[Discussion] Climate Change

This thread is just to post interesting news, thoughts, opinions about climate change.

Sure. The basic thrust is that we need two major shifts to combat the majority of CO2 release - transitioning from coal / natural gas power plants to something carbon-neutral (or even negative), and drastically reducing the use of oil as a fuel (transportation, heating, etc). To accomplish that goal quickly and effectively, you need alternatives that are less expensive; if it becomes profitable to shutter old power plants and shift to renewables, safe nuclear, or whatever, it'll happen pretty quickly.

Unsurprisingly, the government is already intervening in those markets. In fact, as the article notes, government intervention is essentially propping up the entire coal industry and is crucial to the profitability of huge sections of the oil industry - and that's not counting indirect subsidies like road construction, cheap leases on government land, and utility monopolies. Some of these policies have been around for a hundred years or more, and together with other policies (rural electrification, for example) have distorted the markets to heavily favor oil and gas.

Removing those subsidies and price controls is all that's required to make coal, oil, and gas unprofitable, killing off the major sources of CO2. Combine that with removal of other regulatory barriers like utility monopolies, solar panel tariffs, NIMBY laws against wind farms, and the effective ban on nuclear reactors despite modern safe designs, and you have the recipe for a renaissance in power generation and transportation. There's already some cracks in the wall, like competitive wholesale power markets, but a lot more needs to be undone - and the Trump administration is making things worse with their additional tariffs.

So, to sum up:

Step 1: Magic away all the vested interests.

Step 2: Magic the existing global petroleum-based infrastructure into something else. See Step 1.

Easy, right?

Aetius wrote:

Sure. The basic thrust is that we need two major shifts to combat the majority of CO2 release - transitioning from coal / natural gas power plants to something carbon-neutral (or even negative), and drastically reducing the use of oil as a fuel (transportation, heating, etc). To accomplish that goal quickly and effectively, you need alternatives that are less expensive; if it becomes profitable to shutter old power plants and shift to renewables, safe nuclear, or whatever, it'll happen pretty quickly.

Unsurprisingly, the government is already intervening in those markets. In fact, as the article notes, government intervention is essentially propping up the entire coal industry and is crucial to the profitability of huge sections of the oil industry - and that's not counting indirect subsidies like road construction, cheap leases on government land, and utility monopolies. Some of these policies have been around for a hundred years or more, and together with other policies (rural electrification, for example) have distorted the markets to heavily favor oil and gas.

Removing those subsidies and price controls is all that's required to make coal, oil, and gas unprofitable, killing off the major sources of CO2. Combine that with removal of other regulatory barriers like utility monopolies, solar panel tariffs, NIMBY laws against wind farms, and the effective ban on nuclear reactors despite modern safe designs, and you have the recipe for a renaissance in power generation and transportation. There's already some cracks in the wall, like competitive wholesale power markets, but a lot more needs to be undone - and the Trump administration is making things worse with their additional tariffs.

It isn't that you are wrong, in fact I would say you are right. It is just that your solution of remove government controls doesn't seem like it will work.

Why you ask? Because we have already tried the government stay out of industry and London was so polluted you couldn't see a few feet in front of you some days. All we need to do is look at how "the market" conducted itself when unregulated to see that it not only doesn't work but hasn't worked We have real life historical facts that show it doesn't work.

Aetius wrote:

Removing those subsidies and price controls is all that's required to make coal, oil, and gas unprofitable, killing off the major sources of CO2.

Same thing with corn.

Jonman and Farley, how are you interpreting either of these as deregulation or laissez-faire? This is removing supply side incentives (i.e.: cronyism and mercantilist protections) to continue using feedstocks that are harmful to the environment. What's wrong with or unrealistic about this?

You are right this specific description is more about removing supports.

GioClark wrote:
Aetius wrote:

Removing those subsidies and price controls is all that's required to make coal, oil, and gas unprofitable, killing off the major sources of CO2.

Same thing with corn.

Jonman and Farley, how are you interpreting either of these as deregulation or laissez-faire? This is removing supply side incentives (i.e.: cronyism and mercantilist protections) to continue using feedstocks that are harmful to the environment. What's wrong with or unrealistic about this?

I'm not. I'm just pointing out that there are reasons why these supply side incentives exist - vested interests have leverage in policy-making.

