errors in procedure, materials, and documentation.

                As for project management, yeah, they’re that bad. Probably not surprising. It’s been a generation since a reactor was built in the US, everyone in the entire management and supply chains has to relearn how to do it.

                Globally, some SMR prototypes are being built, in countries where the national government has pretty much complete control. Here, the NRC has issued licenses for experimental reactors, the DOE has funded paper studies (which is all Congress has agreed to fund), no company has raised the billion or two dollars needed to build a prototype, no state has been willing to allow construction, and the feds have signed legal settlements with Idaho and Washington that put the usual sites for such work (INL and Hanford) off limits. DOE has been trying to talk DOD into giving up a big chunk of their land in Nevada for prototypes. Nevada is not happy.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Michael Cain
                Ignored
                says:

                “the rebar folks deviated significantly from the design”

                I am always amazed when I hear things like this. I mean, I can understand how a vendor can make a mistake (you ordered grade 8 steel, took delivery of grade 6…), and that can cause a slide while the vendor gets you the right stuff. But it sounds like you are saying the vendor shipped the wrong thing, then refused to provide the correct item, and/or refused to issue a refund because they could not provide the correct item, and the project just decided to go with what they had.

                I would expect that the vendor makes it right or gets sued into oblivion. But it always seems like that never happens, be it a power plant or an aircraft carrier. The people who made the mistake never pay for the mistake, and the project entity, be it Westinghouse or a government, just eats it.

                As for the modulars, not finding a state willing to play ball, well that loops back to George’s point that no one is really serious about decarbonizing the grid.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Oscar Gordon
                Ignored
                says:

                Yep, because if we dumped a ton of money and attention into both developing nuclear and overhauling the regulations to be effective we have really good reason to believe it’d yield a lot of low carbon energy results.
                And on top of that we’d demonstrate that we liberals and environmentalists were serious about decarbonizing the economy and thus would be able to push through a lot of other related environmental goals.Report

              • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Oscar Gordon
                Ignored
                says:

                David said the plans had to be EXACT. And no project of that scale is ever built EXACTLY as drawn. So the NRC can’t demand EXACT plans, without having those plans allow for reasonable engineering variances.

                The alternate to having exact plans is to have an inspection of the thing in real life. Or, to put it another way, you can have the multi-billion thing you’re building rejected before you start construction, or after you build it. It’s entirely your choice.

                And I didn’t say that it had to be built exactly as drawn. If they want to make changes to the plan, they could do it at any time, and the NRC would approve it or not.

                The reason they kept getting hung up is that they would construct things, figure out at that point it didn’t match the plans, redraw the plans with the changes, submit those plans, halt construction so if the NRC didn’t like it they wouldn’t have to tear more stuff out, and sit there and wait while the NRC looked them over. Or, worse, something would be so wrong they knew it wouldn’t be certified, so they’d have to figure out how they could fix it, and then submit that plan. Etc, etc.

                And because this is not how it’s actually supposed to work, (Because it is a really really stupid way to run a large construction project.) the NRC isn’t particularly equipped for fast turnaround on certifying changes. They assume the construction has a large enough lead-time that everyone isn’t sitting around waiting for them to authorize changes.

                It was supposed to be a five year project, of course plans changes, but they assumed it would be like ‘We’re going to start this part of the project in three months, and think maybe we need do this part slightly different here’, and the NRC would have a couple of weeks to look over the plans. Not ‘Oh, crap, this is wrong, everyone stop working, we need to run this past the NRC before we put in the next thing!’Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to DavidTC
                Ignored
                says:

                @DavidTC

                I’m thinking you and I have different operating definitions of ‘exact’.

                For me, ‘exact’ means everything (from reactor cores to urinals) is precisely where it is supposed to be, and can be confirmed that it is so with a micrometer.

                Your working definition seems to be somewhat fuzzier than that. Hence why I asked for a clarification.

                Now, Mr. Cain’s examples, of vendors sending the wrong materials, or that contractors are making critical* changes on site without engineering or regulatory approval, that’s different. That is what I am trying to suss out here. Is the NRC being anal, or merely pragmatic in the face of contractors who are not taking the job seriously?

