Monday, April 11, 2011

fading into ignorance

--climate happenings are at the blisterdata--

Saying that the American disenlightenment is deepening doesn't even come close.   The fading substance of policy is painful to watch.  This may be symptomatic of the closing of a once open society, and perhaps this is normal when an old order yields to an oligarchy, but it's still a bummer.

Exhibits of this disconnect from logic and reality are the budget woes, the energy policy, and the climate hearings.  These three items are locked in a fateful interplay that pushes America even deeper into self-destructive ignorance.  I refer, of course, to HR 910, the Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011, which failed in the Senate, which the White House intends to veto, and which the House of Representatives approved.  The point of HR 910 is to strip the EPA of power to regulate GHGs, because such regulation "hinders the economy and job growth".

So here you have it: because of its failed gamble on oil wars in the Middle East, the US is now strapped of cash, the very cash that would have paid for creating a postcarbon economy.  Now, the Middle East revolutions drive up the price of crude; Time Magazine is tripping out on the saving powers of oil shale, and the real issues are being swept under the rug.

Exhibit A: Budget Woes

The ballooning of the federal budget is typical of empires in decline.  Those that don't end in violence end in bankruptcy.  The combination of military overreach, domestic luxuriation, and falling revenue spelled the demise for the ambitions of Portugal, Spain, Holland, and England.  America is on track to repeat their histories.  Well then: if budget woes are the problem, then the rational solution, you'd think, would be to increase revenue by raising taxes on those who have more than enough, and rein in spending on the greatest expenses.  All budget woes would disappear as soon as we taxed the 400 Americans who have the same wealth as half of all Americans combined the way they would be taxed if they were Germans or Swedes or Fins, and as soon as we slashed the military research budget and the defense budget by half or two thirds.

Such a solution would balance the budget while leaving the status quo unchanged.  Even if they had to pay more taxes, the superrich would still be super rich.  Even if its funds were cut by two thirds, the US military would still be (by far) number one in the world.  Then a shift towards a post-carbon society would be affordable.  But no: none of this is on the table.  Rational proposals, such as the people's budget by J Sachs (Columbia), are utterly taboo in the current political culture.

Exhibit B: Energy Policy

Another instance of the ongoing weirdness is the neglect of wind.  As Lester Brown points out in Plan B (p. 113), the US has enough land-based and offshore wind energy to satisfy its national energy needs several times over.  Merely exploiting the wind energy of both coasts would meet all our needs.  As mentioned in an earlier post, using the wind that blows in North Dakota, Texas, and Kansas would do the same too.

Such a national construction effort of vast wind farms would eliminate unemployment, help with poverty, and boost the economy, thus giving us some breathing space while we figure out how to transition to a steady-state economy.  Ways to go forward, via a Cinderella economy, are already being devised, for instance by T Jackson (Surrey).

An example of how to do such a large-scale project is China's daunting push for high speed trains.  As the NYT reported, the People's Republic is engaged in a program of constructing 8,100 miles of high-speed rail lines and more than 11,000 miles of traditional fast railroad lines, at a cost of $ 750 billion, some $ 365 billion for high-speed rail alone.  By comparison, the US can afford only $ 8 billion for high speed.  But a plan that could compete with China's vision would of course be the American equivalent of a socialist enterprise or state capitalism.  Never mind that the Apollo Program that put men on the Moon was just that.  Thus market ideology trumps ecological pragmatism.

Exhibit C: Climate Hearings 

But let's now turn to the worst example, the most compelling illustration of how far the American disenlightenment has already progressed. The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology (23 R, 17 D), held a Hearing on Climate Change on 31 March.  Witnesses were J S Armstrong (Penn), R Miller (Berkeley), J Christy (Alabama), P Glaser (corporate/lawyer), D Montgomery (corporate/economist), and K A Emanuel (MIT).

Armstrong argued that the "validity of the manmade global warming alarm" requires evidence of three items: knowledge of rising temperatures, knowledge of harmful effects, and knowledge of cost-effective regulations that would be better than doing nothing, "in effect, a three-legged stool".  He concluded that we don't have such knowledge, the science done violates all sorts of "forecasting principles", and the "alarmists" are wrong. 

Muller argued that the big national climate analysis centers, NOAA, NASA, HadCRU, are biased in their data selection; even though there are so many weather stations, they only pick data from where it's really hot.  Well, OK, maybe not, and maybe "some of the most worrisome biases are less of a problem" than he had first thought, but the message was clear: the alarmists are biased.  The only question is how severe their prejudice is: are the alarmists more biased, or less biased?

Christy, the Alabama professor, argued that the Hockey Stick is a fraud; the EPA misrepresents evidence; ClimateGate shows what's going on, and the IPCC consists of a clique of evildoers who think Christy is an idiot.

Attorney Glaser, in true tobacco-lobbyist style, channeling his forebears who cast doubt on cancer research, argued that the EPA's analytic approach is one-sided; it lacks "independent and objective peer review," and its conclusions must be doubted.

The economist Montgomery then did a cost-benefit analysis, as economists are wont to do, with the result that reducing carbon emissions will cost much more than politicians would want to pay.

Emanuel was the token critic, the only man of integrity among the lot, who expressed the scientific consensus.  But the damage was done; MIT prof was checkmated by the skeptics.  Sure enough, the House Committee issued a press release (Mar 31) headlined that the witnesses "highlighted flawed processes used to generate climate change science." 

Two weeks before the House Hearings, reacting to a similarly rigged Congressional Climate Hearing, Nature issued an editorial titled Into Ignorance. This is the state of the Union now.  The oligarchs are taking over, the corporate-political complex wages war on science and education, and Obama, who once said he wanted to change it all, is timid. 

Sixty-eight months left.

No comments: