Carbon taxes: Macron is an idiot

Zut alors! Ze Chef Frog, Macron, ‘e iz not ‘appy wiz ze prix of ze Carbon: Europe needed a significant minimum carbon price to boost investment in its energy transition, and a European carbon tax at the bloc’s borders to guarantee fair competition for its companies… Macron said Europe had to give “the right price signal” for carbon emissions, and make them sufficiently high enough to attract investments. He said that a carbon price below 25 to 30 euros ($35.31) per ton was not efficient to spur investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency. If in the years ahead, we don’t have a significant price of carbon per ton to allow for a profound change in our economies, then it would be worthless. France has also been pushing for a reform of the carbon European Emissions Trading System (ETS). Carbon prices under the system, which charges companies for each ton of carbon dioxide they emit, have fallen to about 7 euros a ton from about 30 euros in 2008 because of a glut of permits.

…and zo on and zo forth. But all of this is vair silly, because as any fule kno, when you issue carbon permits, as the ETS does, you limit your emissions, because in your wisdom you have decided how much CO2 you wish to emit. So, a glut of permits means your schemes have been a brilliant success: emissions have indeed been limited, just as you wished. Had you wanted a price on carbon, you should have imposed a carbon tax instead. Obviously, no-one would suggest that the EU was too stupid to think of this; nor that the ETS was doomed from the start because a bunch of pols would certainly dish out an excess of permits to their favoured industries in order to buy votes, thereby totally undermining the scheme.

Is this all a bit negative? Couldn’t I at least give Macron some credit for at least wanting to raise the price, even if he’s a bit clueless about how to do it? Meh, maybe. Perhaps I’m being too radical. But I’d really rather him just to admit that the ETS is a failure, rip it up, and replace it with a carbon tax. Also, I suppose it is possible that Reuters have garbled his words; I haven’t found what he actually said. Furthermore there are hints about carbon tax in his election manifesto, but I haven’t found that, either. I did find Climat : Qu’est ce qu’il se joue réellement aujourd’hui au niveau mondial ? but apart from offering the amusement of Google translate turning “J’adhere” into “I adhesive”, wasn’t much use.


* Yet more carbon tax
* A response to a response to a proportionate response
* Rendre notre planète géniale à nouveau
* Macron’s ‘Make Climate Great Again’ campaign hires US scientists – although not literally; actually “Macron is scheduled to unveil some of the marquee scientists selected on December 12th”.

Global Warming Advocate Shoots Self in Head?

According to robbservations.blogspot, which may not be the most reliable of sources. Also, it is from 2009, so not fresh either; but someone asked about it so I thought I’d reply. Context:

The theory of anthropogenic Global Warming rests on the so-called “idealized greenhouse model”. This Wikipedia link (Idealized greenhouse model) by a “climate researcher” and global warming advocate presents the core theory, and offers excellent insight into the problems of the fundamental premise of global warming, though that is not his intent.

It might be fairer to look at the version from December 2009, but I don’t think it has changed greatly since. First off, this was aimed at me, and although I had the last edit at that point, I didn’t create it or even add most of the content; that was User:Incredio, inactive since 2013 (no-one from the outside understands wiki). But it is fair to say that AGW “rests on” the ideas in that page. If you’re interested, I have a 2014 post grinding through the details1; R. W. Wood: Note on the Theory of the Greenhouse is also worth a read. Continuing:

The principle cause of any greenhouse effect is that of a one-way thermal blanket — one which passes most wavelengths of the sun’s energy, yet insulates infrared from the other direction — energy radiated back up from the heated ground below. This is how a real greenhouse works — most energy is in the visible bands, and it passes through glass panes to heat the ground. The ground heats up and re-radiates back in the infrared wavelengths for which the glass is opaque.

Calling it a “thermal blanket” is unhelpful but commonplace. Asserting that this is how a real greenhouse works is wrong: real greenhouses work by suppressing convection; see the R. W. Wood link, for example. But although this indicates that Rob’s observations may not be entirely reliable, they aren’t yet fatal to whatever he is trying to say, because whatever heats a real greenhouse is irrelevant. Continue, Rob, but do try to focus.

The premise of global warming is that certain gases in the upper atmosphere — principally water, CO2 and Methane — are disposed to absorb infrared. In the simplified analysis, they absorb ALL the infrared coming up from the Earth. The absorbed radiation eventually is re-emitted, but isotropically — in all directions. Consequently, 50% of the absorbed infrared is radiated up toward space, and the other 50% is “trapped” — radiated back toward the Earth. This causes the Earth’s surface temperature to rise till a state of equilibrium is reached, where the rate of re-radiation into space increases till it balances the energy absorbed from the Earth below.

