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Executive Decarbonization
July 30, 2010 3:45 AM   Subscribe

With the climate bill dead and blame portioned, Ezra Klein asks what happens when congress fails? He concludes that "regulations to reduce carbon emissions are alive and well. The Environmental Protection Agency can attack carbon as a pollutant, and the Obama administration's announcement that efforts to hamstring the EPA will be vetoed suggests that they mean to do exactly that."

BONUS
Global Warming Denial, Part 96 - How much is the inability to debate ideas hindered by a disagreement over simple factual data?

Everything You Need to Know About Global Warming in 5 Minutes - Why are we arguing the issue? Challenging vested interests as powerful as the oil and coal lobbies was never going to be easy. Scientists are not naturally aggressive defenders of arguments. In short, they are conservatives by training: never, ever risk overstating your ideas. The skeptics are far, far more determined and expert propagandists to boot. They are also well funded. That smoking caused cancer was obfuscated deliberately and effectively for 20 years at a cost of hundreds of thousands of extra deaths. We know that for certain now, yet those who caused this fatal delay have never been held accountable. The profits of the oil and coal industry make tobacco's resources look like a rounding error.

On global warming and techno-optimism - Sure, the argument goes, global warming is real. But it's a long-term problem. By the time it becomes a serious threat, we'll have more money, and more technology, to deal with it.

Armageddon Wars: Overpopulation Vs. Global Warming - But global warming is different. The fact that carbon emissions are warming the planet doesn’t make it more expensive to produce those emissions. So companies do not have an ever-increasing incentive to emit less — the way they would if the problem were, say, a lack of oil. Global warming doesn’t solve itself the way that resource scarcity does.

Ideas - A petroleum tax of $5 per barrel on every barrel of petroleum produced in America or imported, which would be put into place next year and increased by (my preference) $5 per barrel every year.

Energy Transitions, Then and Now - From a new-ish paper on energy transitions, some fascinating data on the share of primary energy consumption by technology in the U.K. from 1500-2000. You can see the slow transition from biomass/food to coal, and then the faster one from coal to oil/natgas, etc. The other thing that struck me was that wind was a larger percentage of primary energy generation in 1700 than it is today.

The Decarbonization Macro-Trend - As motors and power-plants of one sort or another have become more and more efficient, and as more carbon-dense fuels are replaced with less carbon-dense successors, the result has been the slow, 200-year 'decarbonization' of the world's fuel supply. The shift has been from wood to coal, coal to oil, oil to methane and, inevitably, methane to hydrogen.
posted by kliuless (18 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
How to Talk to a Climate Sceptic: "A handy one-stop shop for all the material you should need to rebut the more common anti-global warming science arguments constantly echoed across the internet." (previously)
posted by Rhaomi at 3:56 AM on July 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


As usual, I was depressed to see how transparent the republicans are allowed to be about their special interests, while the democrats get the blame. Lindsey Graham "teaming up" with Lieberman and Kerry was my mom's go-to counterargument for months whenever I criticized republicans for being partisan hacks with no willingness to compromise.

Nevermind that a single crossover senator hardly makes a strong case for bipartisanship; once the BP spill happened it was almost laughable how transparently Graham reverted to his true form. He did an interview on CNN in which he essentially said explicitly that with the spill taking the expansion of offshore drilling off the bargaining table, he had no reason to support the climate change bill.

That's right... the republicans' token champion of reason and bipartisanship on climate issues basically admitted he only cared about more oil. It's like if Coca-cola said they were going to team up to fight childhood obesity, but only if public schools agree to put a Coke in every school lunch.

But let's be sure not to forget the narrative, fellow citizens... it was the democrats who failed to pass climate change legislation, while the republicans are nobly representing a vague unsourced "concern among the public" about the tenets of the bill.
posted by Riki tiki at 4:12 AM on July 30, 2010 [10 favorites]


To be fair to Graham, he was being laughably transparent before the spill, when he announced he could no longer support the bill he'd worked so hard on, because the Democrats were ignoring immigration reform. "Saving the world would be nice, yes, but--yikes! Mexican babies WITH CITIZENSHIP!"

(Meanwhile, if we did go the CO2-as-pollution route, how easy is it for the next administration to tell the EPA to stop regulating CO2?)
posted by mittens at 4:22 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you want to understand opposition to climate action, follow the money. The economy as a whole wouldn’t be significantly hurt if we put a price on carbon, but certain industries — above all, the coal and oil industries — would. And those industries have mounted a huge disinformation campaign to protect their bottom lines.

Thanks, Roberts Court! We may be dooming our children to untold misery but at least CEOs have twice the free speech anyone else has and that's the important thing.
posted by DU at 4:34 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile, if we did go the CO2-as-pollution route, how easy is it for the next administration to tell the EPA to stop regulating CO2?

Not very. The EPA is talking about engaging in rulemaking (EPA specific information) to reclassify carbon dioxide as a pollutant. This is entirely within its power to do, provided it does so properly. Fortunately or unfortunately, rulemaking of any sort is a big freaking deal which can take years and multiple attempts to get right. The DC Circuit, which is the federal appeals court which handles most administrative law cases, is pretty good at interpreting the Chevron rule, which says that agencies are the interpreters of the statutes which create them, so provided they read the statute in a way which does not obviously violate the intent of Congress, they can do what they want.

