Europe Submits to Iron Law of Climate Policy

By Keith Kloor | January 23, 2014 2:16 pm

We ofter hear that global warming is the existential issue of our day. And that reducing carbon emissions from fossil fuels will be essential if we are to preserve a livable climate for civilization. People can quibble with the various risk scenarios and which computer models are more accurate and so on, but in the main, I’m not going to argue that standing pat is a wise strategy.

So where does this leave me? Well, I view global warming as an incredibly complex, seemingly intractable global problem that is not going to be solved by 1) shutting down existing low-carbon sources of energy; focusing inordinate attention on a vocal minority of climate skeptics (there’s an opportunity cost to this obsession); and most of all, 3) ignoring economic realities, such as that highlighted in the headline of today’s top New York Times story:

Europe, Facing Economic Pain, May Ease Climate Rules

The symbolism of this development cannot be overstated. Here’s why, as the NYT piece succinctly explains:

For years, Europe has tried to set the global standard for climate-change regulation, creating tough rules on emissions, mandating more use of renewable energy sources and arguably sacrificing some economic growth in the name of saving the planet.

But now even Europe seems to be hitting its environmentalist limits.

High energy costs, declining industrial competitiveness and a recognition that the economy is unlikely to rebound strongly any time soon are leading policy makers to begin easing up in their drive for more aggressive climate regulation.

For a number of years University of Colorado’s Roger Pielke Jr. has been pointing out a main flaw in institutional climate policy, which he laid out in his 2010 book, The Climate Fix:

Experience shows quite clearly that when environmental and economic objectives are placed into opposition with one another in public or political forums, it is the economic goals that win out. I call this the iron law of climate policy.

He goes on to write:

Opinions polls show that the public is indeed willing to pay some amount for attaining environmental goals, just as it is with respect to other societal goals. However, the public has its limits as to how much it is willing to pay. What this means is that climate policy must be made compatible with economic growth as a precondition for their success.

This is a fundamental truth that often reveals itself, as Pielke has discussed on numerous occasions. Thus it is perhaps not surprising (though no less astonishing) that Europe, the locus of climate change concern, has seemingly become the latest example of his iron law of climate policy.

This doesn’t change anything about the existential threat that global warming may well pose. But unless the climate-concerned community starts to recognize the reality of the world they live in (not just the one that’s heating heat up, but the one with standard of living costs that weigh on people day to day) then they will deserve a share of the blame for the continuing inaction on climate change.

Meanwhile, perhaps we should ask which is impeding real progress on the reduction of greenhouse gases: Denial of climate science or denial of economic realities?

Additional reading: Brad Plumer at Washington Post’s Wonk blog.

  • http://orach24463.wordpress.com/ CJ

    Climate Crimes –
    When the anti anti fossil fuel ideologues like the EPA can come up with a viable replacement for fossil fuel that does not:

    Kill millions of poor people due to fuel poverty http://wp.me/p7y4l-lnm ;
    Is not unreliable and intermittent requiring a fossil fuel back up and new transmission lines which are harmful to the environment;
    Does not slaughter thousands eagles, birds and bats;
    Is not more toxic and detrimental to the environment than fossil fuel;
    Does not produce more green house gases than fossil fuel does;
    and does not require government subsidies to exist which attracts government corruption like a magnet

    The EPA should feel free to clue us all in on what they have in mind.

    Climate Change Is Not The Problem Fuel Poverty Is. Higher Fuel Prices = More Poor People = More Children Dying not to mention the slaughter of other living things by so called “green energy” http://youtu.be/5igyXyJKL_0

    As Dr. Spencer has noted, global climate models are an EPIC failure but the EPA and Obama have their mission of not letting anything get in the way… … … ..especially empirical data/facts, science, rationality, ethics or good judgement get in the way of impoverishing and killing poor people via fuel poverty in a misguided and futile effort to “save the planet” from climate change. A belief that government has the power to regulate the climate is like believing paying a witch doctor to chant gibberish can ward of evil spirits.

    • Tim Burden

      It seems odd to me that climate denial nutters, who usually emerge from anti-government points of view, don’t do whatever they can to get off-grid with their own distributed (and renewable) energy sources so they don’t have to put up with lefties getting granola in their policies.

