Scott Sumner  

Global warming phonies

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One Congressman Can Sometimes ... One Congressman Can Sometimes ...

I seem to be one of the relatively few right-of-center intellectuals that worry about global warming. In previous posts I've argued that if the GOP were smart (no jokes please) they would propose the following policy:

1. Global warming is a crisis for our planet, and it's time to stop playing politics with the issue. Therefore we suggest that Congress pass the sort of policy that experts believe is the most effective solution, without any bells and whistles that address other partisan concerns.

2. It's clear that experts view a carbon tax as the most efficient solution.

3. This tax should be completely revenue neutral, and should not be viewed as a back door way to advance other agendas, such as bigger government and more spending.

4. Therefore the carbon tax should be offset by reductions in our most distortionary taxes, especially those that bias us toward consumption. A revenue neutral carbon tax focuses like a laser on the environmental problem, and doesn't get bogged down in left-right disputes over the proper size of government.

I've suggested that this is a win-win for the GOP. First, it's possible (indeed likely) that the concerns over global warming are valid. In that case a revenue neutral carbon tax is clearly beneficial. And second, even if scientists are wrong about global warming, our current tax system is so grotesquely inefficient that it would be easy to find taxes far more distortionary than the carbon tax, which could then be reduced to offset its impact. Thus it's probably a sound public policy, even if global warming is not a problem at all.

But for GOP climate skeptics it gets even better. I've argued that the Democrats might well reject this proposal, as they actually care more about taxes than global warming, even though they pay lip service to Al Gore's claim that global warming is the great challenge of the 21st century. They would reject the GOP proposal, and this would expose their hypocrisy. Then the GOP could gain the moral high ground, by constantly reminding voters that they favored the policy that was advocated by global warming experts and the Democrats shot it down because they cared more about imposing ever-higher taxes on the public than they did about actually solving global warming. So it's a pure win for the GOP, with no downside at all. The tax never even gets implemented. Well-educated suburban women move back to the GOP.

Do I have any evidence for this outrageous charge? Are the Democrats really that cynical? I'm not certain, but consider the following:

ASK an economist how best to reduce pollution, and the chances are that they will recommend taxing carbon emissions. And with good reason: doing so should encourage markets to find the least costly way to reduce pollution, something governments will struggle to discover themselves. In November Washington state's voters will decide whether their state should mimic neighbouring British Columbia's carbon tax, after a grass-roots campaign put the proposal on the ballot. It would be the first such policy in America. You might think environmentalists would unite behind such a pathbreaking effort. Instead, many oppose it.

Initiative 732, as it is known, would tax carbon emissions at a rate reaching $25-a-ton in 2018 and then rising by 3.5% plus inflation every year, to a maximum of $100 in 2016 dollars. Today's levy in British Columbia is C$30 ($23) a ton. As in the Canadian province, the proceeds would be recycled into tax cuts elsewhere. The sales tax would fall from 6.5% to 5.5%. Low-income workers would get a tax rebate. And, to help placate affected businesses, manufacturing taxes would fall.

Yoram Bauman, who heads the Yes campaign (and who somehow makes his living by performing economics-themed stand-up comedy) proudly notes that three Republican state legislators support the initiative, and that it has not attracted the well-funded opposition from the oil lobby that a revenue-raising proposal might. Unfortunately, the price of that has been to alienate left-wing environmentalists, who are loth to give up the opportunity to use a carbon tax to fund new spending.


So it appears that I was right all along. At least if you assume that the left wing environmentalists reflect the views of the Democratic Party. Do they? I'm not sure, but Hillary Clinton opposes a carbon tax. (As does Trump.)

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COMMENTS (50 to date)
Chris writes:

Great post and I totally agree. I always wondered why Republicans didn't use climate change as a bargaining chip. If Democrats truly believed that global warming was catastrophic, they should be willing to give in to almost any of the Republicans demands for other parts of the economy in return for a carbon tax. I expect that we would soon see that both sides actually care much more about now than they do about the future.

I think similar logic applies to gun control, but I guess the lobbying forces might be too strong to play with anything there.

bill writes:

I agree with you 100%.

Lawrence D'Anna writes:

Yup. This is a rare, golden opportunity to reform our terrible tax code and it's being squandered.

Thaomas writes:

I'd sure like to give it a try. (Just like I'd like to give price level targeting a try.)