He’s doing pretty well with this, so on:

In essence the Greenhouse hypothesis is developed like this:

  1. The atmosphere is transparent to all solar energy (not true);
  2. The Earth absorbs all incident solar energy without reflection (not true);
  3. The ground and heated air above the ground re-radiate the solar spectrum with a blackbody temperature shifted downward toward the infrared spectrum (true);
  4. Certain atmospheric gases make the atmosphere mostly opaque to all this ground radiation (false);
  5. The ground radiation is absorbed in thermally broadened atomic lines of certain gases concentrated in an infinitely thin atmospheric layer (reasonable);
  6. The absorbed ground radiation is radiated isotropically, so half of it goes back toward Earth, raising the surface temperature (reasonable).

1 is indeed the usual approximation. It isn’t true – and indeed, you don’t even need to assume it in the idealised model – but you may as well assume it because it makes the basic principles clearer, simplifies the maths, and doesn’t lose you any precision because so many other things are imprecise anyway. Abstraction is important when trying to understand the underlying principles of things; don’t get bogged down in details until you need to. All that is actually necessary for the model to work is this regard is that the atmosphere is transparent to most or just to some of the incoming solar; and this is undoubtedly true.

2 is also a usual approximation, and just like 1 is a useful simplification. Just like 1 it isn’t necessary; all that is necessary is that some is absorbed at the surface; or even more generally that the atmosphere is heated from below. 3 we’re agreed on, although he’s garbled it slightly. 4 is again an approximation, depends on wavelength; again, see 1. 5 and 6 will do. OK, so, great: where’s the great Head-Shooting going to happen?

There’s then a couple of paragraphs worrying about exactly which bands CO2 (and methane) absorb in, and how these interact with water vapour absorption. Then:

The Wiki article calculates and asserts that if the atmosphere absorbs 78% of all radiation from the ground, it predicts the average global temperature of 288K to within 0.3 degree. Remarkable. I’m in awe.

Rob is looking for something to attack, so attacks some spurious precision, but this is unimportant. The entire model is an approximation. You can get lots of different numbers out of it, depending on exactly what constants you put into it. One of the more important is Earth’s albedo to incoming solar shortwave radiation, which obviously you can’t calculate from this model and need to specify. Then:

calculates from this an average global temperature increase [due to CO2 doubling] of 1.2K in the absence of water vapor (clouds)

Oh. Oh dear. We’re now onto looking at GW with this simple model; but we’ve failed to identify any important flaws in the model, other than that it’s an approximation, but we already knew that. This is disappointing, but let’s push on; perhaps there’s some flaw in how it handles GW that’s of interest.

some hand-waving assumptions that says higher surface temperature increases water vapor with positive feedback (because water absorbs longwave radiation up from the Earth), so the real temperature rise from a doubling of CO2 will be 2.4K — even more dire.

Even more disappointing. Positive feedback on water vapour (only a colonial would write vapor) is indeed a commonplace, but it is no part of the idealised model. If you’re interested in how the real world will respond to CO2 increases then you’ll need to think about how water vapour will change; but that’s a different matter. Let’s plough on a bit further:

higher water vapor (from evaporation of the Earth’s oceans and lakes) means more clouds, and more clouds means more sunlight is reflected back into space. This will reduce the amount of solar energy absorbed by the Earth.

Indeed. How cloud feedback affects the overall feedback is an interesting and complex research item; but it forms no part of the idealised model, because it can’t. The idealised model is too simple to contain clouds, except subtly folded into things like the overall albedo. You can, if you like, specify changes in cloud albedo into the model; but you can’t possibly deduce them from the model. So Rob has wandered well off his subject onto other matters, without as far as I can see making the slightest dent on the idealised model. Is there more? Alas there is:

To say that this is an egregious omission is being inadequate. It would be like saying ignoring the Nazi conquest of Poland…

Godwin!. Rob loses. There’s another post which (I didn’t bother read the details, I hope you understand) appears to be doing the usual there’s-a-lot-of-overlap-with-water-vapour-so-CO2-doesn’t-do-anything stuff. What happens is this: people read the simple explanations (like the wiki one) and perhaps other stuff from govt websites; and then from whatever source discover the overlap stuff, and have the arrogance to assume that this is a major hole in the theory that people haven’t thought about, just because they haven’t seen it written into the popular expositions. Weird. Anyway, see stuff like
A Saturated Gassy Argument
if you want the std.reply.


