It's Time to Admit that CO2 Abatement is Going to be Freaking Expensive

I have to tell one of my favorite stories of chutzpah.  In the 1940's and 1950's, railroads were making the transition from steam engines to diesel engines.  One of the changes was that a diesel engine only needed a driver, it did not need a fireman as steam engines did to shovel coal and keep the boiler running well.   The unions of course saw this coming.  So what did they do?  They preemptively made the demand that diesel engines should have to have TWO fireman.  Railroads spent so much time fighting this insane proposal that it took them years to get the firemen per locomotive to the correct number (ie zero).

I am reminded of this story when I think of how the Obama administration has handled the issue of CO2 abatement.  Reasonable people understand that CO2 abatement will be horrifically expensive - it just will not be cheap in terms of cost or lost economic output and lost personal liberties to take the country back to a CO2 per capita it last had in the 19th century.     But rather than taking this on, the Obama administration preemtively attacked, saying that in fact Co2 abatement would lead to economic growth and job creation.  This was the broken windows fallacy on steroids, but the usual progressive illiterates and consumers of party talking points have run with it.

We are finally getting folks to start to address the true costs of CO2 abatement, and they are enormous.  People who push the precautionary principle try to say that even a small risk of climate catastrophe outweighs some minor abatement costs.  But does a small change of manmade warming outweigh a near certainty of enormous economic costs?

I have said for years that to really get to an 80% reduction target, gas prices would have to rise over $20 a gallon  (they are at $10 already in Europe and they are no where near the targets).  Some researchers looked at the gas price implications of more modest CO2 targets:

To meet the Obama administration's targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, some researchers say, Americans may have to experience a sobering reality: gas at $7 a gallon.

To reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the transportation sector 14 percent from 2005 levels by 2020, the cost of driving must simply increase, according to a forthcoming report by researchers at Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

And this is with a straight tax, probably the most efficient way to hit the targets.  The study agreed that other intervenist approaches didn't seem to work as well as a straight tax:

In the modeling, it turned out that issuing tax credits could backfire, while taxes on fuel proved beneficial.


  1. IgotBupkis:

    > People who push the precautionary principle try to say that even a small risk of climate catastrophe outweighs some minor abatement costs.

    This is not the Precautionary Principle -- it's Pascal's Wager, which is a defective form of the PP. The PP examines alternatives and includes them in the decision making process.

    Pascal's Wager takes place in a vacuum, with no consideration of what happens if the basic premise is truly wrong (i.e, what if the Hindus are right?)

    In the AGW case, one of the more obvious concerns is, "What if we're entering an ice age, and our CO2 release is the only thing holding it off?" Doubtful, but at least as likely as AGW is.

  2. Ben:

    Wait... their forgetting to use that "extra" tax income to fund some ridiculous program to reduce CO2. Kind of like they did with cigarettes and health care.

  3. Sybil:

    I've heard that the co2 panic politics is a big fake only to force us people to buy some products and life more "öko"!

  4. IgotBupkis:

    > Wait… they're forgetting to use that “extra” tax income to fund some ridiculous program to reduce CO2. Kind of like they did with cigarettes and health care.

    No, that was mostly a scam, too. For cigarettes, one of the more effective means of stopping smoking is using "the patch" in conjunction with a stop smoking program.

    "The patch", however, costs about *3x* the price of the cigarettes it replaces (yes, it's THAT much more expensive than an already ridiculously expensive -- thanks mostly to the taxes on it -- habit).

    So one of the more clearly obvious and effective things to do would be to subsidize "the patch" from cigarette taxes.

    Do they do this?

    No, they fund anti-smoking jackasses doing stupid "This is what Almaville, OH would look like if all the people in it were gone. (Using our inflated statistics) Cigarette smoking kills enough people to depopulate Almaville and 47 other towns like it each year..." commercials.

    Yeah, "anti-smoking commercials". Made using bogus statistics. That's the best use of cigarette taxes...

    Because people who smoke, they don't have any idea that it's bad for them, and that they shouldn't do it, and need to be *informed* about that. Uh-huh. Yeesh.

    I don't smoke, but there are times I'm tempted to take up the practice just so I can blow smoke in some peoples' faces.

    You see, the point isn't to actually MAKE people stop smoking. That would
    a) cut taxes from smokers
    b) cut taxes from tobacco growers
    c) require tobacco growers to grow some much less lucrative crop (an acre of tobacco netted around $2500 an acre. The next most lucrative crop, corn, nets only about $600 an acre. Those are dated stats, as they are quite old, but I assure you that the ratios aren't likely to have changed much). Tobacco is also one of the more heavily subsidized crops, as well. Right. The government ENCOURAGES tobacco growing.
    d) Wind up cutting the budgets of all the programs that have been created both to support tobacco use AND to support tobacco cessation (Note, BTW -- how the government funds two programs with directly opposing goals, here. Does that strike you as rational?)

    So the moneys are put to far less useful purposes like anti-smoking commercials and programs which demonize business for actually DARING to create a product which people want and whose use is (despite its psychologically addictive qualities) still pretty much entirely voluntary.

    And never, ever used to support successful mechanisms for smoking cessation...

  5. IgotBupkis:


    P.S., when Obama was looking to supposedly "pare back" on expenditures, to "cut the growing federal deficit", does anyone think he looked at cutting ALL moneys from the above programs and bureaucracies? -- Every one of them?