      Also, here’s some data:
      http://www.jamespowell.org/

      But don’t let that get in the way.

      Oh here’s some more:

      http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/11/07/2908361/rich-countries-fossil-fuel-subsidies/

      Stupid facts. Galling!

      • http://orach24463.wordpress.com/ CJ

        Why so many smears? If your points had any validity the facts would stand on their own merits. The truth is Germany dumped billions into so called green energy and found out the hard way green energy ie wind and solar, just can’t cut it. Wind and Solar are intermittent, unreliable, high cost which hurts the poor the most and harmful to other living things like birds, bats and eagles. Deal with it.

        Upon request from Commission president José Manuel Barroso, the EU member states will no longer receive concrete requirements for expanding renewable energies in the future.”

        Moreover, Spiegel writes that the EU wants to begin clearing the way for fracking. The controversial method is now widely used in the USA and natural gas prices there are some 65% cheaper than in Europe as a result, thus creating a serious competitive disadvantage in key industries – such as chemicals.

        – See more at: http://notrickszone.com/2014/01/15/spiegel-eu-aims-to-abandon-aggressive-climate-protection-targets-germanys-energiewende-now-at-risk/#sthash.xZr9mYUq.dpuf

        • Tim Burden

          Smears?

          “the anti anti fossil fuel ideologues”

          “their mission of not letting anything get in the way…especially empirical data/facts”

          “misguided and futile”

          “chant gibberish”

          You MAY have started it. But don’t let that get in the way.

          • http://orach24463.wordpress.com/ CJ

            You are denying “Denial Nutters” is not a smear? When reality does not agree with Climate Change Theory Reality is not what’s false. AGW theory is based on CO2 causing a rise in Temperatures. Temperatures have not risen for 16+ years. Ergo, AGW theory has been proven false by reality. Get it?

          • Tim Burden

            You are not a climate scientist and neither am I. I’ll listen to what they say, thanks. To get an idea what they say, see the link above. In case you missed it:

            http://www.jamespowell.org/

            But don’t let facts about scientific consensus get in your way. I’m sure you won’t.

          • http://orach24463.wordpress.com/ CJ

            Consensus is not science. The facts are 97% of the Climate models used to “prove” global warming were wrong!
            http://www.see.ed.ac.uk/~shs/Climate%20change/Climate%20model%20results/over%20estimate.pdf

          • Tim Burden

            Huh. Yet not one of the 9136 climate scientists who wrote peer-reviewed papers in 2013 bothered to mention that. Please explain?

            You live in magic-land. Which makes you a nutter.

          • http://orach24463.wordpress.com/ CJ

            Again the smears which proves you have lost the argument. The reality is it is you who are the “denier”. The denier of reality that despite the rise in CO2 global temperatures have been at a standstill for 16+ years which disproves the AGW theory. What is puzzling to me is why you are not happy about the fact the AGW theory is wrong. No more need to kill poor people via fuel poverty by denying them access to cheap and reliable energy from fossil fuel. The world is not coming to an end after all due to CO2 emmisions from fossil fuel. You and your ilk can now pursue something useful instead of chasing wind mills that kills lots of eagles, birds and bats and other sources of so called green energy that destroying Mother Nature. http://youtu.be/5igyXyJKL_0

          • Tim Burden

            Oh, now you’re an environmentalist?

            Look, just leave the science to the scientists.

          • http://orach24463.wordpress.com/ CJ

            More of an environmentalist than you and your ilk will ever be.

          • http://orach24463.wordpress.com/ CJ

            Moreover, the “facts” are that there is no viable alternative to fossil fuel other than nuclear power that you and your ilk are against. Germany found out about that the hard way and is going back to coal as their source of energy after wasting billions on solar and wind. Solar and Wind are not only unreliable and intermittent requiring a fossil fuel back up to exist, they are high cost which hurts the poor the most. Not too mention killing thousand of bats and birds. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2014/01/07/despite-climate-campaigners-efforts-germanys-new-coal-boom-reaches-record-level/

          • Tim Burden

            Unfounded generalizations.