1. Sigh: some of the pix from someone else’s site have rotted; never mind, they’re only the take-down.

Talking with the taxman about carbon

MI0001719482 Those of you paying attention will have noticed several approving references here recently to Cafe Hayek, run by one Don Boudreaux (an American libertarian economist, author, professor…). For economics or law, I like it. For GW, it is regrettable; for example, he’s keen on George Will.

Aanyway, just recently he ventured into why he oppose[s] a Pigouvian tax on carbon emissions, and the results are unconvincing. Which is a shame, because I would have been interested in a coherent argument. Instead, we’re treated to an unconvincing analogy (calling for such a tax strikes me as being akin, say, to homeowners whose homes have been routinely vandalized calling on the vandals to vandalize also the factories that produce the spray paint, sledge hammers, and crow bars used by vandals), and an argument that essentially says “you can’t trust a govt, therefore all tax is bad” (I’m not totally opposed to him making such and argument, but then I can’t see why you’d restrict it to Pigouvian taxes; it would apply to all tax; but if his argument is all-tax-is-bad then he should say that, clearly). There is one bit that can be argued to make some sense (What good reason is there to believe that the same agency – the state – that has routinely distorted energy, and other, markets… will reliably implement and enforce such an optimal tax?) And indeed, it is rare to hear a discussion of carbon taxes that doesn’t rapidly veer off into “of course my favourite cause will not have to pay these taxes”. But meh; that’s just pols talking so isn’t a strong argument against any particular tax.

I commented. Naturally, I was too unimportant to be worth replying to (or, more optimistically, my arguments were irrefutable and so he made no attempt to defend his indefensible post). But Timmy also commented – and DB has approvingly quoted Timmy in the past – and this time DB did feel obliged to reply. But to me his reply is just mush.

[Update: DB has another go, but I think he is just repeating himself; there’s nothing new there. Notice, if you do visit, that the quote is somewhat misleading; they are trying to adduce the respected Coase to their side, but actually he has nothing to say on GW; the connection to GW is instead by the far less respectable Bailey.]

[Later update: and, sigh, also puffing nonsense like How the Debate on Climate Change Is Cooling Down, by Marian L. Tupy; as usual you’re better off reading RC. And he’s still going; and more.]

Life’s a riot with JA vs JA “I am the milkman of human kindness, I will leave an extra pint”. But not today; try Dover beach if you want me being nice.

In this strange shadowy incestuous world of the blogosphere, it is hard sometimes to remember that there’s an outside world, and even otherwise well-informed and intelligent people find the banter somewhat confusing.

In this case the offending item is a tweet of mine, and I keep forgetting that Twitter forwards my tweets to fb, where people not in the know may actually read them. And the offending words are:

The parties to this are James Annan (Il buono) and Judith A. Curry (il1 cattivo, then, I suppose she must be). Astute perusal of those links will show that I’m not entirely unbiased in this matter, but in counterpoint to that, I am right. The particular bit of banter ran:

* James: <thing that annoyed Curry> (oh yes; it was her puffing Murry Salby)
* Judith: FYI, my cv
* James: Thanks but we’re not hiring right now.

Quite why Curry was dumb enough to think that argument-from-authority in the shape of her CV was going to win her any points will just have to remain one of those mysteries. Also, it looks to me as though her CV needs an update; it claims she is still a Prof, but I think she’s Ex and even she says she’s heading for Emeritus.

As an introduction-for-the-uninitiated to Curry, I find that I don’t have much to add to the link above: She is suffering – uninterestingly – from having nowhere to go. Her scientific papers are of no interest but she is, by now, accustomed to a role in the “scientific debate”. With nothing to say on the “light side” she is inevitably left talking to the dark side. Somewhat like Richard Lindzen. Whereas James can run faster than me.

