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“The Science Is Settled”: In Spite Of What You See Outside, Global Warming Is Real

Cue the igloos.

The winter blizzard set to paralyze the East Coast has given climate change deniers the perfect opportunity to proclaim, once again, that global warming is a hoax, that several feet of snow prove the planet is as cold as ever, that the Earth is flat: You can tell by looking outside. Common sense.

During a similar snowstorm in 2010, the family of one of the nation’s leading flat-earthers, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., built an igloo on the National Mall. His daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren deposited a sign across the structure that read “Al Gore’s New Home,” in mockery of one of the saner voices on the risks of climate change.

This latest storm has produced plenty of igloo material but no evidence that Gore is wrong. Sorry, but the Earth is, in fact, a sphere — no matter what you see as you look out your bedroom window. Similarly, the planet is warming — no matter how cold it is outside your bedroom window.

Earlier this month, climate scientists released a report saying that 2015 was the warmest year on record for the planet, shattering the previous record that had been set by a very warm 2014. El Niño’s winds contributed to last year’s heat, but the bulk of it is a consequence of human activity, scientists said.

By now, the science is settled. Shouldn’t we be talking about solutions? Shouldn’t our politicians be leading a national discussion about ways to build on the climate accord that President Obama signed in Paris?

One of the most promising answers is a carbon tax, a way to raise prices on the fossil fuels that create much of the environmental havoc. A price hike would help to discourage use by everyone, from the executives at coal-fired electric plants to motorists who drive alone to and from work.

A carbon tax is even more compelling in this era of rapidly falling petroleum prices. While cheap gas helps the family budget, it simply encourages us to use more of it. And, oddly, it even encourages car buyers to skip the smaller, more efficient models and opt for bigger gas guzzlers. At the end of 2015, fuel economy for new vehicles was falling, likely reflecting more purchases of pickup trucks and SUVs, according to the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute.

It might seem perverse to suggest a carbon tax — or “fee,” as some prefer to call it — just as average households are getting a break from gas prices. After all, the American middle class is still struggling with wage stagnation.

But those households need not be penalized. There are already detailed plans for protecting low- and middle-income households from the budget pinch of a carbon tax, which would affect not only gasoline but also home energy prices.

The bigger problem is that a carbon tax has no chance of passing a recalcitrant Republican Congress, many of whose members still insist that climate change isn’t real. The few GOP moderates who had, in the past, acknowledged human-caused climate change — New Jersey governor Chris Christie and former Florida governor Jeb Bush, for instance — dare not say so anymore.

It hasn’t always been this way inside the Republican Party. As The Wall Street Journal has noted, “Republicans, not Democrats, first championed market-based systems to control pollution.” In 2008, GOP nominee John McCain and his Democratic rival, Obama, had similar proposals for a carbon tax.

Nowadays, though, the carbon tax is anathema to an irrational Republican electorate. Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity, has said that any GOP candidate who supported a carbon tax “would be at a severe disadvantage in the Republican nomination process.” That helps explain why not a word has been uttered in support of it.

But that’s no reason to give up. Environmentalists and their allies have to keep plugging away at rational solutions, playing the long game. There really is no choice. Global warming is a crisis, no matter how big a blizzard batters the East Coast, and no matter how many igloos the Inhofe clan builds.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2007; Featured Post, The National Memo, January 23, 2016

January 24, 2016 Posted by | Carbon Emissions, Climate Change, Global Warming | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Why Liberals Have To Be Radicals”: Going After The Grotesquely Concentrated Wealth And Power At The Top

Just about nothing being proposed in mainstream politics is radical enough to fix what ails the economy. Consider everything that is destroying the life chances of ordinary people:

  • Young adults are staggered by $1.3 trillion in student debt. Yet even those with college degrees are losing ground in terms of incomes.
  • The economy of regular payroll jobs and career paths has given way to a gig economy of short-term employment that will soon hit four workers in 10.
  • The income distribution has become so extreme, with the one percent capturing such a large share of the pie, that even a $15/hour national minimum wage would not be sufficient to restore anything like the more equal economy of three decades ago. Even the mainstream press acknowledges these gaps.

The New York Times’s Noam Scheiber, using Bureau of Labor Statistics data, calculated that raising the minimum wage to $15 for the period 2009 to 2014 would have increased the total income for the 44 million Americans who earn less than $15 an hour by a total of $300 billion to $400 billion. But during the same period, Scheiber reported, the top 10 percent increased its income by almost twice that amount.

Scheiber concludes:

So even if we’d raised the minimum wage to $15 an hour, the top 10 percent would still have emerged from the 2009-2014 period with a substantially larger share of the increase in the nation’s income than the bottom 90 percent. Inequality would still have increased, just not by as much.