            In fact I lament that there are also people on the left who can’t see facts through their ideology.

      • JH

        Why do the Warmists strive so hard to frame the climate debate as black and white? Most skeptics agree that global warming is occurring and that it is in part human caused.

        That’s not the question anymore. That’s bad for warmists, because now they’re stuck debating what degree of climate change has occurred and will likely occur in the future. It’s a much more difficult question and one that warmists would rather not debate, because there are many sound scientific reasons to question the extreme-weather and extreme-impacts scenarios that are necessary to justify their policy positions.

        Ultimately, if we have a sound, scientifically-based policy discussion, the warmists would almost certainly fail to get most of the policies they want. Hence, they need to keep the debate framed in black and white. Since there is no “anti-science” opposition, they need to fabricate one to maintain the justifications for their policies.

        • Tim Burden

          “Why do the Warmists strive so hard to frame the climate debate as black and white?”

          Because it is. I don’t know what the policy should be to counter it. That’s a whole other question.

          • Tom Scharf

            …and that is why you fail.

          • JH

            “Because it is.”

            So 1.5°C of warming by 2100 has the same impact as 6.0° of warming? The difference doesn’t matter? :)

            Of course, it does matter. We know now that the its-getting-worse-six-degree-C scenarios aren’t realistic. More than likely, warming by 2100 will be less than 3° and possibly as little as 1.5°C.

  • Buddy199

    Nuclear.

    • Martin

      Still more expensive than digging hydrocarbons out of the ground and setting fire to them. And higher energy costs means higher everything else costs, and that means (1) rich people don’t want to pay so resist the change and (2) poor people can’t pay and so don’t get and so stay poor.

      • Buddy199

        If greens want an alternative to fossil fuels that could become a proportionally bigger slice of the energy pie they should be pushing for nuclear. But of course their unscientific fears will never allow the Keystone Pipeline, let alone more nuclear plants – geez, didn’t you see what happened to Japan; yeah, don’t build a plant next to the ocean maybe in a country that coined the term “tsunami”.

      • BeesPants

        The newest generation of Thorium reactors could be standardized and produced on assembly lines, drastically reducing the cost of nuclear power. Also, it virtually eliminates the possibility of nuclear proliferation, so you can sell thorium reactors to North Korea and Iran. :)

        The only things stopping a Thorium economic revolution are Big oil companies and environmentalists who are terrified of atoms. Strange bedfellows for sure.

        • Martin

          Not sure that Big Oil features well in there. Big Oil will be happy to become Big Nuke

  • Robert Wilson

    I have always felt that Pielke Jr’s so called iron law mostly just tells me he needs to spend a little more time with the periodic table.

    If it was an iron law, not just a banal insight, he could actually quantify it and predict before hand when we would be in the grip of this iron law. In this case you could easily predict a year ahead what the emissions target will be. Such predictions however are rarely forthcoming. An unwillingness to make such predictions suggests this law is made of much more malleable material than iron.

    • Martin

      It’s not that banal if large groups of people thought it could be easily broken by lobbying for legislation.

      And a ‘law’ does not have to be able to predict specific quantities for it to be valid.

  • Thomas Fuller

    About time to start talking once more about ‘no regrets’ policies.

    • Matt B

      Sadly, “talking” on this subject has never been popular. Condescending, snide comments rule the discourse, even in major media that a rational observer would hope knows better…..Brian Williams and his “New Normal”, jackass…..

      8 years ago when I started following the climate/carbon discussion I talked my son into pursuing a nuclear engineering course of study, figuring that even if the entire carbon-climate hypothesis turned out to be BS, there’s no way anyone could argue with nuclear as a “no-regrets” path for electricity generation. A couple years ago he graduated and nuclear was more stagnated than ever. I was surprised, how could such a common-sense approach to energy policy be so rejected? I always though that this was an important enough discussion that the dominant media would force an open discussion of the path that we are on and the path that we should take, but no such open discussion took place.

      In the end the market will win, as Europe now acknowledges, because without a strong marketplace of ideas as a counterbalance either the power of the state or the market wlll always win. In the developed countries the market is on top. The marketplace of ideas is more deserted every passing day……

  • JH

    Keith, are you telling us that there is a cost to environmentalism? Doesn’t that go against the first commandment of the environmental church?