The immeadiate issue is the Red Team nonsense. There’s something of interest there, because Trump-or-the-GOP are kinda keen to splash out and buy themselves some rentaclimatologists, and there are plenty for sale, but obviously they don’t want the cheap tarnished ones they want some with at least a surface veneer, and there aren’t many of those on the market. Is Curry on the market? She’s now an ex-prof and still, achingly, not-really-famous. I think James has it close to right when he says now she’s obviously been tapped up for membership of the “team”, it’s finally dawned on her that she’d have to work with a bunch of crazies and losers who have no idea what the hell they are talking about. What hasn’t dawned on her yet, is that that’s where she belongs. The bit that’s missing is something I find hard to put into words. Perhaps the idea of an auction, or biding one’s time. Sell yourself too early, and you’re just one of the forgettable cannon fodder. Wait too long and it’s all over. Trump, despite all his pro-coal rhetoric and pulling-out-of-Paris hasn’t showered boondoggles on the “skeptics” and they must be feeling disappointed. Probably the case is that Trump-et-al aren’t really interested in having an scientific advisors on their executive team; there aren’t really any spare places. After all, a scientific advisor is only going to use long words that Trump doesn’t understand, and why would he want that? He already knows what he wants – he wants whatever is running through his head that moment, another bad feature of a science advisor is that they might have a memory and be impolitic enough to use it – so he doesn’t need a scientific advisor he needs, well, a snake-oil saleman I suppose.


1. Or “lo cattiva”, perhaps, as one of my somewhat more linguistically astute friends points out via fb.


* Via ATTP (who really should know better by now) I find the amusing Vitaly Khvorostyanov responds (arch).

We need to make democracy work in the fight to save the planet?

21586814_10155690861412350_3358290160055203579_o By AC Grayling in the Graun, h/t Timmy. And it’s the thing you’ve read so many times before, the idea that Democracy is great but, alas, doesn’t deliver what the article writer wants. In this case the thing he wants is something all right-thinking people want, a solution to GW, but that doesn’t mean the logic of the article is any good. And indeed it isn’t; the klew if you need one is There is nothing new in this. Plato, two and a half millennia ago, criticised democracy precisely because of this. But this is now a major life-threatening dilemma for our time. Despite being given loadsa space in the Graun for his views, the nearest he has for a positive suggestion only occurs about 4/5 of the way down, and it is: an overwhelming, unceasing drive to educate and re-educate every single individual on the planet about climate change. Which is vague, hardly novel, and in the “re-education” element has somewhat disturbing connotations.

He’s wrong

So first off, I think he is wrong. If you want democracy to “solve” GW in something more than the incoherent way that we’re doing so far, attempting to “educate” the populace in the specific area of GW is the wrong way to go about it. For two reasons. One is that within the education system, this determined education drive is already happening, and has been for quite some time now, at least a decade. And two is that what is missing is far more general: something like a more active citizenry; a more inquiring mind; even, perhaps, a resistance to being led by low-quality articles in the meeja and an ability to tear them apart.

The Shadow of Plato

If philosophers quoting Plato on governance doesn’t ring alarm bells with you, then you should read The Open Society and Its Enemies. And Grayling is a pro, so must have read it. In which case, what’s with the Plato-approval?

The solution

Obviously, I’m not going to wimp out of offering my solution. Which is the obvious: more Popper, less Grayling.

Avoiding dangerous to catastrophic climate change?

DSC_6952 ATTP started it by posting on Well below 2 °C: Mitigation strategies for avoiding dangerous to catastrophic climate changes by Yangyang Xua and Veerabhadran Ramanathan. But as you can tell from ATTP’s post, the principal question – although he is far too polite to put it so bluntly – is “where’s the novelty?”1 All their GHG and temperature scenarios, as they themselves stress, are consistent with IPCC; so there’s nothing new there. Neither are the stochastic runs and attempts to assess the probabilities of exceeding various thresholds. Neither, alas, are the attaching of arbitrary labels to arbitrary temperature thresholds, although this is without doubt the bit that will interest the meeja.

FWIW, I think that 3oC GW is certainly “dangerous”, though I’d be hard pressed to assign a clear meaning to the term.

I could try reading their PR which confirms my suspicions: A new study evaluating models of future climate scenarios has led to the creation of the new risk categories “catastrophic” and “unknown” to characterize the range of threats posed by rapid global warming. I think that really does mean tht the labels are the novelty. They continue, Researchers propose that unknown risks imply existential threats to the survival of humanity which is either meaningless or vacuous, I can’t quite tell which.

While I’m here, I’ll quote Climate risks can vary markedly depending on the socioeconomic status and culture of the population… the poorest 3 billion people living mostly in tropical rural areas, who are still relying on 18th-century technologies for meeting basic needs such as cooking and heating… mostly subsistent farmers, whose livelihood will be severely impacted, if not destroyed, with a one- to five-year megadrought, heat waves, or heavy floods… But the article errs, I think, in not considering possible changes to this population. Certainly the proportion, and absolute number, of people living in absolute poverty has decreased over the last 50 or 100 years, and can be expected to continue to decrease, especially or almost entirely if their governance improves; see-also Harvey. That doesn’t help the ecosystems, of course. But the West has entirely removed the class of “subsistence farmers”2; everyone else will follow suite in due course.