  6. ADiff:

    Thank God for the Internet! Whatever it's detriments, were it not for this revolutionary resource I believe the hysteria around AGW would just have been accepted, ignoring the shortcomings and flaws in the science as well as the fundamental oversight of simply ignoring any rational cost-benefit appraisal, much in the manner of historic DDT bans that have essentially resulted in millions of human deaths, massive economic losses and every loss and ill that follows from these. Whatever a rational proceeding in those decisions might have resulted, we can never again afford to simply accept on faith a moral imperative for massive economic action. The Precautionary Principle (in it's real sense rather than miscast as Pascal's Wager!) must prevail and we must examine not only the supported basis for such proposals, but the likely costs and benefits resulting, in fact, as well as of alternatives...including the null hypothesis of doing nothing of the kind...instead of just firing from the hip based on false 'consensus' and subsequently ignoring and trying to pretend the consequences of our actions never existed. It's been said "with great power comes great responsibility". Action with such massive consequence primarily on the basis of our sensitivities, our beliefs and our feelings, without prudent and comprehensive consideration of the impacts, is fundamentally immoral.

  7. Fred from Canuckistan:

    and on the flip side of abatement, the enormously vapid rush into "alternative energy" . . .

    "“Alternative” energy is really Weather-Dependent Energy" . . .

  8. Ted Rado:

    As is becoming more and more evident, the idea of reducing CO2 emmisions by 80% is economic suicide. However, there is one point that needs to be addressed. In a few hundred years, we will be out of fossil fuels. It is stated that we have a 118 year supply of NG, a 400 year supply of coal, etc. These numbers may be extended by technological improvements. But, at some point in the furure, mankind must devise a scheme of existence that does not include substantial amounts of fossil fuels. By that time, we will hopefully have changed cities, industry, farming, etc. to accomodate that situation. Some things, like electricity, can be produced without fossil fuels. Many other things cannot.

    There needs to be some long term planning for this eventuality. Does anyone know of a "think tank" that is doing this sort of study? All the energy related efforts I see are directed at perpetuating our current life style, which seems to me to be destined for disappearance when fossil fuels run out or are priced out of existence by short supply. Comments, anyone?

    By he way, at such time as we run out of fossil fuels, the current flap over CO2 will seem like a comedy from the past.

  9. Steve D:

    Advancements in culture and civilization correlate very well to increases in global temperature. The average temperature of the globe is well below the optimal for humans and their crops. Increasing the average temperature of the world would open up huge areas for growing crops and living areas. All in all global warming would probably be a huge benefit to mankind and a great benefit to the environment as well including enhancing the diversity so loved by the environmentalists.

    And now you tell me its not going to happen?

    “But, at some point in the future, mankind must devise a scheme of existence that does not include substantial amounts of fossil fuels.”

    That already exists. Alternative energy is nuclear energy and it is safer, cleaner, more concentrated and minus the politics cheaper than fossil fuels. It is definitely not weather dependent. It will last for thousands of years. Mankind doesn’t have to worry about running out of energy any time soon.

    “Some things, like electricity, can be produced without fossil fuels. Many other things cannot.”

    All of this stuff can be produced by other means if you have a large source of energy. (e.g. Plants or bacteria can be genetically engineered to produce plastic)

    “What if we’re entering an ice age, and our CO2 release is the only thing holding it off?” Doubtful, but at least as likely as AGW is”

    Probably not as doubtful as you might think. Whatever effect CO2 is having on climate it will be superimposed on natural cycles. I don’t think it will hold off an ice age for very long but it might make the temperatures during the ice age slightly higher than they otherwise would be. Clearly AGW really should not mean warming over time but simply that man is making it warmer than the temperature would have been otherwise. Proving this though is extremely difficult.

  10. Not Sure:

    "There needs to be some long term planning for this eventuality. Does anyone know of a “think tank” that is doing this sort of study?" - Ted Rado

    You mean- is anybody trying to figure out how to make a profit by supplying energy to willing buyers? No doubt somebody is.

    The question to be asking is- "How badly is the government going to be screwing up their efforts by trying to force development of new energy sources in the direction the government wants them to go?"

  11. Thom Moses:

    CO2 feeds the world
    Progressives Tax the world

    And where is all this money coming from to pay all the "high paid green workers".

    We won't need high priced energy, there will be no productive jobs and we won't need the "green" work force.

    One gallon of gasoline and 1 person can cut up 1 cord of fire wood which is worth atleast 500 gals of heating oil (probably 1000) making the U.S. less dependent on foriegn oil.

  12. ADiff:

    What "highly paid green workers"? Not only are they nowhere in prospect, they've also failed entirely to appear where this has been tried (Spain, for example).

    Seems to me all these jobs are a bunch of semi-skilled labor weatherizing buildings and installing PV and passive solar systems, at best. And it's a safe bet that most of those PV arrays and solar systems will be manufactured, yep, overseas, where wages are lower and environmental regulation less onerous and expensive. So essentially it all boils down to a transfer from tax payers (of this and future generations) to insiders...payola in fact.

    And all this at the cost of crippling industries that really do have a chance to be profitable and competitive....

    Sheesh! What a farcical tragedy!