Category Archives: Global Warming

Wildfire Sanity. Why’d it take this long?

I guess painful loss creates an incentive, and incentives matter. mrossol.

WSJ – 9/15/2020. by Daniel Henninger

Wow. Overnight, apparently there’s nobody who does not understand that climate policy is not an answer to California’s wildfire crisis.

Even the do-gooder, nonprofit news group ProPublica plaintively asks in a headline, “They Know How to Prevent Megafires. Why Won’t Anybody Listen?” The article goes on to assert: “The pattern is a form of insanity: We keep doing overzealous fire suppression across California landscapes where the fire poses little risk to people and structures. As a result, wildland fuels keep building up.”

I guess when thousands of people might be burned out of their homes, it concentrates the mind.

But then why was California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s most quoted response to the fires “Never have I felt more of a sense of obligation . . .to face climate change head on”?

Confusion abounds. One admirable New York Times article makes clear the immediate answer does not lie in climate policy: “Millions of Americans are moving into wildfire-prone areas outside of cities, and communities often resist restrictions on development. A century of federal policy to aggressively extinguish all wildfires rather than letting some burn at low levels, an approach now seen as misguided, has left forests with plenty of fuel for especially destructive blazes.”

But another Times article on the same day insists that “the mechanism driving the wildfire crisis is straightforward: Human behavior, chiefly the burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil.”

Such sentences are a counsel purely of despair. People who take an interest in global warming can only conclude fires are unstoppable and must be endured as a result of our accumulated planet sins.

I promise no long foray into social psychology, but take the most textbook finding of behavioral economics: “prospect theory,” or the observed tendency of human beings irrationally to overvalue a bird in the hand vs. multiple birds in the bush.


This discovery really tells us that people, in their mind’s eye, overweight a potential loss against a potential gain because the loss might be visible to others. Human beings are intensely social creatures even in the ways they systematically misconstrue their own interests. This is also why it’s such an enormous, heavy lift to get past virtue-signaling before we can speak rationally about key matters. We have to spend 20 minutes talking about climate change before we can spend one minute talking about policies that would actually affect wildfires.

But, as I say, their houses burning down are an incentive for people to grow up.

A bit of history: It’s been nearly 32 years since climate change became a mainstream political cause—I date the beginning to then-NASA scientist James Hansen’s public fight with the first Bush White House in 1989. In the decades that followed, as nature dictates, climate politics became institutionalized. Institutionalized means interest groups and business lobbies becoming self-sustaining based on the money that climate fears generate. A cynic might note that during this time the world’s greenhouse emissions rose more steeply than ever. Problems that become institutionalized aren’t solved. They become a multigenerational meal ticket by not being solved.

And yet 32 years have taught us a few things. It was always implausible that the world’s politicians and electorates would require their economies to forgo the advantages of fossil fuels and so it has proved. But we also have discovered a lot about the likely track of future emissions. The world seems to be adhering to RCP 4.5, the second-lowest of the CO2 scenarios sketched by scientists. And not because of penny-ante handouts to solar panels and electric cars, but because of very large social and economic megatrends: urbanization, slower population growth, a shift to service- and digitally-based economies, advancing technology and a declining energy intensity of GDP. One example: Fracking led to a multiyear decline in U.S. greenhouse gas output. Last year, before the pandemic hit, global emissions would have been flat if not for China’s.

Though this column has frequently mentioned the virtues of a carbon tax, nothing is more important for climate change than making sure this socioeconomic progress continues.

Progress in politics is harder to come by, but I can point to some. In the past 24 months, it likely has become impossible for government and private agencies to continue peddling dire climate forecasts, as they have in recent years, based on an unrealistic, worst-case RCP 8.5 emissions scenario.

A surprising thing has happened: Even greens have become embarrassed at the institutionalized dishonesty of such forecasts. (I cited a significant example in a column here in January.)

If we can start being rational about fire-suppression policy, we can start being rational about climate change too.


Requiem for a Climate Dream

I have argued for nuclear power for the better of 30 years… Not that I’m that smart, for sure.

WSJ 12/4/2019 By Holman Jenkins, Jr.

