The anti-Trump fervor seems to be slowly dying down as his appointees take hold of their agencies and begin to promulgate new policies. I have expected this to happen because of the excellent quality of many of the people he has appointed.
Here are a few recent developments:
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has said that “the border is complicated as far as building a physical wall” and there are all sorts of problems to be resolved before it can be done.
Reality is setting in with regard to Russia policy “given Russia’s continued provocations in terms of weapon’s deployments, overtures to Iran, cyber intrusions and intervention in Ukraine.”
The Brookings Institution has just issued a new report showing that schoolchoice options are increasing in the country’s largest school districts. This indicates that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is in the mainstream by supporting more choice.
Coal jobs Trump vows to save no longer exist. In other words, cancelation of the Obama Clean Power Plan will have little effect on the huge drop in coal use because coal has become so much more expensive than natural gas.
Of course, the Trump 2018 Budget Proposal will be heavily modified by Congress but it does contain some good ideas. Agriculture, Foreign Aid and Community Development Block Grants are all ripe for big cuts.
The biggest unknown with respect to administrative action concerns trade policy. The question here is what concessions he can get from China and Mexico without starting a disastrous trade war.
What is mainly lacking at this point is any significant action by Congress on the Trump agenda. What will happen with healthcare reform, tax reform and deficit reduction, for example?
Conclusion. Trump is doing fine so far but it is on relatively straightforward issues under his control. Hopefully he will be able to make progress on the bigger issues as well which require working with Congress.
Tomorrow the United Nations climate conference opens in Paris. According to Peter Thiel, the venture capitalist, “We can talk about a carbon-free world, or we can create one.” Continues Mr. Thiel, “The single most important action we can take is thawing a nuclear energy policy that keeps our technology frozen in time.” Consider:
Wind and solar together provide less than 2% of the world’s energy and they aren’t growing anywhere near fast enough to replace fossil fuels.
China’s coal consumption is growing at 2.6% per year and India’s at 5%. In India there are 300 million people without access to electricity. The Paris plan wants India to be satisfied with a .6 metric ton of oil equivalent per person, when a minimum of at least four tons per person is needed for the development of an advanced nation.
Safety fears about nuclear power are overblown. The 1979 accident at Three Mile Island caused no significant amount of radiation to be released. The 1986 Chernobyl disaster was caused by a faulty design and operator incompetence. Fewer than 50 people were killed by released radiation compared with 13,000 killed every year by smoke from coal-fired power plants. The 2011 Fukushima disaster resulted in no deaths from radiation.
A new generation of American nuclear scientists has produced designs for better reactors which have the potential to overcome the biggest obstacle to the success of nuclear power: high cost.
I hear many people say that the U.S. needs to provide leadership in getting the world to stop using fossil fuels. A carbon tax would provide an economic incentive to either move away from fossil fuels or clean them up. But even a revenue neutral carbon tax would face strong political resistance. Climate change activists should consider supporting nuclear energy development as perhaps the most viable alternative to fossil fuels.
My last post, “Why We Badly Need a Revenue Neutral Carbon Tax” makes the case for combatting global warming with a sensible free market mechanism such as a carbon tax rather than a hodge-podge of arbitrary national and state regulatory actions. Since many of the Facebook responders to this post deny the reality of global warming in the first place, I have decided to present the overwhelming evidence for its existence.
When ninety-seven percent of climate scientists worldwide agree that climate change is real and they have assembled a massive amount of measurement data to back up this claim, I think we have to take them seriously. For example:
The Global Surface Temperature is Rising. Global average temperature has risen 1.4 F since the early 20th century as shown in the chart just below which also shows the close correlation with carbon-dioxide concentration.
The Sea Level is Rising. It has risen at an average rate of 1.7 mm/year over the last 100 years and at the rate of 3.5 mm/year since 1993 which is equivalent to one inch every seven years.
Global Upper Ocean Heat Content is Rising. The top 700 meters have warmed by .3F since 1969. Thermal expansion of the ocean water as it warms contributes to the sea level rise.