    There are no negative consequences of any environmental policy

    And the second commandment?

    all “rich” nations can afford anything they want

    And the third commandment?

    economic growth has no positive consequences

    And the fourth commandment?

    people and organizations that advocate for economic growth are inherently greedy and evil

    This is a violation of the highest order.

  • bobito

    The battle of denial of climate science vs denial of economic realities is to blame. The two ‘head in the sand’ positions get all the money and all the attention.
    Sigh…

  • J M

    As the share of European emissions dwindles below 10% of the global emissions, people start to question the relevance of this policy.

    Other point is the sustainability of European climate ambition. Many countries (Spain, Czech Republic, Portugal. Italy) have already cut renewable subsidies retroactively and Germany has been lowering them for 2 years. Clearly, German-styled 24 billion euros/year subsidies cannot be replicated elsewhere, especially not in developing countries.

    Finally, in the case of Germany, it is not fossil fuels but nuclear which is being replaced with renewables. While nuclear can provide baseload, renewables require fossil fuel backup.

    “In 1990, Germany’s brown coal-fired power stations produced almost 171 billion kilowatt hours of power. At the time, many old eastern German plants were still in operation.
    In 2013, it rose to 162 billion kilowatt hours, the highest level since reunification in 1990.

    Power output from anthracite coal also rose, by eight billion kilowatt hours to over 124 billion, while output from gas-fired plants fell by 10 billion to 66 billion. That means that coal plants are making up for the bulk of the energy production lost due to the 2011 shutdown of eight nuclear plants”

    http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/researchers-alarmed-at-rise-in-german-brown-coal-power-output-a-942216.html

  • Martin

    It was one of the unpleasantnesseseses of the Stern Report that it fudged the economic consequences so badly that we went down this route so far, and spent so much, before having second thoughts.

    If we’d all been nice, reasonable people we could have had a sensible debate about economics and global hazards and costs and benefits about ten years ago. Now we’ve all parked our viewpoints and bolted them strongly down.

    As it is, you’re all wrong and i was right and also I’m really handsome and you all smell. So there.

  • http://orach24463.wordpress.com/ CJ

    The Social Costs of Carbon Mitigation It’s the poor that get shafted
    http://www.globalwarming.org/2014/01/24/more-on-the-social-costs-of-carbon-mitigation/

    • zlop

      Georgia GuideStoning the Surplus Serfs is in progress.

  • Tom Scharf

    There is one science equation that AGW advocates are in denial of:

    Economy > Environment

    This has always been the case, and many have pointed this out on too many occasions. It is clear that most of the AGW advocates believe exactly the opposite. Fine. That doesn’t mean they are ever going to impose that ideology on the rest of the population. Their failure to recognize this is perplexing.

    They have always seemed to prefer losing the war on being effective to winning the battle of ideological purity. They understand this concept really well when it is pointed toward the other side, not so much when aiming it inward.

    Clean.Cheap.Energy.

    Everybody wins.

    • zlop

      “Clean.Cheap.Energy. Everybody wins.” ?
      Scarcity, to control, is written into the plan.
      Prime directive of the oligarchy is self-preservation.

  • http://orach24463.wordpress.com/ CJ

    So called “clean energy” is not cheap energy. So called clean energy is responsible for the death of millions of poor people via fuel poverty http://wp.me/p7y4l-lnm

    Clean Energy is more harmful to the environment than fossil fuel

    http://youtu.be/5igyXyJKL_0
    So called “clean” energy is unsustainable which Germany learned the hard way after wasting billions on it. So, guess what, Germany is converting back to coal.

    What is most ironic however is that CO2 emmisions from fossil fuel are actually good for the planet and other living things like plants and food for the poor. Any problem with that? Hmmm http://news.heartland.org/newspaper-article/2013/10/29/carbon-dioxide-emissions-stimulating-15-trillion-crop-production

    • zlop

      Stealing opportunity, evicting people, is the goal
      of the UNelected Malthusians.

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Collide-a-Scape is a wide-ranging blog forum that explores issues at the nexus of science, culture and society.

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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