                *Critical being something that affects the safe operation of the reactor. Again, no one should really care that a urinal is placed an inch or two off from the drawing, but if the concrete under the reactor vessel is too thick by an inch, the reactor may not fit properly, and if it is too thin by an inch, it may not be strong enough.Report

              • Avatar George Turner in reply to Oscar Gordon
                Ignored
                says:

                Those problems may be more due to the way government agencies and contractors can be a very bad fit.

                I was talking to one crew of millrights who’d essentially made a career out of installing a conveyor system in an FDA facility, over and over again. Every time they’d finish, the government would pay them to rip it all out and reinstall new conveyors in a different layout. They loved it because they kept getting paid to do the same job, the conveyor company kept making money, and someone else was bleeding all the money.

                If a contractor gets paid for installing something wrong, and then gets paid to remove it, and then gets paid to install it correctly, why would they do it right the first time? Construction becomes a money-extraction operation, ending in boondoggles.

                There are always reasons that such things happen, but I’m not sure they would have anything fundamental to do with nuclear power, which might just be the game at hand.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Oscar Gordon
                Ignored
                says:

                It does seem odd to me that most of the criticisms I’ve heard about nuclear power over the years (and I mean stretching back to the “No Nukes” movement of the early 80’s) boiled down to incredibly mundane stuff.
                Faulty welds, misplaced rebar, malfunctioning valves, stuff like that.

                In the construction industry, as with all others, the fix for quality problems is to discount speed and efficiency, and introduce multiple levels of inspection and review.

                The way that for example, hospitals and first responder stations are assigned a special code section and given a different level of review by the agency in charge.

                Why doesn’t this process work for nuclear power plants?

                I honestly don’t know.
                But it sounds like a matter of political will, in that fixing the process just doesn’t seem all that important to the stakeholders involved.Report

              • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Chip Daniels
                Ignored
                says:

                Welding problems in particular are not limited to nuclear power plants; they’re problem for almost all thermal power plants. It’s an extraordinarily challenging environment in terms of temperatures and pressures. You don’t hear about a heat-exchanger weld breaking at a coal-fired power plant because it doesn’t spew radioactive steam all over.

                Lots of the construction has to be done on site. There are some hundreds of welders working at Vogtle 3 and 4. To push one of your analogies (probably too far), how much would it affect performance if thoracic surgeons had to ride in the ambulances and do their work on site?

                Small modular reactors have come up a number of times in the comments here. At least some of the SMR designs have the immediate advantage that the parts dealing with radioactive stuff is built in a factory where quality control is so much easier.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels
                Ignored
                says:

                fixing the process just doesn’t seem all that important to the stakeholders involved.

                There are 6000+ hospitals in the US.
                There are 60 nuclear plants.

                The stakeholders are different every time we do this, certainly at a state level. I don’t see how the stakeholders can learn from their experiences/history since they’re rarely or never repeated.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Dark Matter
                Ignored
                says:

                Maybe that’s true.

                But then it seems to just be the same as saying “We can’t do this.”

                Part of me wants to agree, but that just seems so deeply disturbing I don’t want to admit it.

                Hoover Dam, the Interstate Highway system, the moon landing…all the Big Things that our parents taught us were the pride of America, the thing that everyone the world over marveled at “Look at how America works!”- these things just seem beyond us somehow.

                Really, it just seems so…Soviet, the way the Russian people would sigh and shrug and accept that when you pulled the lever for the windshield wipers, the headlights would shut off. That Mother Russia could defeat 6,000 Nazi tanks, but seemed utterly incapable of building a washing machine.

                What would it take for America to actually be able to build something with reliable welds?Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Chip Daniels
                Ignored
                says:

                “What would it take for America to actually be able to build something with reliable welds?”

                My quick look at the project says that they hire Union Labor. One would think that the Union would be keeping the quality high.

                Unless, of course, the Union has other incentives…Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Oscar Gordon
                Ignored
                says:

                As opposed to the other heroic achievements of 20th Century America?

                I could just as easily say the common thread is for-profit government contractors, but that would draw the same retort.

                Maybe its because I recently read James Fallow’s piece over at The Atlantic about the parallels between the collapse of the central authority of Imperial Rome, and the burst of localized innovations that are erroneously called the “Dark Ages”.

                https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2019/10/in-the-fall-of-rome-good-news-for-america/596638/

                I’m seeing something deeper that unions or capitalism, both of which flourished under America’s Golden Age.

                I really believe that the Trumpists, that 40% of America, have become revolutionary radicals, unwilling to participate in power sharing with the other 60%.
                They would rather rule over the ruins, rather than share power in prosperity.

                But of course…opinions vary.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels
                Ignored
                says:

                Hoover Dam, the Interstate Highway system, the moon landing…all the Big Things that our parents taught us were the pride of America, the thing that everyone the world over marveled at “Look at how America works!”- these things just seem beyond us somehow.

                Were these things regulated into existence or was it more “do it” combined with firing people if they couldn’t do the job? The purpose of a bureaucracy is to avoid or dilute responsibility. That also does the same thing to talent and creates a lot of bad incentives.

                A related issue is we could never create the highways now because our legal system would let too many people (NIMBY) scream bloody murder and throw sand in the gears.

                The gov has grown a LOT bigger since those days and there are now lots of people, entire industries, which are skilled at extracting money from it or manipulating it.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Dark Matter
                Ignored
                says:

                They were all done under the vast expansive power of the New Deal, which allowed the central government to organize massive quantities of labor, capital, and property without interference.

                Conceptually, these efforts weren’t much different than Soviet tractor factories, in that they were a command economy model, where the state says “DO IT” and the private holders or capital and property say “YES SIR!”

                But…obviously there was something else, which caused our Soviet tractor factories to succeed and theirs to be…Soviet tractor factories.

                I mean, look at Trump’s Wall.

                In an earlier era, he might have had the ability to simply confiscate a thousand miles of border property and conscript tens of thousands of workers and command vast quantities of material.

                What is stopping this from moving forward? It can’t just be hippies and tree huggers can it?Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels
                Ignored
                says:

                Conceptually, these efforts weren’t much different than Soviet tractor factories, in that they were a command economy model, where the state says “DO IT” and the private holders or capital and property say “YES SIR!”

                The differences are…
                1) You’re doing serious cherry picking. The Soviets had their successes (Nukes, Orbital Technology). We had our failures (FDR’s commands were a big reason why the Great Depression kept going on, he inherited the first set of problems but we had recoveries that he smothered).

                2) If the system is that no one can be fired, no one is responsible, and people are allowed to make work for themselves and don’t benefit from successes, then it’s not going to work no matter what the orders are. With no research my expectation is that the Hoover Dam had a strong manager who was able to make people pay if they screwed up.

                If our nuclear reactors are being built by the “tractor factory” model, then we shouldn’t be shocked that we get the same results.

                I mean, look at Trump’s Wall… What is stopping this from moving forward?

                Let’s just quote a Dem Congressman whose district is on the border.

                3/11 Replacing a fence with a 30-foot structure covered in double razor wire and topped with floodlights qualifies as new construction no matter where it happens. This is not a time to tell ourselves that Trump is losing. This is being built as we speak.

                Grijalva also pointed to a worrying tendency in the media to take short-term, technical victories over Trump while disregarding the reality of the administration’s policies and its victims.

                “The idea that this doesn’t count as ‘new wall,’ and therefore there’s nothing to see here, is dangerous and leads to complacency,” said Grijalva. “Thumbing our noses at Trump is no substitute for on-the-ground reporting.”

                https://www.commondreams.org/news/2019/09/08/dem-lawmaker-warns-whether-you-call-it-fence-or-wall-trump-winning-borderReport

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Dark Matter
                Ignored
                says:

                “Strong Management that can make people pay” can’t be the difference can it?

                The point made by Chernobyl was that yes, the managers were very powerful and could make the workers pay, even with their lives.

                Which is actually similar to reports of Hoover Dam, where the working conditions were horrific.
                Except one difference is that at Hoover Dam, the workers there actually went on strike and demanded better conditions and won some concessions.

                I think there is something deeper which explains success and failure.Report

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Chip Daniels
                Ignored
                says:

                Where the church of ability and the church of needs align, you will find nearly all things are possible. Where the church of ability and the church of needs don’t align, not much is possible.

                Your not going to get quality welds from the church of needs making authoritarian demands, you just end up with a really pissed off church of ability.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels
                Ignored
                says:

                Chernobyl was that yes, the managers were very powerful and could make the workers pay, even with their lives.

                My expectation is Chernobyl’s managers weren’t responsible to anyone in any useful way. Their competence wasn’t rewarded or punished. Them getting their job depended a lot on things like connections and party loyalty rather than management/technical competence. My further expectation is those managers also hired people based on irrelevant qualities and it’s not at all clear to me that they could fire (or even increase/decrease the pay of) their workers.

                The head guy at the Hoover Dam was Frank Crowe, and he was already the nation’s leading expert on building dams before he got the job. BTW constructing the Hoover Dam killed 154 workers; Officially it’s only 112, but another 42 should be in there because they all died of “pneumonia” in a situation where no one else who wasn’t exposed to the job’s carbon monoxide died of “pneumonia”.

                There is also a data selection issue here, if the Dam had failed, we wouldn’t be reading about it. FDR did things that didn’t work.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Chip Daniels
                Ignored
                says:

                I think Dark has a point. Think about the financial crisis, and how quickly the government declined to prosecute, and the firms who were largely at fault for the whole mess were the ones tasked with fixing it (by the government) and permitted to pay out lavish salaries and bonuses in the process.

                If the contractors at Vogtle make a mistake, and they the schedule slips, what is the penalty? Do the workers get fired? Does the contractor pay a serious penalty?

                Or does the schedule slip while the responsible parties (top to bottom) keep collecting paychecks because no one is (or can be) held accountable?Report

              • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Oscar Gordon
                Ignored
                says:

                I’m thinking you and I have different operating definitions of ‘exact’.

                No, I think the problem is that you and I have different understandings of what is being measured.

                The NRC has a bunch of regulations about nuclear power and nuclear power plants. This regulations are various levels of exacting, and often somewhat vague and holistic.

                And so the NRC offers the ability run things by it before it is built. You don’t have to do this, but if you don’t, the NRC can take a look around and, at the end, go ‘Nope.’. (Or, rather, say ‘You have to change the foundation of this building’, aka, something that is literally impossible to do at that point.)

                If you do run it by the NRC, and they say ‘Yes’, then legally, if you follow the plans submitted to them, they cannot object.

                The plans (being normal blueprints) normally would not have millimeter positioning of urinals, but, on top of that, I seriously doubt there’s any nuclear regulation about the position of urinals to start with. So there seems to be no logical grounds for the NRC to object to _any_ positioning of them. (Although at some point the building code and/or labor department people might say ‘Hey, wait, you can’t put this urinal in the lobby blocking a fire exit.’)

                Of course, you’ll still want to send the changes to the NRC during construction, to have them pre-inspected, so you can start operations as soon as you’re done, instead of waiting for an inspection _after_. And they will just automatically sign off on them as you didn’t change anything they regulate. Honestly, I suspect that the plans sent to the NRC probably just have a shaded area that says ‘restrooms and break area’, and as the NRC doesn’t regulate any of that, they don’t care.

                Honestly, even if there were regulations about urinals, that wouldn’t matter. The construction delays were due to the builders modifying things they had to build on top of, and them not wanting to keep going and risk having to tear it all down if the NRC objected. But if the NRC insanely objected to urinal positions, they could just…move them. Fairly easily. They (presumably) aren’t building reactor casings supported by urinals or whatever.Report

              • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to DavidTC
                Ignored
                says:

                …but if you don’t, the NRC can take a look around and, at the end, go ‘Nope.

                A quite detailed design for the reactor proper (and other site-independent stuff) has to be pre-approved. No one can build a Russian VVER reactor in the US because the design isn’t NRC approved. Well, you can build it, but the NRC won’t do the ongoing inspections and you can never fuel or operate it.

                NuScale’s SMR design was submitted in 2017, the review is proceeding on schedule, and completion is expected in 2020. Nuscale had been working with the NRC staff before the design was submitted to determine exactly what details would have to be submitted with the application. That document, much of it pointing to more generic requirements, runs to a few hundred pages.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Michael Cain
                Ignored
                says:

                So this really does boil down to the artisan problem.*

                I wonder if we’d have similar problems building a large hydroelectric dam these days, given the last one was done in 1985.

                *That being if we built commercial airliners the way we built nuclear power plants, those planes would be a much different thing from that amazingly safe things we have today.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Oscar Gordon
                Ignored
                says:

                This points me to the conclusions that the modulars are the way to go.

                Build nuclear power plants the way we build commercial airliners.Report

              • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Oscar Gordon
                Ignored
                says:

                Nuclear power stations are more like airports than they are like airplanes (there are only 60 or so such power stations, some with multiple reactors). Many power stations use a common reactor and steam generator design. Much of the facility surrounding those reactors has to be unique, reflecting terrain, soil strength, water supplies, etc, etc. Vogtle 3 has been placing some of the common components for the reactor and steam generators inside the partially finished containment building; that part seems to be going more smoothly.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Michael Cain
                Ignored
                says:

                We seem to have a pretty good handle on how to build airports, so it comes back to, why is this so hard?

                I mean, assuming the engineering is sound, it sounds like the problem is mostly along the lines of Westinghouse doesn’t have a clue how to manage such a project, and/or their pool of available contractors is woefully unprepared for the job.

                Which goes back to your point about the know-how not being there since we haven’t done this in a generation. Which gives us the chicken and egg issue (if we’d been doing this, it wouldn’t be so hard to do it now).Report

              • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Oscar Gordon
                Ignored
                says:

                Let me put my old systems engineer hat on.

                Power stations have tougher specs and far more interdependency between parts than an airport. You can screw up a runway and it doesn’t affect the terminal building. (And runways do get screwed up.) More important, firms that bid on airport contracts can bid based on their actual expected costs.

                There’s plenty of evidence that we can build nuclear power stations. The evidence says a single-reactor system today takes 8-10 years and costs about $8B per GWe of output (plus financing costs associated with a long schedule). However, in a regulatory regime whose primary concern is the retail price per kWh, no one dares bid those numbers. They need to bid 3-4 years and $3-4B per GWe to be at all competitive.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Michael Cain
                Ignored
                says:

                Perhaps…

                There is nothing about building a Nuke plant that is new under the sun. We know how to do every piece of it, and how to assemble large, complex systems when the pieces are built correctly.

                And I mean ‘We’ in the greater sense of the knowledge and skills exist, as does the talent.

                I mean, if we can weld a submarine hull so that it can survive at the depths our subs go, we can weld a reactor vessel. Navy contractors seem capable of doing both (sub hulls and reactors), so…

                So if the know-how and skills exist, then I think the problem is not that. I think the problem is that Westinghouse is unwilling to pay for the talent and experience needed, which is perhaps how you get your $8B/GWe vs $3.5/GWe.

                Extending this out a bit further afield, this issue is not just about systems engineering or project management, it’s also a direct result of our societal push towards college over skilled trades[1]. The number of welders in the country is finite, and the number of welders who know have the knowledge[2] and skill to do the kinds of welds required by a reactor vessel are but a tiny fraction of that, and they can thus command a significant amount of money for their time.

                Extend that out to the machinists, and pipe fitters, and every other skilled trade where the people who are honestly qualified to do the kind of work needed for a nuclear power plant, and yeah, I can see the cots going up, even if the regulatory burden is less.

                [1] Actual skilled trades, not the industry, or plant specific ‘skilled trades’ that are all the rage these days. e.g. your average Boeing Mechanic or Machinist is not a certified Mechanic or Machinist, they are Boeing trained to work on Boeing aircraft using Boeing systems and techniques. They do not typically have A&P certifications, or the more generalized skills a machinist or mechanic would have, and thus they can not shop their skills around.

                [2] Even your average welder has considerable training regarding metallurgy and could be considered a specialized field of physics or chemistry.Report

              • Avatar George Turner in reply to Oscar Gordon
                Ignored
                says:

                Scaling up the reactors for better economy also scaled up the pressure vessels (5 meter internal diam and 0.25 meter wall thickness). So instead of welding 3″ plate, you need to weld 10″ plate. All the pipe thicknesses would be scaled up similarly.

                I would expect cost to at some point start following a power law (perhaps exponential) with steel thickness, because the tooling to hot work it becomes vastly larger while at the same time becoming very seldom used for anything else.

                If you look at deep-diving submersibles, very, very few places can forge a really thick steel shape to precise dimensions.Report

              • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Oscar Gordon
                Ignored
                says:

                I’m not exactly disagreeing, but…

                Last year, Electric Boat rejected an entire batch of launch tubes for ballistic missile subs because of defective welds. The problem was discovered more-or-less by accident. The supplier has indicated that they will probably be getting out of that line of business. If that happens, the Navy has suggested there will be a multi-month delay in the sub construction program because of the time required to find and qualify a new supplier.

                Around 2015 one of the Virginia-class subs sat in dry dock for more than two years while welding problems associated with the reactor were corrected. Similar problems have now been found in two other subs.

                From 2007-2009, Newport News Shipbuilding found use of improper welding materials and falsified welding inspection reports affecting nine subs and four carriers.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Michael Cain
                Ignored
                says:

                More evidence of my tangent, then. That we’ve spent so much effort getting everyone into college that we are rapidly losing the industrial skills needed to keep technology humming along.Report

              • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to North
                Ignored
                says:

                I’m not disagreeing. I don’t think renewables are the one answer everywhere. I don’t think nuclear is the one answer everywhere. I do worry about timing on nuclear. If we start 25 new nukes in the US today, they start displacing fossil fuels in 8-10 years. No one — not the US, not Europe, not Russia, not China — seems to be able to do it faster than that.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Michael Cain
                Ignored
                says:

                Yeah I think that is a coherent objection. But it’s the kind of thing you determine after you’re elected if the numbers agree and if alternatives are available. It’s not the thing you try and use to justify ruling the entire category of power out while duking it out for the nomination and I lost a lot of respect for the candidates who did so.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Michael Cain
                Ignored
                says:

                If we start 25 new nukes in the US today, they start displacing fossil fuels in 8-10 years.

                True, but it’s a lot more do-able to build 25 new nuke plants than it is to convert all of Texas (etc) into green energy plants.Report

      • Avatar DavidTC in reply to George Turner
        Ignored
        says:

        Uh, the summary you just linked to says pretty explicitly that the warming is less than using fossil fuels, so I have no idea where you’ve decided the difference is the other way.

        What this study is saying is that CO2 stays in atmosphere, which means that, because wind power does produce some heat, that heat _plus_ the existing CO2 could temporarily cause even more heat.

        This is not, in any manner at all, a good reason to put _even more_ CO2 into the air, because putting more CO2 into the air just makes the turnaround _even longer_ in the future. It means solar might be a better solution than wind in the short term…but if solar’s not possible, the alternatives are ‘Do wind power now, increase a tiny fraction of heat more as we turn around’, or ‘Keep doing fossil fuel and just keep going, melt the planet…or instead turn around much later, probably _still_ using wind’.

        ‘Yes, this car is accelerating faster and faster, completely out of control, but scraping down the highway divider to slow down could endanger us even more. This means…we should just keep increasing in speed, right?’Report

        • Avatar George Turner in reply to DavidTC
          Ignored
          says:

          What they’re saying is that wind power causes more heating initially. This is because if you switched entirely to wind turbines tomorrow, it would probably be 0.24 C warmer by that evening and every day thereafter, as a constant effect.

          In contrast, tomorrow’s fossil fuel emissions add an immeasurably small amount to tomorrow’s temperatures. The CO2 from our power plants would have to build up in the atmosphere for many many decades to reach levels that would be thought to cause more than 0.24 C of extra warmth.