The Chevron standard is pretty deferential. But an agency that doesn't do its homework--like the FCC didn't in the recent Comcast ruling--can expect to be overturned. In that case, the FCC attempted to act in violation of its own rules, and the DC Circuit sent them back to the drawing board. But if the FCC were to engage in the formal rulemaking process, which they're talking about now, they can totally do what they tried to.

So if the EPA can finish this process while Obama is President, any future President that wants to change it back would have to go through the entire rulemaking process again. He couldn't simply tell the EPA to ignore its own rules; the courts wouldn't stand for it. But this isn't finished by January 2013, the next President could simply order the EPA to abandon the effort.
posted by valkyryn at 5:23 AM on July 30, 2010 [5 favorites]


It all depends on the ability of the Chinese and Indians to develop more efficient technologies. In both countries the carbon footprint is 1:8 to an American. Can they find a way to provide a middle class lifestyle to their population while keeping the carbon footprint at that level? If so the efficient technologies developed there will find their way here. If they are unable to do this the US/European carbon per capita will decline to offset the rise of these economies. Developing economies must develop these technologies to continue to develop or engage in fights over resources with established economies.
posted by humanfont at 5:32 AM on July 30, 2010


Cap and trade for carbon emissions was a great idea 20 years ago. It's still a pretty good idea although its plainly not enough anymore. Frankly, I fear, if we don't choose to limit our carbon emissions we'll be forced to (mainly because we won't be able to). That's what I'm going to tell my friends, relatives, and coworkers who don't understand this problem and fight it.
posted by wobh at 5:35 AM on July 30, 2010


To be fair to Graham, he was being laughably transparent before the spill, when he announced he could no longer support the bill he'd worked so hard on, because the Democrats were ignoring immigration reform. "

Graham's idea of immigration reform, by the way, is amending the constitution to eliminate birthright citizenship and put in its place ... he doesn't say, but my guess is citizenship for white people.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 6:01 AM on July 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


When I spontaneously combust, I'll know who to blame.
posted by stormpooper at 6:45 AM on July 30, 2010


It's also too early to count it as failed - Health Care reform and Finance Reform were both dead at one point, too. It may be back sooner or later in another guise.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:47 AM on July 30, 2010


The shift has been from wood to coal, coal to oil, oil to methane and, inevitably, methane to hydrogen.

Yargh! No, this is not going to work! You can release energy from the oxidation / combustion of any of those substances, this much is true. And there are large natural stores of wood, coal, oil, and methane for us to burn. But WHERE IS THE HYDROGEN?? Where are these "hydrogen economy" people suggest we get the hydrogen? Ironically, it is the most abundant element in the universe, but there are no large natural stores in a usable form on earth, except that which is bound to carbon.

No, the oxidation / combustion energy cycle ends with methane and ethanol. After that we go straight to solar, and it doesn't matter how you store it. There simply is no relevant transition to hydrogen-based energy on this planet.
posted by rkent at 8:35 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


... where are [they] suggesting...
posted by rkent at 8:36 AM on July 30, 2010


He couldn't simply tell the EPA to ignore its own rules; the courts wouldn't stand for it. But this isn't finished by January 2013, the next President could simply order the EPA to abandon the effort.

He/she could also appoint corrupt/incompetent/compromised people to head the agency, guaranteeing that it would be run in such a way as to make the rules effectively meaningless (which is what Bush did to get around the limitations of the EPA's existing rules). Any rule is really only as effective as its execution.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:57 AM on July 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


"blame portioned"
Should be "blame apportioned". You're deciding who gets blamed for what, not serving dinner. A dinner of blame.
posted by w0mbat at 11:05 AM on July 30, 2010


Followed by just desserts?
posted by homunculus at 2:34 PM on July 30, 2010


Cap and trade for carbon emissions was a great idea 20 years ago. It's still a pretty good idea although its plainly not enough anymore. Frankly, I fear, if we don't choose to limit our carbon emissions we'll be forced to (mainly because we won't be able to)
posted by wobh at 5:35 AM on July 30 [+] [!]


I'm confused. Cap and trade is all about limiting emissions, why isn't it enough?
If you think the situation is mega dire, fear not, cap and trade is still your friend. Simply squash down that cap! Price goes up, emissions go down. It's just that simple.
posted by greytape at 12:59 AM on July 31, 2010


Any rule is really only as effective as its execution.

This is true, to a certain extent, but I think you're uncharacteristically underestimating the momentum of the bureaucracy. Short of doing something like what Obama seems to be doing with immigration, i.e. announce that the Justice Department simply not prosecute immigration cases, a move which comes with a manifest political cost, the political appointees don't have as much influence over the day-to-day functionary sort of affairs as we might wish. Once the EPA assigns people to the job of regulating carbon dioxide, they're going to keep on doing that until someone tells them to do something else, which again, is a tougher trick than it sounds.
posted by valkyryn at 4:33 AM on July 31, 2010


Why is Obama Siding With Polluters? The administration backs the country's biggest sources of planet-warming gases in a major court case. Enviros are livid.
posted by homunculus at 5:57 PM on August 27, 2010


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