1. Yes I know it’s ironic, isn’t it?

2. That’s someone, errm, telological, perhaps. No-one called “the West” decided to remove this class of people. But “the West” provided the kind of society in which no-one wanted to be a subsistence farmer, and no-one had to be if they didn’t want to be.

3. Picture: panel in font, Vallouise.


* rump administration loosens Obama’s guidelines for self-driving cars: States are advised against setting up too many regulations; the Verge.
* How A Warm Winter Destroyed 85 Percent Of Georgia’s Peaches – 538.
* Economics says time to shut down some coal plants (even ignoring externalities) – Brian at Eli’s.

The idea that climate scientists are in it for the cash has deep ideological roots? Or, “world is not as I like it shocker; villain must be found!”. Again; sigh.

[Note: the link above is a mangled version of an iframe. WP auto-mangles it “for security reasons”. See the stoat archive if you want the original.]

In this case the normally sensible Graham Readfearn in the Graun has picked up the unfortunately not very sensible Nancy MacLean‘s “Democracy in chains”2 and run with it. GR is sad about cynicism about the motives of public servants, including government-backed climate scientists and so is attracted to “reasons” why this might be so; and of course he like all right-thinking people hates the very word “Koch”; the combination is irresistible.

If you read GR’s article is is fairly clear that he isn’t familiar with what he’s talking about; he says frankly at one point In an interview at the Brisbane writers festival, MacLean told me… and it looks like much of the “information” is just parrotting MacLean. If you’re actually interested in the history of Mont Pelerin, then you’re better off reading The Great Persuasion: Reinventing Free Markets since the Depression; or in the rather-more-likely event of you not feeling up to it, just my report on it. If you’re interested in public choice theory then you’re better off reading the Wiki article than the caricature in GR’s article. OTOH, if you don’t like Libertarians or their ilk but do like having your prejudices confirmed, by all means stick with the Graun.

What “public choice theory” actually does is recommend considering politicians (and other “public servants”) as human beings like any others, rather than as idealised nobility. To some this is anathema; as GR’s article quotes, Prof Steven Kelman, at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy school of government, wrote that Buchanan’s view was a “terrible caricature of reality” and belied the public spirit of elected representatives and government officials. This is akin to the level of discourse in the UK, where nurses are always “angels”1.

So all of GR’s point boils down to Suggesting that climate scientists are pushing a line about global warming because their salaries depend on it is a popular talking point that deniers love to throw around… But to suggest global warming exists only because climate scientists need the money, you need to ignore… [all the obvious things]. But (just like NMcL’s duff book) GR has failed to make the connections. There’s no connection made between PCT and denialism. The logical level is “PCT would tend to suggest X, denialists say X, therefore denialists are led by PCT”. This is simplistic to the point of silliness. Denialists aren’t sophisticated enough to be led by PCT; but they do possess the very minimal level of intelligence required to copy someone else’s obvious idea that it might be possible to smear scientists motives.

This is Exxon type thinking all over again. “Our problems are caused by super-villains” type stuff. They aren’t. They are caused by a whole complicated interlocking problems amongst which ranks highly the self-interest of the vast bulk of the populace; and our broken political systems. And PCT points towards the underlying problems with said broken political systems; and we won’t fix them by denying it.


1. Until they get convicted, at which point they become “angels of death” :-). This is not to say that public officials are never motivated by a spirit of service. Many are. But many are not; and treating the entire system as though it was composed of those who are so motivated is an error.

2. I wasn’t intending to argue about the book here unless you want to. I do need to point out that The book documents how wealthy conservatives… with the objective, MacLean says, of undermining the functions of government in the United States is a fundamental error. MacLean’s enemies3 certainly want to organise things differently to her; but are more nearly constitutionalists. It isn’t clear to me if NMcL is just using the std.propaganda technique of lying about her enemies, or simply doesn’t understand them. If you want the rebuttals to the book, the obvious source I know of is Don Boudreaux.

3. As in, “people she regards as her enemy”.


* The World Turned Upside Down (and what to do about it)
* Win for Climate Science and the AAUP: Today the Arizona Court of Appeals rejected attempts by a “free market” legal foundation to use public records requests to compel faculty members to release emails related to their climate research.
* The left has a problem with public choice economics.