Glacier Volume is Shrinking Worldwide. Just Greenland and Antartica alone have lost at 150 cubic kilometers of ice annually in recent years.
Declining Artic Sea Ice. Both the extent and thickness of artic sea ice has declined rapidly over the last several decades (see chart below). I accept the reality of the scientific evidence for global warming but I am certainly no “alarmist” in terms of what our response should be towards addressing it. It will be many, many years before renewable energy sources like wind and solar are able to make a substantial dent in worldwide energy needs.
The best thing to do in the meantime is to attempt to decrease carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels through carbon capture and storage. A carbon tax would create a huge economic incentive for the coal and oil industry to solve this problem. If and when they figure it out, it is likely that the technology involved would rapidly spread around the world.
This would represent a real solution to a very serious problem.
A few days ago I made the argument that “we need a carbon tax” because global warming is real and our response to it should not be defaulted to regulatory action by the EPA and individual states acting on their own. Just two days ago the U.S. Global Change Research Program released a voluminous new report, the “Third National Climate Assessment”, giving many examples of how dramatically global warming is already affecting life in the United States as well as all over the world. Perhaps the most direct effect in the U.S. is an increase in average temperatures of almost 2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1900. This means that summers are longer and hotter and that winters are shorter and warmer, on average. Hotter temperatures mean that there is more moisture in the atmosphere and rain comes in heavier downpours. It is going to be harder and harder for doubters to deny the accumulating evidence. Global average temperatures have also increased by almost 2 degrees F in the past century. The most dramatic, and visible, evidence worldwide for climate change is the shrinking of the artic polar icecap measured each year in September. Although the ice extent fluctuates from one year to another, the pattern of decline, as shown below, is clearly evident. A worldwide response is urgently needed and the wealthiest country in the world should step up to the plate and lead the way. A carbon tax does not mean an end to using to using fossil fuels but simply provides a strong incentive, without government picking winners and losers, to cut back on carbon emissions. We can be confident that, with a strong economic incentive, American technology will figure out how to remove carbon from fossil fuels during combustion.
The sooner we begin a program along these lines, the better off we will all be in the very near future as the world continues to get warmer.
The Los Angeles Times recently ran the article “U.S. electricity prices may be going up for good” (reprinted in today’s Omaha World Herald), stating that “Experts warn of a growing fragility as coal-fired plants are shut down, nuclear power is reduced and consumers switch to renewable energy.” The article goes on to say that “the problems confronting the electrical system are the result of a wide range of forces: new federal regulations on toxic emissions, rules on greenhouse gases, state mandates for renewable power, technical problems at nuclear power plants and unpredictable price trends for natural gas.”
“New emissions rules on mercury, acid gases and other toxics by the Environmental Protection Agency are expected to result in significant losses of the nation’s coal generated power, historically the largest and cheapest source of electricity. Already two dozen coal generating units are scheduled for decommissioning.”
“At the same time, 30 states have mandates for renewable energy that will require the use of more expensive wind and solar energy. Since these sources depend on the weather, they require backup generation – a hidden factor that can add significantly to the overall cost to consumers.”
Here is what we should do instead:
First, we agree that global warming is for real. For me, the clearest and most irrefutable evidence is the rapidly diminishing extent of the artic polar icecap each summer. There is much evidence that cause of global warming is the use of fossil fuels, coal, oil and gas, which releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Secondly, even though the problem is worldwide, and China emits more CO2 than the U.S., nevertheless the U.S. has a responsibility to provide the leadership of which only it is capable.
The problem is, as the LA Times article makes very clear, our disorganized and inefficient response to the problem. Separate and haphazard responses by individual states are not nearly enough, rather we need a coherent national response.
A national carbon tax of perhaps $20 per ton of CO2 emitted would provide a uniform market mechanism to encourage the reduction of carbon emissions from fossil fuels or their replacement by alternate sources of energy. Coal power plants, for example, would not be forced to shut down but would have to figure out how to emit less carbon in order to remain economically viable.
This would be a big improvement over our current situation!