The only difference I'd propose is that the taxes to be reduced besides the corporate income and SS wage taxes, be the personal income tax as well and that all be replaced in a revenue neutral way with the carbon tax and a progressive consumption tax, so as not to have the carbon tax make the tax system yet less progressive than it is.

Politically, I doubt that President Clinton would veto such a tax package.

MikeP writes:

Are the Democrats really that cynical?

Yes.

What did I win?

Pithlord writes:

One proposal that I think would make this even better would be to tie the magnitude of the GHG tax to some suitable metric of global average temperatures. The market would then create an implicit expectation on what the future trend would be. If you think that consensus estimates of climate sensitivity are too high (or too low), you wouldn't have to argue about it on the Internet, you could go risk your own money.

Scott Sumner writes:

Everything, Thanks, I'm not used to such strong agreement.

Pithlord, A few years ago Aaron Jackson and I wrote an article suggesting futures markets in both global temperatures and CO2 levels.

You could perhaps use that information to construct an optimal carbon tax. Of course to really make it work you'd need global agreement, but any progress has to start somewhere, and there is certainly some support for action in other countries. Perhaps people could be convinced that a revenue neutral (and perhaps progressivity neutral) tax change is not that big a price to pay. Another idea would be a revenue sharing option to smooth out the distributional impact among states.

David Condon writes:

The article's wording sounded fishy to me, so I goggled the proposal, found the yes campaign's website, clicked on endorsements, and discovered that a lot more Democrats than Republicans endorse the tax. https://yeson732.org/endorsements/

I would say your plan would be horrible for Republicans politically at the national level. You're talking about eliminating non-obvious taxes and replacing them with a very obvious tax. Gasoline taxes aren't politically popular. Both parties support tax code simplification privately. See for instance the Wyden-Gregg bill from several years ago. However it's much harder to enact publicly. Every tax loophole has an interest group behind it that would scream bloody murder if their favored policy was removed. Tax code simplification has to either be a major bipartisan effort where individual groups can be drowned out, or it's not going to happen.

Jesse writes:

The big benefit of the Carbon tax is the certainty it provides X tonnes CO2 in year Y = $Z tax. Period. This is what reduces CO2 is the certainty that allows business to invest the appropriate capital that justifies the reduction. Everything that adds variability to this means that the investment level is less (at the same average price) than it would be if it was certain.

I suggest a straight per capita rebate (one adult rate and one child rate) to the residents and start phasing out the worst tax credits and benefits.

Anand writes:

Here is Sierra Club's position. They don't oppose it, but say they "do not support" it. I don't know what on Earth that means.

Among their reasons, they say that they don't believe that the initiative is revenue neutral.

There remains justifiable concern about I-732's revenue projections. While I-732 was intended to be revenue neutral, the State Department of Revenue predicts I-732 will result in about $200 million of lost revenue per year in its first four years. A subsequent analysis by Sightline Institute, a respected environmental think tank, found flaws in the state forecast but still estimated a nearly $80 million annual revenue loss over the same time period. At a time when our state needs additional revenue to fund education, parks, environmental programs, and social services, we are concerned about any projected revenue cuts

I have no idea if their numbers are right or wrong.

Anand writes:

Here is the AEI's position. In short, they say that the impact is negligible and the cost non-trivial.

Again, I have no idea whether their numbers are right or wrong, but my general impression is that it is often true with these kinds of proposals.

Ben H. writes:

This post seems to be combination of two things: (1) a very reasonable proposal that the Republicans ought to follow, but doubtless won't because their denialist wing is far too strong, and (2) an ad hominem against the Democrats supported by... evidence from Canada. Um, OK. Well, the Canada situation is more complex than it appears at first blush; BC has had a carbon tax for a while now, and it is basically a failure because the carbon price, which was supposed to increase every year, got frozen at a low level because of political interference. That has doubtless poisoned some Canadians against the idea of carbon taxes, which now – in their direct experience – are a political failure. But never mind; the main point is that your evidence for a slur against the Democrats is from Canada! As a U.S. citizen who plans to vote for Hillary (although, ick), I can say that my strong impression is that U.S. liberals would be absolutely delighted to meet Republicans in the middle and pass a revenue-neutral carbon tax, as long as the tax cuts done to achieve revenue-neutrality didn't do overwhelmingly to the 1% (which the Republicans would doubtless propose that they do). Bring it on. You can believe your empty ad hominems against Democrats if you want to, I don't care about that. Just put a reasonable proposal on the table, and get whiplash at how quickly it passes. In my experience, most liberals talk about regulation more than carbon taxation simply because there is a sense that a carbon tax would be politically impossible in the U.S. Go ahead and prove us wrong; as you say, it would be a win for all concerned, not least future generations of every political affiliation.