Restoring a more equal economy simply can’t be done by raising incomes at the bottom, even with a minimum wage high that seemed inconceivable just months ago. It requires going after the grotesquely concentrated wealth and power at the top.

Last week, another writer in the Times, Eduardo Porter, assessed Hillary Clinton’s eagerly anticipated speech on how to rescue the middle class.

Porter’s conclusion? Far from sufficient. He writes:

Mrs. Clinton’s collection of proposals is mostly sensible. The older ones — raising the minimum wage, guaranteeing child care to encourage women into the labor force, paying for early childhood education — have a solid track record of research on their side. The newer propositions, like encouraging profit-sharing, also push in the right direction.

But here’s the rub: This isn’t enough.

Nothing in mainstream politics takes seriously the catastrophe of global climate change. Few mainstream politicians have the nerve to call for a carbon tax.

The budget deadlock and the sequester mechanism, in which both major parties have conspired, makes it impossible to invest the kind of money needed both to modernize outmoded public infrastructure (with a shortfall now estimated at $3.4 trillion) or to finance a green transition.

The economy is so captive to financial engineers that even interest rates close to zero do not help mainstream businesses recover. There is still a vicious circle of inadequate purchasing power and insufficient domestic investment.

The rules of globalization and tax favoritism make it more attractive for companies to assemble products, export jobs and book profits overseas.

To remedy the problem of income inequality would require radical reform both of the rules of finance and of our tax code, as well as drastic changes in labor market regulation so that employees of hybrids such as Uber and TaskRabbit would have both decent earnings and the protections of regular payroll employees.

Congress would have to blow up the sequester deal that makes it impossible to invest money on the scale necessary to repair broken infrastructure and deal with the challenge of climate change.

Politicians would have to reform the debt-for-diploma system, not only going forward, as leaders like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have proposed, but also to give a great deal of debt relief to those saddled with existing loans.

Unions would need to regain the effective right to organize and bargain collectively.

This is all as radical as, well, … Dwight Eisenhower. Somehow, in the postwar era, ordinary people enjoyed economic security and opportunity; and despite the economy of broad prosperity, there were plenty of incentives for business to make decent profits. There just weren’t today’s chasms of inequality.

But the reforms needed to restore that degree of shared prosperity are somewhere to the left of Bernie Sanders.

This is one of those moments when there is broad popular frustration, a moment when liberal goals require measures that seem radical by today’s standards. If progressives don’t articulate those frustrations and propose real solutions, rightwing populists will propose crackpot ones. Muddle-through and token gestures won’t fool anybody.

 

By: Robert Kuttner, Co-Founder and Co- Editor, The American Prospect, July 22, 2015

July 25, 2015 Posted by | Economic Recovery, Economy, Middle Class | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Basically Impossible”: Chris Christie Promised To Tell It Like It Is. Here’s What That Would Actually Sound Like

In his presidential campaign announcement Tuesday, the reliably brash and blunt Chris Christie vowed that “telling like it is” would be both his campaign motto and his promise to voters.

Even for Christie, whose entire political persona is based on no-nonsense candor, consistently “telling it like it is” is basically impossible. Can you imagine if the New Jersey governor — or any of the other Republican candidates — really told it like it is about the most important issues and challenges facing America? What would that even sound like? Well, maybe something like this:

“…and that’s why I am announcing my candidacy for president of the United States! [Applause.] Thank you! Thank you! Now during my campaign, I’m going to tell it like it is. I’m going to let ‘er rip! [Applause.] Hard truths need to be spoken, and I will speak them.

‘What are these truths?’ you ask. For starters, we Republicans are way too focused on President Obama. Trust me, I’ll have a lot to say during this campaign about the president’s mistakes. Heaven knows, there’s been a lot of them. [Extended applause.] But he’s gone in a year and half. [Extended applause.]

Here’s the thing: The U.S. economy didn’t run into trouble the day Barack Obama took the oath of office. Even before the Great Recession, there were signs something wasn’t quite right. The economy grew by 4 percent annually and created 20 million new jobs during both the Reagan and Clinton booms. But in the [candidate makes air quotes] “Bush boom” of the 2000s, we couldn’t even hit 3 percent growth. And we created only about seven million jobs. Income growth was also a lot slower. I could go on and on. Productivity growth has been terrible during Obama’s Not-So-Great Recovery, but the slowdown started in 2006, when we had a Republican president. We’ve had problems with jobless recoveries and middle-income job lag since the early 1990s. Heck, the new business startup rate in this country has been falling for 30 years!

You can’t blame ObamaCare or Dodd Frank for all that. [Confused murmurs from audience.] The truth is technological automation and global competition are presenting new challenges to American workers. To meet those challenges and to turn them into opportunities means embracing new approaches, not recycling old ones. Certainly tax reform is part of the answer. I mean, we’re Republicans after all. Tax cuts are what we do. But you have to be savvy about cutting taxes when you’re already $18 trillion in the red. You need to pick your spots and get the most bang for your buck, like tax cuts and credits that boost working-class incomes — a rising tide is not lifting all boats right now — and spur business investment.

You want to do deep, across-the-board tax cuts like President Reagan did? Fine. God bless you. But keep in mind that for every percentage point you cut from those tax rates, you lose about $70 billion a year in revenue. And don’t expect to make up anywhere near that in economic growth. Even the Reagan tax cuts lost money, and the tax code was in far worse shape back then. [Unintelligible shouts from audience.] Heck, 40 percent of Americans don’t even pay income taxes.

Oh, and while we’re thinking about tax reform, keep in mind the federal tax burden will almost certainly need to rise in the future because we’ll have a lot more old folks. [Booing.] And we’ll have to pay for their pensions and healthcare. Smart entitlement and healthcare reform can reduce that tax increase — in that way it’s like a future tax cut — but it’s highly unlikely to eliminate it. Democrats need to accept that projected future benefits will need reduction, and Republicans need to accept a higher tax burden. [Extended booing.] Republicans should also be in favor of spending less money on rich people through tax breaks for homes and health insurance. [Several fist-shaking audience members stomp out.]

There’s just too much short-term thinking in this country. I mean, I’m no scientist, but we are doing something new to our planet and it hardly seems crazy to take out some insurance against a worst-case outcome. [Boos continue, get louder.] Let’s invest more in basic clean-energy research and remove regulatory barriers to more nuclear power. Maybe also eliminate the corporate income tax and replace it with a carbon tax. I note that even my friends on the Wall Street Journal editorial page said the other day that might be a good idea. And let’s not let Corporate America off the hook here. Too much short-termism there, as well, not just in Washington. Too much cash being returned to investors rather than going to fund new investment and innovation.

Now turning to foreign policy… Wait, where did everybody go?”

 

By: James Pethokoulis, The Week, July 2, 2015

July 5, 2015 Posted by | Chris Christie, Economic Growth, Economy | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Voice Of Reason”: Non-Insane Republicans Have To Stand Up And Denounce The Folks Who Kidnapped Their Party

Good on former Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) for giving the back of his hand to Gov. George Wallace, er, Mike Pence over the latter’s invitation to intolerance:

“I would not have passed this to begin with,” Richard G. Lugar, a former longtime Republican senator from Indiana, said in an interview. He added that he and three former Indianapolis mayors as well as the current mayor, Greg Ballard, also a Republican, intended to convey their concerns to Mr. Pence. Asked whether repeal would be preferable to some revision, Mr. Lugar, who was also once the mayor of Indianapolis, noted the complications.

“That’d be the cleanest way of remedying a mistake,” Mr. Lugar said, “but my guess is that a good number of the people who voted for this do not believe it is a mistake. The problem is pacifying them.”

Lugar, of course, represented one of the last vestiges of non-insane conservatism in the GOP–and, for his alleged ideological sins, he was crucified by the Tea Party in 2012, losing a Senate primary to a Pence-style wingnut named Richard Mourdock, who of course went on to lose the general election to Democrat Joe Donnelly.

I have more respect for Lugar than I have for the allegedly rational Republicans who keep their mouths shut whenever prominent members of their party do something nutty. For example, where were the pro-carbon-tax Republican economists such as Irwin Stelzer and Henry Paulson when Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) recently put forward a budget amendment scorning the idea? The St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial page went after Sen. Blunt the way Stelzer and Paulson should have:

Coal is very dirty fuel. Some of its pollutants can be scrubbed out, though the energy industry is fighting those regulations, too. The carbon dioxide in coal plant emissions can’t be scrubbed out. It goes into the atmosphere. The cost of that is socialized, passed on to society at large in the form of a hotter planet.

A carbon tax would require consumers to pay the social cost of fossil fuels — coal, gasoline, natural gas, methane, etc. When the social costs of private investments (say in a tank of gas) are included in the price, economists called it a “Pigovian” tax (after British economist Arthur Pigou).

Already the price of a tank of gas includes Pigovian taxes for wear and tear on federal and state highways. Your electric and gas bills have Pigovian fees built in for utility company infrastructure. A carbon tax would be a fee to cover the cost of damage you’re doing to the atmosphere…

Conservative economists like Gregory Mankiw of Harvard, who worked for President George W. Bush and for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, have proposed replacing payroll taxes with a carbon tax. Instead of taxing income, you’d tax the consumption of a damaging substance.

Other nations have adopted carbon taxes without disastrous results, offsetting them with tax deductions and rebates. This December, when the nations of the world meet in Paris to establish new goals for addressing climate change, it would be good if our exceptional nation wasn’t an exception. Right now all we bring to the carbon tax discussion is a firm belief in the concept of a free lunch.

If non-insane Republicans want their party back, they’re going to have to stand up and denounce the folks who kidnapped it in the first place. Lugar has done so. Stelzer and Paulson, among others, have not—and why not? Do they have laryngitis?

 

By: D.R. Tucker, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 4, 2015

April 5, 2015 Posted by | Indiana, Mike Pence, Tea Party | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Big Green Test”: Conservatives And Climate Change

On Sunday Henry Paulson, the former Treasury secretary and a lifelong Republican, had an Op-Ed article about climate policy in The New York Times. In the article, he declared that man-made climate change is “the challenge of our time,” and called for a national tax on carbon emissions to encourage conservation and the adoption of green technologies. Considering the prevalence of climate denial within today’s G.O.P., and the absolute opposition to any kind of tax increase, this was a brave stand to take.

But not nearly brave enough. Emissions taxes are the Economics 101 solution to pollution problems; every economist I know would start cheering wildly if Congress voted in a clean, across-the-board carbon tax. But that isn’t going to happen in the foreseeable future. A carbon tax may be the best thing we could do, but we won’t actually do it.

Yet there are a number of second-best things (in the technical sense, as I’ll explain shortly) that we’re either doing already or might do soon. And the question for Mr. Paulson and other conservatives who consider themselves environmentalists is whether they’re willing to accept second-best answers, and in particular whether they’re willing to accept second-best answers implemented by the other party. If they aren’t, their supposed environmentalism is an empty gesture.

Let me give some examples of what I’m talking about.

First, consider rules like fuel efficiency standards, or “net metering” mandates requiring that utilities buy back the electricity generated by homeowners’ solar panels. Any economics student can tell you that such rules are inefficient compared with the clean incentives provided by an emissions tax. But we don’t have an emissions tax, and fuel efficiency rules and net metering reduce greenhouse gas emissions. So a question for conservative environmentalists: Do you support the continuation of such mandates, or are you with the business groups (spearheaded by the Koch brothers) campaigning to eliminate them and impose fees on home solar installations?

Second, consider government support for clean energy via subsidies and loan guarantees. Again, if we had an appropriately high emissions tax such support might not be necessary (there would be a case for investment promotion even then, but never mind). But we don’t have such a tax. So the question is, Are you O.K. with things like loan guarantees for solar plants, even though we know that some loans will go bad, Solyndra-style?

Finally, what about the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal that it use its regulatory authority to impose large reductions in emissions from power plants? The agency is eager to pursue market-friendly solutions to the extent it can — basically by imposing emissions limits on states, while encouraging states or groups of states to create cap-and-trade systems that effectively put a price on carbon. But this will nonetheless be a partial approach that addresses only one source of greenhouse gas emissions. Are you willing to support this partial approach?

By the way: Readers well versed in economics will recognize that I’m talking about what is technically known as the “theory of the second best.” According to this theory, distortions in one market — in this case, the fact that there are large social costs to carbon emissions, but individuals and firms don’t pay a price for emitting carbon — can justify government intervention in other, related markets. Second-best arguments have a dubious reputation in economics, because the right policy is always to eliminate the primary distortion, if you can. But sometimes you can’t, and this is one of those times.

Which brings me back to Mr. Paulson. In his Op-Ed he likens the climate crisis to the financial crisis he helped confront in 2008. Unfortunately, it’s not a very good analogy: In the financial crisis he could credibly argue that disaster was only days away, while the climate catastrophe will unfold over many decades.

So let me suggest a different analogy, one that he probably won’t like. In policy terms, climate action — if it happens at all — will probably look like health reform. That is, it will be an awkward compromise dictated in part by the need to appease special interests, not the clean, simple solution you would have implemented if you could have started from scratch. It will be the subject of intense partisanship, relying overwhelmingly on support from just one party, and will be the subject of constant, hysterical attacks. And it will, if we’re lucky, nonetheless do the job.

Did I mention that health reform is clearly working, despite its flaws?

The question for Mr. Paulson and those of similar views is whether they’re willing to go along with that kind of imperfection. If they are, welcome aboard.

 

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, June 22, 2014

 

 

June 24, 2014 Posted by | Carbon Emissions, Clean Energy, Climate Change | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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