Rigor could be restored to mainstream climate journalism with a single clause. That clause consists of the words “if climate models are accurate.”

A United Nations study issued in advance of this week’s climate summit in Madrid would appear in a different light, though still worrisome, and still a challenge to policy makers, if it were reported as saying: To avoid any chance of a temperature increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius, annual emissions cuts of 7.6% must begin next year if computerized climate simulations are correct.

Such simulations, we should admit, are science. Their findings represent a legitimate pursuit of knowledge. The common failing in the media involves leaving out the necessary caveats. Such carelessness has ultimately enabled a new kind of science denial on the left, where advocates like Greta Thunberg and the U.K. group Extinction Rebellion increasingly talk about climate change leading to a human demise that is nowhere supported in the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or other scientific bodies.

In my view, Al Gore bears heavy responsibility here. Name any important policy commitment in history— whether Social Security or Medicare or even fighting World War II—that required that all debate be silenced and all skeptics vilified before it could proceed. The Gore formula is good for stoking tribalism. It’s not good for making policy progress in a democracy. And so it has proved. Nobody remotely believes the supposedly necessary emissions cuts will take place. The only response left to the climate crowd is to ratchet up even more dire predictions.

Let’s start over. If stated properly, the “scientific consensus” would run as follows: climate models teach us to expect some warming from human- caused atmospheric CO2 increases, but disagree about how much. It’s hard to make cost-benefit judgments on such a basis, but happily the Green New Deal makes it easy—it would cost a lot of money and accomplish nothing since U.S. emissions are just 14% of the total and shrinking. India and China, not the U.S., will determine the fate of climate change.

Cost-benefit analysis also tells us a bunch of things that might be worth doing even in light of the uncertainties. A tax reform based on a revenue- neutral carbon tax could make our tax system more efficient and pro-growth. Government investment in basic research tends to have a high payoff, and battery research is a particularly attractive opportunity. Rethinking nuclear power and regulation is another area of huge potential. Safer and cheaper nuclear technologies continue to advance on the drawing board even in today’s inhospitable political environment.

And guess what? All the above would be easier to sell to other countries than Green New Deal masochism. Voters would readily gobble up new energy technologies and tax models that would make their societies richer and stronger. In honor of this week’s global climate gathering in Madrid, the New York Times aptly refers to the “gap between reality and diplomacy.” International agreements, by their nature, are designed to put an imprimatur on what domestic politicians would do anyway, and that doesn’t include prematurely ending their careers by imposing on consumers the kind of crushing burdens the green left seeks.

Look elsewhere for the turning points that actually matter. If climate change proves as severe as some scientists believe, the most damning moment will be one that passed largely unremarked except in this column: the Fukushima nuclear reactor meltdown after Japan’s 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Under Chancellor Angela Merkel, Germany, the world’s sixth biggest emitter, chaotically and thoughtlessly announced within weeks that it would close all 17 of its nuclear plants. China and India, then pursuing ambitious nuclear expansions that should have become more ambitious, instead recommitted themselves to burning vast amounts of coal.

Nuclearphobes should remind themselves that more people die each year from coal-mining accidents than have been killed in all the nuclear accidents in history. Never mind the tens of thousands who are statistically estimated to die annually from inhaling particulates. No technology is perfect, but NASA’s James Hansen, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Gaia theorist James Lovelock, and the late Harvard economist Martin Weitzman are among the diverse and serious students of climate change who have said that meaningful cuts won’t happen without nuclear.

The Fukushima accident, widely misread and breathing new life into the antinuclear lobby, will prove more significant than even the advocacy errors of Al Gore. It will prove more significant than the Paris Agreement, the election of Donald Trump, the tiresome legal vendetta against Exxon, or any of the matters that obsess the climate left. It probably put paid to any hope that emissions cuts will play a role in climate change for at least the next three or four decades. Get used to it.


By Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.