Pithlord writes:

Ben H,

You are misinformed about Canada. The BC carbon tax has worked quite well in reducing GHG emissions in BC. It also means one of the lowest levels of income tax in the country, because it was brought in by a centre-right government on a revenue neutral basis. The social-democratic NDP initially opposed (although the Green Party always supported it), but now opposes revenue neutrality. It is true that there was a change in leadership in the BC Liberals and that the current premier has been reluctant to increase the amount of the carbon tax until the rest of the country does as well.

Combined with revenue neutrality, it has meant that the BC economy had done as well as anywhere in the country. The principal problem is an overheated housing market.

The Federal government has just announced that it is going to impose a nation-wide price of carbon. Basically, it works as a federal tax, but each province gets the revenue back if they either impose their own tax or create a cap-and-trade system. BC will be increasing its carbon tax.

kimock writes:

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John Samples writes:

No mention of time inconsistency? The tax reform of 1986 was designed to be revenue neutral. By 1993, you had high tax rates and increased revenue. Why would a carbon tax be any different? The most organized part of the Democrats want higher taxes to fund "green energy" projects. In fact (not theory) Scott is arguing here for higher taxes to fund an industrial policy directed by fanatics and cronies. What could go wrong?

The post and the comments assume that we don't have a carbon tax because the GOP won't make a deal. In fact we don't have a carbon tax because most of the public wants to do something about global warming without raising the price of energy. (Check out John Podesta's comment at Marginal Revolution on this topic). Of course, the elites of both parties could simply shove a carbon tax down the throats of everybody else. That's worked well so far. It would work especially well when the public discovers that $6 a gallon gas had trivial effects on global warming a century from now.

H. Barnes writes:

Problem is that we do not really know if CO2 drives global surface temperatures. Suggest look at http://climate4you.com, select "Greenhouse gasses" from list of contents, then "Temperature records versus CO2".

Or ask the question: If rising levels of atmospheric CO2 drive surface temperatures, why is that here has been a loss of sea ice in the Arctic, but a roughly equivalent increase in the Antarctic? Rising CO2 levels can hardly be responsible for both observations.

MikeP writes:

Are the Democrats really that cynical?

By the way, if any doubt the Democrats cynicism, look through the Republican cynicism in the case of compromise immigration reform.

While those supporters claimed the bill’s aim was to allow 11 million immigrants in the country illegally to come out of the shadows, the Cruz campaign says Cruz was convinced the actual intent was to provide citizenship to those immigrants so they could become future voters. So, the campaign says, Cruz offered the amendment, knowing it would not pass, to show the real priority of supporters.

...

“Cruz’s strategy here is to expose that the proponent’s real goal is not to provide legal status as they claimed, but, in fact, to guarantee those here illegally a pathway to citizenship,” Phillips stated. “That every Democrat and member of the Gang of 8 voted to oppose Cruz’s amendment proves their claims about the ‘principle objective’ were false. They were unwilling to give up citizenship to get what they claimed they wanted because citizenship was the whole point of the Gang of Eight bill.”

It is patently obvious to anyone and everyone that the vast majority of the value of immigration reform for illegal immigrants and prospective future immigrants is legalization, not citizenship. Yet the Democrats and the media always and everywhere painted reform as implying a pathway to citizenship.

I'm not saying Republicans would have supported such a compromise or grand bargain that an objective (or libertarian) legislator might propose. But the Democrats were definitely not interested in paths to legalization that did not grant them new voters.

I similarly see zero evidence that they are interested in paths to lower CO2 emissions that do not grant them new government powers, controls, and opportunities to grandstand for votes.

The Sierra Club position is basically what Scott is accusing progressives of: using environmental concerns to increase tax revenue. When not even environmental organisations make the environment a priority, you are right to be cynical.

I wonder if they would oppose a policy to combat climate change if it cost 80 million per year.

quadrupole writes:

I can think of three reasons why the GOP would not support this position:

1) Ratchet effect: Trade tax reduction other places for a carbon tax, and you can be assured those taxes cut will be raised because "Fair share". Net change over a ten year period can be expected to be a carbon tax and other taxes back at their previous levels. No win.

2) Opaqueness: Carbon taxes are largely invisible to voters. Yes, energy gets more expensive, but voters are unlikely to properly attribute that to taxes (see gasoline prices, which in many places are majority taxes... and when they are high, big oil is blamed, not big tax).

3) Hauser's Law: Revenue since WWII has generally obeyed Hauser's Law. Meaning its been 18% +/- 3% of GDP. Structurally changing the tax law is likely to break out of that, enabling the federal government to spend a higher percentage of GDP than it has historically.

What *might* be a palatable solution to GOP, would be a more complex version of you proposal consisting of:

a) Complete replacement of income, payroll, and corporate income taxes by a carbon tax paired with repeal of the 16th Amendment.
b) Some mechanism for making the carbon tax transparent, so that every bill, receipt, etc someone receives clearly shows how much of their purchase is carbon tax (I have no idea how to do this in a way that isn't monstrous from a compliance point of view).

Dan W. writes:

I am somewhat surprised at the optimism that a Carbon Tax would not be gamed and be corrupted by special interpretations, kickbacks, exemptions and deferrals. I am also surprised at the lack of recognition that a Carbon Tax might very well promote more environmentally harmful activities. "Renewable" power such as solar and wind has a very low power density and consequently have a much greater geographic footprint than do "carbon" power plants. In the rush to reduce carbon how much of our mountain and desert vistas do we spoil?

Ideal taxation is always simpler in theory. Even sin taxes have the perverse outcome of governments lamenting the loss of revenue when the "sinful" activity is reduced - an outcome we have seen with cigarette taxes and with gasoline taxes.

Lastly, evidence of looming environmental crisis due to Global Warming is very weak. Most environmental indicators are better than they have ever been. Air quality is better. Water is cleaner. Agricultural production is greater and more efficient than ever. Yes, temperatures and sea levels are increasing but the rate of increase is consistent with the trend of the past 150+ years. Models predicting accelerating trends and claims of great environmental disruption have persistently been wrong. These discrepancies ought to cause the dispassionate observer to be skeptical of what is actually understood about the science of global warming.


Scott Sumner writes:

Jesse, You said:

"I suggest a straight per capita rebate (one adult rate and one child rate) to the residents and start phasing out the worst tax credits and benefits."

That's not a tax cut, that's a spending increase.

Ben, You said:

"I can say that my strong impression is that U.S. liberals would be absolutely delighted to meet Republicans in the middle and pass a revenue-neutral carbon tax, as long as the tax cuts done to achieve revenue-neutrality didn't do overwhelmingly to the 1%"

That's exactly my point. The Dems parrot Al Gore about how the survival of the planet is at stake, and then won't support a solution if it benefits the top 1%. Of course they'll (appear to) benefit disproportionately, they pay a large share of the income tax. Your comment (which I think does reflect the actual views of the Dems) provides revealed preference about where their concerns actual lie.

John, The 1993 tax increase had nothing to do with 1986. It would have occurred whether the 1986 tax cuts occurred, or did not occur.

Look, unfortunately I think both parties are determined to have higher taxes in the future (look at the big spender the GOP just nominated), but that has no bearing on what we should do about global warming.

quadruple, I like where you end up. I'd love to abolish the personal and corporate income taxes as part of a deal.

Dan, You are wrong about the science; the evidence supporting man made global warming is overwhelming.

Sohier writes:

The problem with assuming that Republicans will ever act on global warming at the federal level is that any effective policies will hit Republican constituencies the hardest. All of the major fossil fuel extraction regions vote Republican, and the South has low solar/wind energy potential compared to the rest of the country. It's just tough to pass a law that asks your base to make all of the sacrifices, even when it's good for the country as a whole.

Dan W. writes:

Scott,

The models of the earth's climate and the predictions made by these models have been wrong. More importantly, the economic claims made by those warning of climate change have been profoundly incorrect.

Is a warming earth a problem? Maybe for some. For others it is a blessing. How is it determined whether future warming will be a net positive or not? By the models? But those models have consistently failed! Without a scientific basis to judge the environmental impact of policy how can one even begin to argue the economic impact of policy?