          But fortunately for us, we can get both the increased warmth from the wind turbines and all the extra warmth from CO2 because Africa, Asia, and most of the rest of the world doesn’t have much wind, so they’ll keep on cranking out CO2.

          The combined effect would help extend our growing seasons and delay the next period of glaciation, which is the only real threat from climate.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Michael Cain
      Ignored
      says:

      Or just say get over it Carter and start reprocessing the spent fuel?Report

  8. Avatar George Turner
    Ignored
    says:

    We’ve discussed how all the candidates except for Yang pledged “no nukes”, which means they’re not really serious. Another pledge they were all making is “no fossil fuels”. That’s not even remotely realistic. I’ll touch on a few of the reasons why.

    Steel is made with coke, which comes from coal, and the only substitute is charcoal. Using charcoal to make horseshoes, plows, and cast iron stoves was enough to cause major deforestation in Europe and the Eastern US. Abandoning coke isn’t viable unless we want to undo the industrial revolution.

    Portland cement is made by blasting limestone in a long tumbling furnace with immense amounts of whatever burns hot and cheap, which is always a fossil fuel. If we give up fossil fuels, we give up concrete.

    Airliners will never run on batteries because they couldn’t meet the 30-minute requirement even for landing at the airport they took off from. The energy density of jet fuel, gasoline, and diesel top 40 mega-Joules per kilogram, whereas lithium-ion batteries don’t even offer 1 mega-Joule per kilogram. Electric airplanes can fly, they just can’t stay up very long or fly further than across town at any reasonable speed. So getting rid of fossil fuels means getting rid of airline travel, and we can’t even get environmentalists to give up private jets. Given the ubiquity of air travel, they can’t all keep flying on used French-fry oil, so jet fuel will have to stay.

    Long-haul trucks will probably never be electric, due to weight and range, unless we have electric roadways to power them. You might think “solar roads!”, but France built a solar road and it was disastrous failure, causing the proponents to admit that it was a horrible idea.

    Maritime commerce will also stay with fossil fuels because the only alternatives are nuclear or big masts with sails. Batteries will get a ship across a bay, but not across an ocean.

    Electric cars, and even SUV’s, are certainly workable, but large numbers of them will require a major build-out of electrical infrastructure and vastly more lithium than the world market can produce in a reasonable time frame. There’s also the problem that electric vehicles, as currently built, don’t produce a whole lot of CO2 savings because of manufacturing demands.

    And finally, home heating in cold climates is easiest by burning natural gas, oil, or propane, especially in rural areas. Even homes with central air usually rely on fossil fuels for emergency heat, and in more remote areas that heat is usually oil or propane delivered by trucks, because running a couple miles of pipeline for one house is ridiculously expensive for the home-owner, as is massively upgrading their electrical service to provide pure electric heat.

    We can reduce fossil fuel consumption, but eliminating it in the next few decades isn’t remotely reasonable without inflicting extreme levels of poverty and pain for many, and extreme inconvenience for everybody. Hollywood celebrities aren’t going to commute to London by train and three-masted sailing ship, which is what eliminating fossil fuels would require.

    It might feel morally right to paint fossil fuels as an evil, but everyone on stage at the debates is burning more fossil fuels to fly all over the country and campaign that I will burn in my entire lifetime. So what I took away from the climate debate was that all the candidates had a nasty combination of magical thinking, glaring hypocrisy, and empty posturing. They made Sarah Palin sound like a genius when she said “Drill baby drill!” because drilling actually worked, and made George W Bush seem like a true visionary when he promoted a hydrogen future, since hydrogen is at least a viable transportation fuel for some modes, though one that’s extremely difficult to implement on a small scale due to storage difficulties.

    I’ll further note that Elizabeth Warren (and probably others) said she’d ban fracking, which is what allowed us to lower energy prices (thus boosting the economy), achieve independence from Mid-East oil (with major geopolitical benefits), and displace coal plants and thus lower our CO2 emissions far more than Europe has accomplished. It would make vastly more environmental sense to promote fracking around the world, and to provide further incentives for the construction of LNG export terminals and storage facilities to help other countries to make the same switch.Report

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *