Sunday, January 12, 2014

Two climate politics predictions

My political predictions are somewhat better than my civil war predictions, so with that faint praise, here's one:  if Obama doesn't approve Keystone before November, then he won't approve it at all. It's good politics but bad policy to approve Keystone. The political reward diminishes after the lower-turnout, more conservative, off-presidential election year, while the policy and international reasons for not approving Keystone get stronger with more delay. And not to get too wildly hopeful, stringing along the idiotic Canadian government before cutting them off might make it harder for PM Harper to figure out alternative ways to harm the planet with tar sands.

I only put a little emphasis on the recent addition of climate hawks and Keystone opponents to the Obama admin - he's the one they work for. It might be a hint of how the wind's blowing, though.

OTOH, there's still 10 months to make a decision. And just to caveat it a bit, I could imagine Obama locking himself so close to a promise before the election without getting to the final signoff that he does approve it soon afterwards. So far though this reinforces the obvious point I made almost two years ago that delay is a victory (albeit not THE victory) when you're trying stop somebody else from doing something. Just like it is in Iran.

The other prediction came from reading in Stoat of the welcome retirement for Richard Lindzen, leaving the ranks of non-retired, denialist climatologists even thinner than before. John Mashey noted in the comments that the 2009 "mass" petition to the American Physical Society to deny climate science from 0.45% of its membership was skewed much older than the general membership. My second prediction is this petition will not be repeated because it will be even less successful in the future than it was in 2009, as demographic destiny wins out. This might explain why Singer and friends kept switching from one meritless type of mass document to another - recycling an old one some years later will just highlight increasing consensus.


Anonymous said...

So, in homo sapiens' evolutionary past, loners did not fair well. At the clan or tribe level, safety in numbers meant remaining with the group was much more important than anything with which a member might disagree with the consensus. The leader of a group might be wrong, but survival was more effected by remaining with the group than whether or not the ideas were wrong.

And so it is that at the same time that we have evolved brains with the capacity for reason, we also carry within each of us a strong propensity toward identifying with and remaining part of groups and for conforming our ideas to the group ideas.

This explains politics ( and political parties ) and religious affiliation. And sports fandom. We inhabit bodies evolved for both reason and irrationality.


Miguelito said...

Yes, because, as we know, if Keystone XL gets denied, the tarsands will never be developed. Victory for climate.

Oh wait. There are many rail-loading facilities being constructed in western Canada.

In another article I read (sorry, can't find it), the loading capacity is expected to be getting close to 1 million barrels per day by the end of 2014.

Now, loading capacity isn't going to get fully utilized. But, it is available so that it can take up alot of the slack if needed.

So, as usual, it's foolish to be so fixated on Keystone as a climate fix. Getting it denied is going to solve very little. The bitumen will find its way to U.S. markets, either by rail or other pipeline infrastructure. Or it'll find its way to other markets.

Markets are smart. They're adaptable. They're really like a hydra. If they want oil, they'll get it and they'll find a way how.

As usual, the best fix is going after demand. Until climate legislation can actually pass through Congress, you've got the option of new regulations like strict rules for auto emissions.

Go after demand, solve the problem.

Now, frankly, the Obama administration isn't going to make a decision on Keystone XL in 2014. He's just announced an energy-infrastructure review, which is expected to release its first report in January 2015. This is widely being interpreted as the mechanism he needs to pass the Keystone buck into 2015, after the mid-term elections.

Anonymous said...


ligne said...

i believe that pictures of rabetts are never off-topic here, anon @ 12/1/14 9:06 PM.

a_ray_in_dilbert_space said...

The goal is not to keep the tar sands from being developed, but rather to slow the pace and to keep the world's largest economy from becoming a petro-state where keeping one's job depends on being a head-in-the-sand denialist.

crf said...

Obama would be wiser to delay approval further and set conditions, rather than deny it. (My opinion, as a Canadian in B.C.)

Ideally, the bitumen would be upgraded in Alberta, and then shipped by pipeline. Unfortunately, the oil companies already have infrastructure for upgrading in LA and TX. So it is more cost-effective (or profitable) to ship bitumen to those refinery locations, despite the (hard to quantify) increased risks of shipping diluted dilbit. Albertans, in my opinion, are idiots for allowing the oil companies to not upgrade their oil in that province. But that horse left the barn.

So what conditions should should Obama set? One big one for me would be that the oil companies & Canada agree that tar sands oil could be subject to future carbon taxes (or equivalent) from its extraction, upgrading and end use.

Such a proviso would encourage tar sands companies to develop and implement technology to limit emissions inherent in the energy used to extract the bitumen from the sand. Right now, there is too little incentive to develop or implement such technology, as any company that does would glean less profit than a competitor who uses the cheapest, dirtiest methods.

Brian said...

crf - a carbon tax on tar sands would be interesting. Any tax is better than no tax, but I think a significant tax would be really hard to get politically, and a small tax doesn't fix the externalities. There's also the question of who levies and who spends the tax - Canada, US, whatever country ultimately imports this oil?

Politally I think it's easier for Obama to kill it than to condition it.

crf said...

Obama can kill this particular pipeline plan presented to him. But what happens under a new administration (D or R ?). It is a bit naive to think that his power to stop this project will extend beyond his time in office. "Killing" wouldn't be the right way of understanding a "nay" from Obama on Keystone. Passing the responsibility to the next admin is one way it could be seen. Risking losing total political control is another way of looking at a "nay".

Right now, he has a chance to shape how this proceeds.

If you think about it, it possible that you don't want a "significant tax" on KXL, for the reasons you state (hard to do politically, and so on). So, don't have a significant tax. Have a small one. One that could be adjusted later on.

The idea of Carbon taxes, and the framework for implementing them, are more important that their level, at the moment.


If the goal is to reduce CO2 emissions , not shrink energy supplies and inflate energy prices , some thought must be given to the wide range of hydrogen to carbon ratios of the spectrum of fossil fuels.

Rational carbon taxation schemes should include hydrogen rebates proportional to that element's contribution to heat of combustion.

Brian said...

If Obama refused to approve Keystone, the 2016 Democratic nominee, whoever that will be, will promise the same. The Republican will promise to reverse. Not sure how this would play out but I think the arc of history bends slightly towards truth, so it might help the D slightly.

Also worth noting that Obama can't unilaterally impose even a small tax, it would take an act of Congress. I don't think the Rs would go along with it, even if that were the only way to get their beloved oil.