The Social Benefits of Fossil Fuels – WSJ

Yes, let’s put all the benefits on the table.
By Joseph L. Bast and Peter Ferrara
June 17, 2018 1:58 p.m. ET

As several cities continue their suit against oil companies, The People of the State of California v. BP, Judge William Alsup has boiled the case down to its pivotal question. In March he ordered the legal counsels of both parties to help him weigh “the large benefits that have flowed from the use of fossil fuels” against the possibility that such fuels may be causing global warming.

We sent the judge, and posted online, a 24-page document that answers his question. The benefits of oil, coal and gas are rarely acknowledged by environmental activists, who seek to regulate and tax these fuel sources out of existence. But an honest accounting shows that fossil fuels produce enormous social value that far outweighs their costs.

First, fossil fuels are lifting billions of people out of poverty, and in turn improving health. “The most fundamental attribute of modern society is simply this,” writes historian Vaclav Smil in his 2003 book on energy: “Ours is a high energy civilization based largely on combustion of fossil fuels.”

Fossil fuels, and coal in particular, provided the energy that powered the Industrial Revolution. Today, coal plants still produce most of the electricity that powers high-tech manufacturing equipment and charges mobile computing devices.

The alternative energy sources environmental activists favor are generally more expensive. Energy economists Thomas Stacey and George Taylor calculate that wind power costs nearly three times as much as existing coal generation and 2.3 times as much as combined-cycle gas. There is a negative correlation between energy prices and economic activity. A 2014 survey of economic literature by Roger Bezdek calculates that a 10% increase in U.S. electricity prices would eliminate approximately 1.3% of gross domestic product.

Cheap energy from fossil fuels also improves human well-being by powering labor-saving and life-protecting technologies, such as air-conditioning, modern medicine, and cars and trucks. Environmental activists often claim that prosperity speeds the depletion of resources and destruction of nature, but the opposite is true. As Ronald Bailey writes in “The End of Doom”: “It is in rich democratic capitalist countries that the air and water are becoming cleaner, forests are expanding, food is abundant, education is universal, and women’s rights respected.”

Fossil fuels have increased the quantity of food humans produce and improved the reliability of the food supply. The availability of cheap energy revolutionized agriculture throughout the world, making it possible for an ever-smaller proportion of the labor force to raise food sufficient to feed a growing global population without devastating nature or polluting air or water.

Fossil-fuel emissions create additional benefits, contributing to the greening of the Earth. A 2017 study published in Nature magazine found that the global mass of land plants grew 31% during the 20th century. African deserts are blooming thanks to fossil fuels.

Finally, if fossil fuels are responsible for a significant part of the warming recorded during the second half of the 20th century, then they should also be credited with reducing deaths due to cold weather. Medical researchers William Richard Keatinge and Gavin Donaldson assessed this effect in a 2004 study. “Since heat-related deaths are generally much fewer than cold-related deaths, the overall effect of global warming on health can be expected to be a beneficial one.”

They estimate the predicted temperature rise in Britain over the next 50 years will reduce cold-related deaths by 10 times the number of increased heat-related deaths. Other research shows climate change has exerted only a minimal influence on recent trends in vector-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue fever and diseases spread by ticks.

Altogether, fossil fuels have produced huge benefits for mankind, many of which continue today. But advocates of alternative energy sources usually manage to omit or diminish many of these benefits when calculating fossil fuels’ “social cost.”

Thankfully, President Trump and congressional Republicans understand that the costs of fossil fuels must be weighed against their substantial benefits. They have decided wisely not to carry on the “war on fossil fuels” waged by the Obama administration, congressional Democrats and their Golden State allies.

Messrs. Bast and Ferrara are senior fellows at the Heartland Institute.


A Libel Suit Threatens Catastrophe

If the left wants to take off the gloves, perhaps that is what should happen.
WSJ Feb. 5, 2017 8:16 p.m. ET

The First Amendment provides robust protection for political and scientific debate, but it faces a new threat from a climate activist determined to silence his critics. In a case pending before the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, Penn State professor Michael Mann is waging an aggressive campaign of lawfare, accusing of defamation those who dare to question his work. So far, the courts have given this assault on free speech a green light.

Mr. Mann is famous as the creator of the “hockey stick” graph, which portrays a dramatic trend in global warming over the past century. Numerous critics have cast doubt on the quality and accuracy of his work. They argue that his historical temperature proxies are unreliable, his data presentation misleading, and his statistical techniques skewed.

