Sunday, August 16, 2009

Carbon Conservatism Revisited

With the health care debate trending so nicely in our favor, I thought it would be a good time to revisit my unpopular views on global warming. My dilemma is that unlike many conservatives, I believe man-made global warming is a real phenomena and unlike many leftists I don't believe it's a good excuse to ruin the economy with massive socialist schemes. That leaves me in a predicament. In my first foray into this territory I tried to convince fellow libertarians and conservatives that man is really having an effect on the planet. To recap, the planet is in a unique time with respect to the climate. The last three million years have seen ever deepening ice ages, with short interregnums of warming. We are currently in such a period, the Holocene, but that period has lasted significantly longer than the mean time of other such warming periods. Man's civilization developed during the Holocene, which is currently about 12,000 years old, so any changes, either a plunge into a new ice age, or global warming will be highly disruptive to the global economy. In my view the current increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide are probably preventing another ice age, which is the geologic "normal" for our epoch, but this increase also threatens to significantly increase global average temperature. The current, since 2001, slight cooling trend we are seeing is probably the result of a sunspot minimum and in my opinion, should be a much deeper trend. The longer term temperature trend is upward, unless the current sunspot minimum, against probability, remains in place.

But the tougher debate is over what is to be done. First, I think that left and right can accept that the historical record shows that civilization developed in a fairly narrow and unique time in geologic history. It is unlikely to remain stable indefinitely, so we are likely to need all of our wealth to be made available to deal with whatever conditions prevail. That means that wealth destroying plans, such as the current "cap and trade" bill have to be non-starters. Further, any steps that we do take, must be clearly effective. We can't afford to disrupt the economy to no benefit. Finally, since the free market has shown itself to be the most efficient producer of goods and services, we need to harness its power toward our stated end of stabilizing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

No one is smarter than the market as a whole and so cannot predict which technology will be most efficacious in replacing energy sources that are currently carbon based. Further, within carbon fuels, some produce more CO2 than others, so a shift from coal to natural gas for instance would reduce carbon emissions per BTU produced. So I propose a carbon tax at the point of consumption, with an offsetting reduction in the income tax so that government does not consume a larger share of GDP, therefore damaging the economy. Such a tax would be phased in gradually to further avoid economic disruption. Finally, the United States should make it a goal that all industrial and emerging economies sign a treaty regarding such a tax, because if only the United States takes this route, we are unlikely to reduce carbon dioxide emissions unilaterally.

A carbon tax has the advantage of simplicity and being technologically neutral. By raising the price of fuel sources in direct proportion to the amount of carbon oxidized, we directly attack the problem we wish to solve. Is wind power better than solar photovoltaic? Who knows? Over time the market will decide. Further, the carbon costs of building solar panels or wind turbines would be factored into the equation by the equitable distribution of this tax. Also, a carbon tax has the added advantage of reducing air pollution caused by other contaminants. The majority of air pollution in the United States today is caused by burning fossil fuels.

The other advantage of this plan, is that it would reduce global demand for fossil fuels. There may be a correlation, but it seems that the world's oil reserves are in the hands of despots and madmen. Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iran and Venezuela come to mind. Depriving these governments of oil revenue would go a long way towards advancing the cause of freedom in the world.

I have been a little slow on posting lately, as I waited until the last weekend to finish a paper for a class I am taking. More to follow, and as usual on this subject, I look forward to spirited debate.


  1. B-Daddy,
    I could be talked into a carbon tax under your plan. Unfortunately, the lowering of income tax part of the equation is far more problematic, as you are aware.

    Even if a lowering of income taxes were enacted, it would come with a sunset clause of some other legislative chicanery we see more and more of in Congress.

    Link forthcoming.

  2. You said that the present global is probably preventing an ice age. Many authorities take the opposite view. They believe the melting of the glaciers and the surge of cold fresh water causes a disruption of the Atlantic current which cuts off the heat to N. Europe causing an ice age. About 10,00 BC, the melt water from the glacier covering northern N America poured into the Mississippi basin. When the glacier melted to the point where much of the melt water flowed down the St Lawrence, disrupting the Atlantic current, we can see in geological records a hellish climatic period on the Atlantic coast. Prior to the last mini ice age, the glaciers of Greenland had receded sufficiently for extensive colonization again disrupting the Atlantic current.

  3. OK, I totally disagree. I recommend we do absolutely nothing at all to stop global warming. Stop pollution yes, stop global warming no. My reason is simple: whatever we do will have no effect at all.

    China (1 billion+), Russia, India (1 billion+) and Indonesia (1 billion+) are all telling us to get stuffed when it comes to curbing CO2 output. No matter what we and the cross-dressers in Europe do, we won't have any significant impact on global CO2. Meanwhile, we'll hogtie our economy trying to accomplish nothing.

    It's not a question of whether or not global warming is happening (I'm becoming a skeptic) it's just a matter of the ROI.

    Finally, I suggest that the US is the greatest force for good in the world. Why give us fewer resources (wealth) in order to do that good?

  4. I didn't mean any disrespect commenting on the link at BwD. I just wanted to give what you said more thought.

    Just as I can't figure your lack of concern with buying oil from our admitted adversaries, I don't understand you can't see man-made global warming is a cooked-up scheme for a money grab.

    This phony "consensus" is being challenged more every day.

    I wish I had more time to delve into this, but I like KT's approach.