Dan W. writes:

Scott,

To put the error of the climate models in perspective, the FED does better at targeting the inflation rate than do the climate models at forecasting future global temperature.

Hazel Meade writes:

I wonder why Hillary Clinton opposes a carbon tax.
What is her preferred solution? Cap-and-trade?

Probably she wants the EPA to assume central control of effectively all energy production in the US. That would be true to form.

Todd Kreider writes:

Listen to Dan W.!

In 1998, I was studying Japanese in an intensive course in Japan. Naturally, we read newspaper articles and and listened to Japanese news clips about the Kyoto Accord meeting that was taking place at the time. But I was surprised by the certainty from a few vocal students on the left that global warming is as Scott thinks,"a crisis for our planet."

I was the only student out of the 50 who had a science degree (physics), although that was several years earlier and no energy expert. But why were these future historians and political scientists on the left so sure of a global warming crisis or catastrophe?

I had access to the internet so started to look up the assumptions that went into what turned out to be the alarmist model out to 2100, repeated often on the news, as there was a chance of the temperature rising 4C. What I found annoyed me: In part, a very large increase in CO2 emissions by 2050.

I was pretty vocal in the Japanese classes, (politely) rolling my eyes and muttering, "You realize how bad the alarmist model is right?"

A friend later pulled me aside and said some of the students thought my views on global warming were pretty weird. I told him: "They don't know anything about energy or thermodynamics - I admit I don't know that much either- and I guarantee they don't know anything about energy sources or energy efficiency improvements in the 2030s and 2040s, before 2050 and decades before 2100."

I further explained: "We are on an exponential computer power curve and while we don't know how long it will last, it will very likely go into the 2020s and maybe even the 2030s and possibly further into the future. Solar power cost is also on a mostly smooth downward curve so we can expect widespread solar use from around 2025 - 2030. There could also be nuclear fusion by 2030, and it shouldn't be that hard to take unwanted CO2 out of the atmosphere by the 2020s. There will also likely be other unknowns that far into the future that can't be factored in either."

I added that you can't model the climate out to 2050 or 2100 like that and physicists would laugh if you tried.

It took Freeman Dyson ten years after the Kyoto Accord talks to speak up about the same thing with respect to modeling the climate out 50 or 100 years, but he finally did it around 2008.

Ricardo writes:

Echoing Dan W above: why do you trust climate models more than you trust macro models (e.g., the models that Ray Fair builds)? Not a rhetorical question! I want to be convinced.

A. W. writes:

Note that Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) actually did propose this, although at a time when Republicans controlled the Senate and not much was getting through Congress.

Derek writes:

Hi Scott, any reason why your proposal, in addition to not being revenue-neutral, is not also regressiveness-neutral (i.e. taxes remain progressive to the same degree as before carbon tax)?

The Democrats may be concerned that a carbon tax's clear effect of raising prices for some goods would affect poor consumers, who of course spend a greater portion of their income than rich consumers. You could of course lower taxes on the poor by more, but then you start to run out of money for compensation to the industries who might be opposed to the carbon tax.

I don't think these decisions, for either party, are quite as easy as you are implying. Revenue-neutral with industry compensation seems like an obvious win for Republicans, as it increases regressiveness, so I'm not sure it's 100% that it is the Dems who are not meeting in the middle, and it seems to me like keeping all of the aggrieved parties whole (consumers paying higher prices, industries affected by higher taxes) would be very difficult with revenue neutrality.

Derek writes:

Hi Scott, any reason why your proposal, in addition to not being revenue-neutral, is not also regressiveness-neutral (i.e. taxes remain progressive to the same degree as before carbon tax)?

The Democrats may be concerned that a carbon tax's clear effect of raising prices for some goods would affect poor consumers, who of course spend a greater portion of their income, more than rich consumers. You could of course lower taxes on the poor by more, but then you start to run out of money for compensation to the industries who might be opposed to the carbon tax.

I don't think these decisions, for either party, are quite as easy as you are implying. Revenue-neutral with industry compensation seems like an obvious win for Republicans, as it increases regressiveness, so I'm not sure it's 100% that the Dems are not meeting in the middle, and it seems to me like keeping all of the aggrieved parties whole (consumers paying higher prices, industries affected by higher taxes) would be very difficult with revenue neutrality.

MikeP writes:

It should also be noted that Democrats in power are currently pushing for positions that are unsupportable by the economics of global warming.