Even among those who support the theory of global warming, some have singled out Mr. Mann’s work as sloppy and exaggerated. David Hand, a former president of Britain’s Royal Statistical Society, has written that Mr. Mann’s technique “exaggerated the size of the blade at the end of the hockey stick,” which corresponds to the 20th-century temperature rise.

Not content to answer his critics in the public square, Mr. Mann has sued them. One target of his lawsuit is the political magazine National Review, which published a 270-word blog post criticizing Mr. Mann as “the man behind the fraudulent . . . ‘hockey-stick’ graph.” His lawsuit objects to the magazine’s decision to quote a critic who wrote that Mr. Mann “could be said to be the Jerry Sandusky of climate science, except that instead of molesting children, he has molested and tortured data.”

National Review moved to dismiss the suit, citing a phalanx of Supreme Court precedent. The Constitution obviously does not allow crippling damages to be imposed for voicing one’s opinion, however vehemently or caustically. Punishing such criticism because a jury disagrees with it does not aid the search for truth, but impedes it by stifling conflicting views. As the liberal Justice William Brennan observed: “Truth may not be the subject of either civil or criminal sanctions where discussion of public affairs is concerned.” Such speech “is the essence of self-government.”

As a federal court once put it in the particular context of scientific controversies: “More papers, more discussions, better data, and more satisfactory models—not larger awards of damages—mark the path toward superior understanding of the world around us.” Even a meritless defamation suit can be an effective weapon to intimidate critics and shut down debate through ruinous litigation costs.

In this case the trial court refused to dismiss Mr. Mann’s libel suit. Judge Natalia Combs Greene ruled that the defamation claims were “likely” to succeed because “to call his work a sham or to question his intellect and reasoning is tantamount to an accusation of fraud,” when in fact Mr. Mann “has been investigated by several bodies (including the EPA)” which determined that his research was “sound and not based on misleading information.” For procedural reasons, the case was reassigned to Judge Frederick Weisberg, who largely adopted Judge Greene’s reasoning.

Appellate courts, which exist to reverse such legal error, in this case compounded it. National Review was supported in friend-of-the-court briefs by such unlikely allies as the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Washington Post and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. Yet a panel of the D.C. Court of Appeals—Judges Vanessa Ruiz,Corinne Beckwith and Catharine Easterly—held in December that Mr. Mann’s suit should proceed to a jury. The court again relied on various “official” investigations that had cleared Mr. Mann of misconduct, including an inquiry by the federal government. Speech that disagrees with the government is at the core of the First Amendment’s protection—though not in this court’s topsy-turvy world.

National Review has filed a petition for rehearing along with its co-defendants, the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Rand Simberg. If the full court of appeals does not correct the error and end this assault on the First Amendment, the case will doubtless proceed to the Supreme Court.

Those hoping Mr. Mann prevails because they agree with him about global warming are missing the point. If he succeeds in diminishing the right to free speech, he and his fellow climate activists have just as much to lose. Mr. Mann has attacked his critics for peddling “pure scientific fraud,” engaging in what he calls “the fraudulent denial of climate change,” and taking “corporate payoffs for knowingly lying about the threat climate change posed to humanity.” He accused Fox News of trying to “mislead its viewers” through a “deceptive” report about climate change.

None of this is particularly polite, but it is common in the cut-and-thrust of public debate. If such caustic criticism is now to be fair game for legal action, big oil companies and other well-heeled interests can launch their own lawsuits asking juries in Texas or Oklahoma to silence Mr. Mann and his allies.

The logic of Mr. Mann’s position threatens to convert political and scientific debate into a litigation free-for-all, with all sides seeking to sue one another into submission instead of resolving differences through the free exchange of ideas. For those who care about the spirit of open inquiry at the heart of the scientific enterprise, it is scarcely possible to imagine a greater legal disaster than the prospect of Mr. Mann’s succeeding on his claims.

Messrs. Carvin and Dick are Washington lawyers. They represent National Review in Mr. Mann’s lawsuit.