That's the disease you need to cure. The price controls are just the symptom.

Fixing the structure of the policy-making machine is a much harder problem that Aetius seems to be appreciating.

Jonman wrote:

That's the disease you need to cure. The price controls are just the symptom.

Fixing the structure of the policy-making machine is a much harder problem that Aetius seems to be appreciating.

So, you're basically hearing this:

I feel you. I remember an anecdote where a personality, Warren Buffet I think, claimed that all we needed to do to ensure a budget surplus for multiple future generations was to raise the SSI recipient age to 70 and pull our troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Simple, but not easy.

But I'd argue that, 'It's too difficult,' is a limp argument when we're talking about preserving our ecosystem. We can cap CO2 emissions or start chipping away at the protectionist system that resulted in the current state. Or both.

GioClark wrote:

But I'd argue that, 'It's too difficult,' is a limp argument when we're talking about preserving our ecosystem. We can cap CO2 emissions or start chipping away at the protectionist system that resulted in the current state. Or both.

It is funny (to me) but it is too difficult seems to be the way the ecosystem works. Evolution doesn't create the best, it creates good enough. So in some ways while it is a limp argument it is the most natural argument.

Aetius wrote:

The basic thrust is that we need two major shifts to combat the majority of CO2 release - transitioning from coal / natural gas power plants to something carbon-neutral (or even negative), and drastically reducing the use of oil as a fuel (transportation, heating, etc).

The first was happening under Obama because he correctly had the EPA classify C02 as a pollutant and required the gazillion coal-fired power plants across America to install C02 scrubbers. The owners of said power plants said f*ck that noise, we'll just convert those plants from coal to natural gas, which just got super cheap because fracking was greatly expanded (some of those federal subsidies at work).

And the second can't and won't happen without federal intervention. Our transportation system literally runs on oil and the only way around that is to either use subsidies and tax breaks to get companies to develop much more fuel efficient (or electric) cars or to simply tax the f*ck out of gasoline. Consumers seem to wise up and ditch SUVs and gas guzzlers at the $5/gallon mark, but that high gas prices are a drag on the economy and are none too popular with Joe Sixpack.

The reason why the government has to get involved is because both the energy producers and energy consumers don't want to pay the true cost of fossil fuels. They like the historic system where they simply externalize all the costs. The government's job is to stand on the sidelines with a big ass stick and make the producers and consumers actually pay for using fossil fuels, preferably with something like a carbon tax. That way companies can either pay to clean up their acts or pay to buy another company's carbon credits.

I agree that after 40 years of aggressively not doing anything green energy technology has gotten to the point now that we can solve climate change without government intervention. Given that we also change the definition of "solve" to mean "just barely stay at a 2 degree Celsius rise--probably". I do take issue with your hand-waving of the possibility that the free market may get us to carbon negative power sources somehow. Thermodynamics basically means that that's impossible, unless graphene for some reason starts being worth a billion dollars an ounce (and lets be clear, poor people and baby seals require way less effort to turn into graphene than CO2, so I wouldn't count on some crazy carbon use case driving CO2 sequestration).

The "free market" solution also only seems inevitable now that we have done nothing for 40 years and found ourselves with affordable wind and solar power. That was not inevitable. If some new breakthrough had been found that reduces the cost of mining coal to 2 cents a ton (or, God-forbid, is developed three years from now) then your invisible hand just as inevitably takes us down the path to another two degrees of temperature increase.

You haven't described a solution as much of pasted a "this is fine" over the terrible status quo.

Edit: Don't take any of this to mean that I don't think that vastly restricting--or entirely removing--our fossil fuel subsidies isn't a great idea.

farley3k wrote:

It is funny (to me) but it is too difficult seems to be the way the ecosystem works. Evolution doesn't create the best, it creates good enough. So in some ways while it is a limp argument it is the most natural argument.

That's fair. And it's also fair to say that removing the financial incentives around fossil fuels and other harmful feedstocks will take advantage of the same natural tendencies of business to divert their capital and profit seeking towards more lucrative methods. The overall goal to be to draw our dumb ape selves right where we need to be.

Opposing tariffs on solar and subsidies on fossil fuels are a great place to start. We can and should do that, difficult or not. And you'd have free marketeers as allies.

Aetius wrote:

Sure. The basic thrust is that we need two major shifts to combat the majority of CO2 release - transitioning from coal / natural gas power plants to something carbon-neutral (or even negative), and drastically reducing the use of oil as a fuel (transportation, heating, etc). To accomplish that goal quickly and effectively, you need alternatives that are less expensive; if it becomes profitable to shutter old power plants and shift to renewables, safe nuclear, or whatever, it'll happen pretty quickly.

Unsurprisingly, the government is already intervening in those markets. In fact, as the article notes, government intervention is essentially propping up the entire coal industry and is crucial to the profitability of huge sections of the oil industry - and that's not counting indirect subsidies like road construction, cheap leases on government land, and utility monopolies. Some of these policies have been around for a hundred years or more, and together with other policies (rural electrification, for example) have distorted the markets to heavily favor oil and gas.

Removing those subsidies and price controls is all that's required to make coal, oil, and gas unprofitable, killing off the major sources of CO2. Combine that with removal of other regulatory barriers like utility monopolies, solar panel tariffs, NIMBY laws against wind farms, and the effective ban on nuclear reactors despite modern safe designs, and you have the recipe for a renaissance in power generation and transportation. There's already some cracks in the wall, like competitive wholesale power markets, but a lot more needs to be undone - and the Trump administration is making things worse with their additional tariffs.

While most of this makes sense, are not price controls something that the government would enforce.

GioClark wrote:

But I'd argue that, 'It's too difficult,' is a limp argument when we're talking about preserving our ecosystem. We can cap CO2 emissions or start chipping away at the protectionist system that resulted in the current state. Or both.

I'm not saying "it's too difficult", I'm saying" it's bloody difficult, so come prepared for a long, drag-out fight against well-armed opponents who will fight to their last breath."

Garrcia wrote:

While most of this makes sense, are not price controls something that the government would enforce.

No, he is talking about the market interaction that the US government has done to help the fossil fuel industry for a variety of reasons. Removing those price controls would represent a removal of government enforcement, not additional enforcement. And those "variety of reasons" are truly a large variety, they range from security "ensure that the US can produce enough energy domestically in case international supply is disrupted", economic "lets keep people and industries driving around the country cheaply" and humane "lets keep poor people from freezing to death".

farley3k wrote:

All we need to do is look at how "the market" conducted itself when unregulated to see that it not only doesn't work but hasn't worked We have real life historical facts that show it doesn't work.

We don't have those facts, because markets are very rarely left alone to work. What we get instead is a heavily regulated and distorted market, the failure of which is blamed on the free market, and of course the proposed solution is more intervention.

London is a case in point. It's a very large, extremely dense urban area, and there have been taxes, regulations, and various market interventions on vehicles for over a hundred years. In the 90s, those taxes and policies favored diesel vehicles. Unfortunately, that came at a cost - higher NOx emissions, which are largely responsible for the current pollution problems. Diesel cars died out in other countries' markets, mostly because of their polluting tendencies.

Transport for London has monopoly control over buses, trains, and taxi licenses in London. They were not immune to the push for diesel in the 90s, and thus most of the buses, taxis and trains in London are diesel, which contributes a great deal to the pollution problem as all of those vehicles put in far more miles than single-owner cars. Worse, their vehicles are exempt from regulations that affect privately-owned vehicles, so their contribution to the pollution will continue for decades.

On a broader front, the UK government spends billions of pounds subsidizing the coal, oil, and gas industries. Just five years ago, 40% of Britain's power was supplied by coal-burning power stations. It's now 9% - not primarily due to regulation (which was largely made up of huge subsidies), but due to natural gas becoming much cheaper (the same effect occurred in other markets, like the United States) and the UK running out of easily available coal.

So in this case, the current London pollution problem is directly due to the government implementing all sorts of interventions to favor diesel vehicles in the 90s, as well as spending billions to favor fossil fuels in general and coal in particular (until very recently). To their credit, most UK and EU observers recognize this, as there is a huge public corpus of evidence that diesel vehicles and fossil fuel subsidies were and are a deliberate government policy.

Now, if you're referring to older issues, like the famous Great Smog in 1952, those too were not the product of a free market. England in the 19th century was an authoritarian / mercantilist mess, with regulations covering everything from beached whales (must be delivered to the reigning monarch) to being drunk in a pub. The coal industry was not immune to regulation, and was subsidized and supported in various ways. In fact, the entire UK coal industry was completely nationalized in 1947, and "dual pricing" - cheap subsidized coal for domestic consumption and premium pricing on exports to coal-starved postwar Europe - was in full force during the Great Smog. And despite decades of various clean air regulations, London air didn't clear up until the late 60's when alternatives became cheaper.

Yonder wrote:

The "free market" solution also only seems inevitable now that we have done nothing for 40 years and found ourselves with affordable wind and solar power. That was not inevitable. If some new breakthrough had been found that reduces the cost of mining coal to 2 cents a ton (or, God-forbid, is developed three years from now) then your invisible hand just as inevitably takes us down the path to another two degrees of temperature increase.

There's two problems with this line of thinking. One is that renewable power development could have happened a lot faster. The U.S. killed off the nascent renewables market in 1936 with the Rural Electrification Act, and it took fifty years for the market to reappear. And second, given the billions involved, it's incredibly likely that if some breakthrough would have made coal mining cheaper, it would have happened by now. And while it's possible that people (the market) would continue to tolerate using coal, it's unlikely. People don't like coal. They understand the link between coal and pollution, because it's pretty obvious and directly affects them. In virtually every case, as soon as a viable alternative was available, people abandoned coal. The only reason it wasn't ended as a power source decades ago has been government subsidies.

You haven't described a solution as much of pasted a "this is fine" over the terrible status quo.

My point isn't that things are fine (they aren't), but rather that the status quo is a creation of deliberate government policy, not a function of the free market. It is not accidental, nor is it a product of people choosing freely. When people have had the choice, they've generally made the right call, as with diesel and home heating coal. The government is deliberately blocking people from making choices that are both economically and environmentally sound, and they are doing so for their own benefit.

GioClark wrote:

Same thing with corn.

And sugar, and raisins, and a host of other things. If you really, really want to see how crazy this gets, read about the U.S. government's raisin price control program and the National Raisin Reserve. Yes, really, the National Raisin Reserve was a thing and was finally shut down only three years ago.

One of the many problems with relying on the Invisible Hand here is market inertia. Without external intervention it would take wholesale, seismic change to supply and/or demand to shift the global supply chain and energy infrastructure to a less fungible, more decentralised commodity. The market's lazy as sh*t yo' and change like that required just will not happen without someone tightening the screws and aligning corporate interest to point in a sustainable direction. Low-effort opportunism will always, always, always trump long-term social interest in a completely deregulated market.

Since 2011, diesel cars in the UK have been fitted with particulate filters that reduce fine particulate emissions by 99%. The latest Euro 6 standards reduce NOx emissions from 3x those of gasoline cars to 1.3x. And diesel has always had lower CO2 emissions. The EU and UK have been steadily reducing pollution from both gas and diesel vehicles since the mid-90's, and diesels have been the target of massive reductions in emissions for the last few iterations, finally coming to near-parity with cars for NOx and beating them in fine particles and CO2.

New standards have been tested to detect cheating and will be fully in place by 2019. Note that the "invisible hand" of the market was quite happy to produce unhealthy results for its consumers, as long as it thought they would not figure it out. Luckily, there were remedies and penalties available to allow consumers redress.

If the Euro emissions regulations were not in place, the UK and elsewhere would have been dealing with this level of pollution more than 15 years ago (and possibly before that). The reason London's pollution is so bad is not diesel vehicles. It's population growth and density, and the dependence on surface transport, AND the perfidy of vehicle producers who elaborately evaded pollution standards for profit.

Yes, things are bad. Yes, they are improving. Yes, they would most likely have been worse *without* the regulatory structure. London's diesels are not a good argument for less regulation; they are a good argument for *more* regulation, specifically, to speed up purchase of new, more efficient vehicles by the Transit Authority, and limit the use of non-mass-transit surface transport in the city.

The free market must *always* be balanced with central control. To go full-bore either way leads to disaster. In this case, though, regulations have led the way in *actual* reductions of pollution; the fact that the problem is still bad speaks to problems with manufacturers and population density, not the effort to decrease emissions by rule.

Robear wrote:

The reason London's pollution is so bad is not diesel vehicles. It's population growth and density, and the dependence on surface transport.

This.

Population of London in 2016: 8,787,892
Population of Washington state in 2013: 6,971,406

The project’s lead researcher, Cao Junji, said that since it began operating, the tower has produced more than 353 cubic feet of clean air a day...

Internet journalism needs more copy editors.

The tower cleans 353 million cubic feet of air a day.

But I'm sure that changing those HEPA filters is a bitch.

Robear wrote:

AND the perfidy of vehicle producers who elaborately evaded pollution standards for profit

My emphasis bolded.

If we could depend on good faith, we wouldn't need regulation. This goes double from those with the resources to hire teams of tax lawyers and engage in chicanery. And even at the individual level, people tend to rationalize a bit more liberally if it's to their own benefit. This is why the rhetoric around the individual mandate portion of the ACA got so much traction, even though consumers stood to gain in the long term. People flock to carrots and do everything they can to avoid sticks. Companies are made of lots of people of where profitability becomes an ever present existential concern. This isn't evil. This is human nature. If possible, it's something to harness rather than extinguish.

Although, I see nothing in your post opposing the removal of subsidies that support harmful feedstocks. Are we in agreement that this is a form of government intervention in need of improvement/reduction? My hope is that we'd remove the carrots before handing out sticks. While I can engage in shenanigans around avoiding a tax/fine/standard, I cannot collect a government incentive that no longer exists.

Aetius wrote:

There's two problems with this line of thinking. One is that renewable power development could have happened a lot faster. The U.S. killed off the nascent renewables market in 1936 with the Rural Electrification Act, and it took fifty years for the market to reappear.

You know what renewable power meant in the 1930s? Burning wood.

From a 2015 U.S. Energy Information Administration report touting 2014 as the year the consumption of renewable energy broke records:

Renewable energy accounted for 9.8% of total domestic energy consumption in 2014. This marks the highest renewable energy share since the 1930s, when wood was a much larger contributor to domestic energy supply.

The Rural Electrification Act was passed because power generation companies at the time found that it simply wasn't profitable to extend their transmission lines to rural areas. As a country we could have continued to let rural America live like it was still the 1600s, but we decided it made more sense economically and ethically to bring them into the 20th century. And the government had to do it because the market wouldn't.

Aetius wrote:

And second, given the billions involved, it's incredibly likely that if some breakthrough would have made coal mining cheaper, it would have happened by now. And while it's possible that people (the market) would continue to tolerate using coal, it's unlikely. People don't like coal. They understand the link between coal and pollution, because it's pretty obvious and directly affects them. In virtually every case, as soon as a viable alternative was available, people abandoned coal. The only reason it wasn't ended as a power source decades ago has been government subsidies.

Come on, man. Like every industry coal mining companies invested heavily in technology and automation. It's how you get the last century of soaring coal production and an ever decreasing number of miners. Coal mining companies wouldn't make those investments unless it made mining cheaper and more efficient.

IMAGE(https://i.imgur.com/opJvMb4l.png)

IMAGE(https://i.imgur.com/nC2UfHrl.png)

And coal is only obvious bad when the people burning it don't have to do a damn thing about the pollution it causes--think Victorian era England or China a fews years back.

I'm old enough that I remember when acid rain broke into the mainstream. The reaction to that was for the government to require coal-fired power plants to add costly scrubbers. Then acid rain dipped from public awareness because that visible link between coal and pollution was severed.

You're overestimating people's knowledge and concern about how their power is generated and what pollution it causes. The vast majority of people only care that the power comes on when they flip a switch and that they don't have to pay too much for it.

The recent mass conversion of power plants from coal to natural gas didn't happen because the industry suddenly discovered natural gas. It happened because natural gas became much cheaper and the government --continuing a long history of clamping down on pollution--also began to treat CO2 as a pollutant.

No "viable alternative" for coal was found. It was literally power companies crunching the numbers and realizing that it would be cheaper to use a less polluting fuel source (one that became much more abundant and cheap in large part because of the subsidies you don't like) than to add more pollution abatement technology to their plants and still burn coal.

If the government suddenly decided to stop requiring power plants to use filters and scrubbers and not have them worry about the CO2 they generate then we would see them convert all their new natural gas plants back to coal.

And if you're going to claim that government meddling in the form of subsidies has kept the coal industry alive then you're also going to have to admit that government meddling in the form of both subsidies for natural gas production and the EPA has also killed it.

Well, this whole thing about the Orbiting Carbon Observatory satellite program is beyond maddening.