In particular, note that...

The Paris Agreement’s central aim is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Also recall the recent legislation passed by California to limit emissions to 40% below 1990 levels.

If you read your Nordhaus, you'll see that targeting such a severe cut in carbon emissions and such a low amount of warming is utterly indefensible, with costs wildly exceeding benefits. Yet that is what politicians are agreeing to, mostly to look like they are Doing Something for the environment. There is basically no level of forced emissions reduction that is too much. Each outbids the other so he can look more concerned in the eyes of their economically ignorant supporters. And the concept of costs is simply ignored.

So, no, I don't expect Democrats to ever approve a tax that internalizes the social cost of carbon as the entirety of carbon reduction policy. That course simply offers too little reduction in emissions and too little opportunity to act concerned about the environment.

John Samples writes:

Scott,

The question about 1986 concerns, as I mentioned, the problem of time inconsistency. Put aside the tax rate increases, did the tax preferences traded away in 1986 comes back or not. Well, not the exact ones, but certainly tax preferences returned quickly, mostly "social" in nature. My point: if you trade a carbon tax for tax reform what you can expect - over the medium term - is a carbon tax and no tax reform. Or at least that seems to be the evidence from 1986 where you neither stabilized tax rate reduction nor reformed the tax code over the medium term. Maybe there's no deal because one side recognizes that lesson from experience.

Andrew_FL writes:

I can't find the words to describe what a bad idea this is which won't get me banned again.

Well, other than "Scott Sumner is a Market Socialist"

John Thacker writes:

The time inconsistency argument offered by some against surely has to grapple with how the federal gas tax has been raised by less than the rate of inflation, I think.

The Sierra Club argument against seems weak if they actually were purely an environmental organization concerned with climate change as the most important issue facing us. If it is that important, then they should be willing to take even a deal that ends up cutting the taxes of the poor too much.

Peter Gerdes writes:

Even if you pass a revenue neutral carbon tax in the same bill you abolish other more distorionary taxes you hand the legislators who want to raise taxes a huge victory.

Politically such a package would be spun as a measure to save the enviornment plus a massive tax break. Sure, people would understand in principle that they would be paying the same amount on average in higher prices for goods but those higher prices wouldn't materialize immediately and won't be lumped together with income taxes but filed vaguely under cost of living.

The pro-tax legislators need only wait a short time and cut part of the promised tax reduction. Most people won't be paying attention to the exact amount their taxes would be expected to decrease and it would be easy to hide this change as something other than a tax raise: a necessary delay of certain tax changes to enact regulations/fix loopholes. People won't view it as a loss so won't be loss-averse.

Sure, this is a good idea in the ideal world where the bill you pass is a clean carbon tax traded off against the complete elimination of some tax rule. But in the real world the republicans will be just as eager to foist complicated rules into the bill to help their allies.

Still, I don't really object strongly to higher taxes.

Mark Bahner writes:
"Renewable" power such as solar and wind has a very low power density and consequently have a much greater geographic footprint than do "carbon" power plants. In the rush to reduce carbon how much of our mountain and desert vistas do we spoil?

Here's a map that shows the amount of photovoltaic panels needed to supply all the electricity in the U.S.:

44 miles x 44 miles

P.S. That's based on a photovoltaic panel with a module efficiency of only 15.3%. SolarCity claims their most efficient module has an efficiency of over 22%. So that would cut the size of the array to about 37 miles by 37 miles.

Mark Bahner writes:

Hi,

Oops, scratch that previous analysis. (The troubles of commenting right before bedtime.)

That analysis is correct for calculating the panels needed to match the peak load (in watts). A better way to do the analysis in total electrical energy required over the year, in kilowatt-hours.

I'll do that tomorrow. It's not going to be a dramatically different number, but it will be somewhat larger.

@Scott
Your post examines how the state might act wisely. You seem to assume there is such a thing as wise action by a state. Okay.

But I, being one of the many right-of-center intellectuals with no worry about global warming, read your post looking for evidence that you have made an effort to understand my side, to understand the best arguments of climate skeptics. I noticed no such evidence.

But you are the one who has a job. So I should not pretend to tell you to whom you should pitch your arguments.

Scott Sumner writes:

Everyone, I've read many scientific papers on global warming, and view the science as being pretty sold. The economic effects are much more debatable---on that point I agree.

As far as macro, I think it can make pretty good conditional predictions about long term trends in variables such as NGDP. If you tell me the future path of interest rates and the money supply, I can get at least a ball park estimate of NGDP. The same is true of climate. They don't claim to be able to predict the future temperature with pinpoint accuracy, just within a range. And those predictions are conditional on future CO2 levels.

Neither climate scientist nor macroeconomists claim to be able to predict short run cycles. Macroeconomists predict that America's NGDP will be much higher in 50 years, ditto for climate scientists and temperatures. I agree with both predictions.

Derek, Since the GOP really cares a lot about tax reform, and the Dems really care a lot about global warming (a crisis for the planet) a reasonable compromise would be where the GOP got its way on taxes and the Dems got their way on global warming.

Personally, I like tax progressivity, but one problem is measurement. Existing models are almost worthless when it comes to measuring the progressivity of our tax system, as they don't know how to discriminate between legal and economic incidence.

Peter and John, Congress can and will raise our taxes with or without a carbon tax. Unless we elect the right people to Congress.

Andrew It speaks volumes that a proposed tax change that most conservative economists believe would make the tax system more efficient and more fair, is viewed as "socialist". Was Reagan's 1986 tax reform also socialist?

If one ideology opposes all change, then all change will be made by the other ideology. That's where we've been in recent years.

Everyone. If the government refrains from doing the right thing, because later governments might do the wrong thing, then all hope for our society is lost. We will continue doing the wrong things over and over again (that won't stop) and those wrong things will never be offset by positive reforms. That's why I reject nihilism in governance. If you go down that roads then all is lost in any case, so why not at least try something positive? If you pessimists are right, we have nothing to lose.

Travis Allison writes:

More support for Scott's argument

http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2016/10/environmentalists_are_against_i_732_washington_s_carbon_tax.html

@Scott

I've read many scientific papers on global warming, and view the science as being pretty sold.
Scientific papers which support global warming probably far outnumber the papers of skeptics. Might your selection of scientific papers reflect a bias favorable of government action? I still have seen no hint that you understand a single argument offered by the best of climate skeptics, although I allow this is not your purpose in this post.

Some of my skepticism stands on this argument. Science says (and I am willing to believe) there have been long periods of cold, of glaciation, when more of the earth was covered with ice. Now we are between such periods, in one of the warm spikes. But if that is the case, how warm does it usually get during these warm spikes? and how does that compare to present temperatures? In your reading, Scott, have you encountered this question? I claim it matters.

But I claim no expertise. One time when I searched briefly I picked up that the last time it was warm, around 115,000 years ago, it got 6° C warmer than it is now — without the help of humans burning fossil fuels.

In order to claim a trend of either warming or cooling, one needs to refer to spans of time. If you want to claim warming, look through the charts to find a prior span of time when it was cooler than some recent span of time. There is your slam dunk case! But I can similarly prove that the globe is cooling by picking time-spans which suit my case. See the graph in the above-linked Wikipedia article.

David Friedman has researched and posted many times on AWG (you can search for "warming" within his blog). His writing shows that he has tried to understand both sides. He clearly knows more than I, and he shows more kindness for the warmists.

Todd Kreider writes:

This is the Slate writer, Shi-Ling Hsu, a law professor:

Climate change is not a future crisis. It is a present humanitarian and ecological crisis and humankind...

What is the current crisis? A mythical increase in hurricane strength or frequency?

Scott, you wrote:

Neither climate scientist nor macroeconomists claim to be able to predict short run cycles. Macroeconomists predict that America's NGDP will be much higher in 50 years, ditto for climate scientists and temperatures. I agree with both predictions.

First, macroeconomists predict short, medium and long run growth all the time. And many, including James Hanson, have predicted temperatures for 2010 back in the 1980s and have been shown to be wrong.

Your comparison with macroeconomics and climate change prognostication is flawed. It is easy to say that growth will be higher in 2050 because this is an extension of the past 250 years for many countries and what almost everyone wants. Almost nobody wants to use coming technology to lower growth but there is a strong demand to keep the global temperature within some range with market incentives for companies to increase energy efficiency. The range of climate predictions, as you state, is not with pinpoint accuracy but is huge - anywhere from 0 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

Freeman Dyson:

"All the fuss about global warming is greatly exaggerated."
He correctly slams the futuristic alarmism out to 2050 and 2100 as simply religious beliefs.

In one interview, Dyson mentions an early climate modeler,

"Yoshiro Manabe who lives in Princeton, said and still always says that these climate models are excellent tools for understanding climate, but they're very bad tools for predicting climate. And the reason is simple: they are models with only a few of the factors in them that may be important so that you can vary one thing at a time ...but there's a whole lot of things they leave out. That's why they're no good for prediction and the real world is far more complicated than the models."


From 9:52 for the modeling discussion
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BiKfWdXXfIs

@Scott

If the government refrains from doing the right thing, because later governments might do the wrong thing, then all hope for our society is lost. We will continue doing the wrong things over and over again (that won't stop) and those wrong things will never be offset by positive reforms. That's why I reject nihilism in governance.
You seem to demonstrate a perfectly natural trust in the visible hand of the state. This makes you effective as a teacher in the most densely populated belief-zone, near the divide between hope for more government programs and skepticism of government programs.

I write simply to explain my far-out position in contrast with your close-to-home position. During my becoming-more-libertarian days I noticed that I lost my beliefs that government must fill particular needs — one need at a time:

  1. government does not need to regulate drugs, then
  2. government doesn't need to set prices, then
  3. government doesn't need to run monopoly fire departments, then
  4. ...
Seeing a trend, I jumped ahead in the game. I asked: Is there any human need which can be supplied only by a state? and not by voluntary orders? After a helping nudge from Bruce Benson regarding law, I decided no: No human need absolutely requires government. That was enough for me.

But where you work there is the problem of the seen and the unseen.

  • Seen: It is so easy, when you perceive a problem, to say government should just fix it. Look in your newspaper. Look toward the capital. Government should never refrain "from doing the right thing".
  • Unseen: It is much harder to see that capable people facing problems will figure out ways around their problems, organizing themselves if need be in ways that you cannot predict, ways that you may never even "see".
But you don't need to know this unless you teach the advanced session. Thank you for the good work which you do where you are.

ColoComment writes:

Another view of the WA proposal:

http://www.coyoteblog.com/coyote_blog/2016/10/is-the-carbon-tax-a-pricing-signal-to-reduce-co2-or-a-funding-mechanism-for-a-patronage-system-to-feed-various-constituencies.html

J Mann writes:

I agree with Scott.

1) You have to tax something, and Scott's right that there are worse taxes than carbon that we'd be better off trading for.

2) We live in a democracy, and a substantial segment of the population wants to take action on perceived climate change.

Floccina writes:

IMHO this shows that most people think that action on AGW is not urgent yet; that it is safe to wait. That is my position also though I would support a co2 tax right now but I do not worry.

James writes:

Scott,

You say you have read many scientific papers on global warming. Can you cite even one climate model that has produced smaller post publication forecast errors than a simple random walk model over the sort of multidecade forecast horizons relevant to the discussion?

I'm not asking for pinpoint accuracy. No one is. But before anyone decides to implement a policy with the potential for fines and imprisonment based on climate models, it would seem important to first verify that the models behind the predictions of increasing global temperatures are actually useful for predicting global temperatures several decades into the future.

Scott makes a point: Many on the left employ deception as they seek government policy (assuming I get his point). This valuable point stands in spite of my quibbling above about a few of Scott's assumptions.

Deception seems to be wired into us. Timur Kuran and Robert Trivers have written good descriptions. I work to describe a model of social life which shows how survival of whole groups of individuals can be enhanced if they can coordinate their beliefs, and this coordination might be either conscious or subconscious.

Now, back to my quibbling, last night I watched a 21-minute YouTube showing a scientific summation of temperature cycles. I recommend it to all climate alarmists.

Todd Kreider writes:

I doubt that Scott, as an economist, with no science training, has read "many scientific articles" on global warming. Just a hunch.

David Friedman discusses IPCC predictions and by memory, out of the four, two have been way off, one was quite off, and one was just a bit off, so correct. I remember that the earliest one was the most off.

Todd Kreider writes:

To clarify, the part I'm doubting is "many" scientific articles, although that is relative.

Also, in what I've written, I think the basics are sound but incomplete. What I've been against are using the models to predict temperature 50 and 200 years into the future.

Ray Kurzweil eventually spoke out against the graphs Al Gore used out to 2100 as well. To paraphrae: "The graphs don't at consider at all the enormous changes in technology that are coming over the next several decades."

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