Existential Threats

September 21, 2021

“Existential threat.” It’s a term that gets thrown around a lot these days. What is an existential threat? It’s something that threatens your very existence. Someone who wants to murder you is an existential threat to you. You will stop at nothing to stop that person because your life depends on it. Another nation that wants to overthrow our own nation and make it their subject is an existential threat. Our nation’s continued survival depends on stopping that other nation, just as we had to do in World War II to stop Japan and Germany. Every citizen took part in mustering everything we had to fight them.

So, when you hear that term used today, you would expect an all-out effort to combat the threat. Consider China. Over the past 2-3 decades, China has used trade to its advantage to put it on a path to becoming the world’s most dominant economy, making us utterly dependent on them for virtually everything while draining the wealth from our own economy through their massive trade surplus. And, using those trade dollars, they’ve engaged in a massive military build-up and have begun bullying other nations in that part of the world. Belatedly, our own leaders now consider China to be the biggest existential threat that we may face in the world.

To counter that threat, Biden just cut a deal with Australia and Great Britain to provide Australia with eight new nuclear-powered submarines. That’s about $24 billion worth of naval power. If we’re willing to go to that extent, wouldn’t you think that we’d jump at the chance to put an end to China’s ambitions for a teeny, tiny fraction of that cost? Trump, Biden’s predecessor, left him with the perfect tool to do exactly that when he cornered them into agreeing to the “Phase 1” trade deal in January of 2020. Take major steps toward reducing their trade surplus with the U.S., or have a 25% tariff slapped on the remaining half of their exports to the U.S., just like Trump had already done to the other half. That was the deal.

China agreed to it but, not surprisingly, they never intended to comply, believing that we would never enforce it, just like we had demonstrated for decades that we never enforce any trade deals. A year and a half into that two year trade deal, China has reneged on every aspect of it. They agreed to very specific goals for imports of American agriculture products, energy products, manufactured products and total goods. Through July, the most recent month for which trade data has been released by the Commerce Department, China is $74 billion short of its goal for manufactured goods, $43 billion short of its goal for energy products, $25 billion short of its goal for agriculture products, and a whopping $134 billion short of its goal for total goods.

When Trump slapped the 25% tariffs on half of all Chinese imports (something Biden has wisely left in place), it put a real hurt on China. Their total exports to the U.S. have fallen by – guess how much? – 25%, falling $108 billion in 2020 from their record amount of $418 billion in 2018.

China has thumbed its nose at the U.S. on this deal. What has Biden done in response? Absolutely nothing. In fact, not one time has he ever even acknowledged that the Phase 1 deal even exists. I don’t get it. The U.S. is desperate to counter China’s growing influence, willing to spend many billions of dollars to do it, yet the Biden administration won’t take advantage of this powerful tool – the one China fears the most – and, in relative terms, it wouldn’t cost a damn dime to implement. Why? It’s difficult to come to any other conclusion than Biden doesn’t want to give any credit to Trump. We’re faced with an existential threat, and Biden won’t lift a finger for political reasons.

Another example is global warming. Just today, Biden addressed the UN and emphasized the need to take more drastic action to blunt this threat to the very existence of our planet. On Sunday, when questioned by Margaret Brennan on Face the Nation about his claim that the Democrats’ infrastructure bill should be $6 trillion instead of $3.5 trillion, Bernie Sanders replied by asking “How much would we be willing to spend to save the planet?” It’s a good question, actually. If the earth could become uninhabitable, then we should stop at nothing to prevent it, no matter how great or small the cost and no matter how complex or simple the solution.

Global warming (or climate change, if you prefer) is caused by human activity which generates greenhouse gases like CO2 and methane to name a couple, which trap heat in the atmosphere. It was never a problem until, during the last couple of centuries, the human population exploded, doubling over and over again while clearing forests to develop cities and fueling an improved standard of living with fossil fuels. Greenhouse gas emissions grew beyond the planet’s ability to absorb them. The problem is total emissions, which is the product of per capita emissions multiplied by the size of the human population.

But what if we didn’t have to spend trillions of dollars (maybe quadrillions?) to wean the world off of fossil fuels in favor of renewable sources like solar and wind? What if greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced for free? It can be done. It was demonstrated by the Covid pandemic when most people stayed home during the early weeks of the spread of the disease. Amazingly, the air cleared all over the world and the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere dropped for the first time in many decades, something that all of the thousands of wind turbines and millions of solar panels had yet been able to achieve. When so many people hunkered down, it simulated what the world would be like with a smaller population.

It wouldn’t cost a thing and could be done more quickly than the decades-long or century-long timelines we’ve heard for cutting greenhouse gas emissions by X percent that scientists say needs to be achieved, though there’s little agreement on what “X” is. It can be done ethically, without resorting to Draconian measures. Birth rates can be influenced by something as simple as tax policy, and immigration can be cut. Reducing the population would not only solve global warming but virtually every other environmental threat along with it.

Yet no one utters a word to suggest reducing the population. In fact, the powers that be want it to continue to grow. The Paris Climate Accord pulls no punches in admitting that its real mission is not to stop global warming, but to reduce it to a manageable level so that “sustainable development” can continue. It’s not the planet they’re worried about. It’s “Sustainable development” – an oxymoron designed to fool you into believing that there really is such a thing – that you don’t need to worry about the environment because they’ve got everything under control.

In fact, the whole environmental movement has devolved into a scam meant to lull you into believing that everything is under control so that you won’t think about the situation so hard that you stumble upon the real problem – that it’s impossible to continue growing our population in a finite world. It’s a lesson that you learned as a child when you watched all the baby guppies die in your aquarium simply because there were too many for that little ecosystem to support. But that lesson has been tamped down by the purveyors of “sustainable development,” by the environmental proclamations of global corporations who are desperate to prop up growth in sales volume with population growth, and by politicians who tighten their grip on power by growing their electorate.

We are, in fact, facing existential threats, but the supporters of free trade and economic growth (code for population growth) would rather continue to profit from unsustainable policies in the short run, the future for our children be damned. They’d rather continue to trade with communist dictators today. Who cares if our children one day live under them? They’d rather have you believe that the recycle you put out on the curb for collection isn’t really going into a landfill, that your water-efficient appliance is actually saving you water, that your electric utility’s wind turbines and small solar panel farms are anything more than a drop in the bucket relative to the problem. Worst of all, the economists want you to believe that mankind is clever enough to overcome all obstacles to growth. I can think of two obstacles that we have yet to demonstrate we can overcome – stupidity and hubris.

Copenhagen: A Failure of Economics

December 21, 2009

President Obama, like other world leaders, returned home from Copenhagen empty-handed.  No binding agreement to reduce carbon emissions.  Some blame Obama for not offering enough.  Others blame Chinese President Jintao for resisting verification.  Others blame developing countries for demanding too much in exchange for reductions in deforestation. 

But the real blame lies at the feet of the field of economics.  For the better part of two centuries, after disowning Malthus and vowing never again to consider the ramifications of population growth, economists have clung to a doomed model of perpetual growth.  They fail to understand that just because limitations have been pushed back a hundred or even a thousand times, doesn’t mean they can be pushed back forever in this finite world.  Closing their eyes to this reality like the “see no evil” monkey, they steadfastly maintain that man is clever enough to overcome any obstacle to growth. 

Until now, nothing has proven them wrong.  Oceans over-fished?  No problem!  Fish are now raised on “farms.”  Oil getting scarce?  We learned to drill off-shore.  Even when the earth’s ozone layer was threatened by CFCs, we were ready with benign, substitute refrigerant compounds.  Global cooperation in the interest of the common good wasn’t a problem when technological solutions were waiting in the wings.  But then came global warming.    

It’s not as though they didn’t see it coming.  We’ve known for at least half a century that we would run out of oil some day in the future.  And suspicion about the climate effects of rising CO2 levels has been building for at least two decades.  Our leaders, scientists and economists calmed our fears with talk of alternative energy – primarily wind and solar.  What they didn’t tell us was that the energy needed to keep the economy humming at its current level dwarfs what could be provided by those renewable sources even in their wildest dreams, not to mention the energy needed by developing nations clawing their way out of poverty and the energy needed to sustain economic growth into perpetuity. 

Some spoke of converting the economy to natural gas on a huge scale, a short-term solution at best.  Others spoke of more nuclear plants, ignoring the fact that nobody wants a nuclear waste dump in their back yard, and there’s no longer any place left that isn’t someone’s back yard. 

What they were counting on all along was the holy grail of energy – nuclear fusion – the energy that powers the sun.  Clean and limitless, it promised to remove energy as a constraint to growth for all time.  But after decades of pouring billions of dollars into research, the sad reality is that it’s simply not feasible. 

So we’re left with nothing.  If you don’t believe this, just read the “cap and trade” legislation that’s pending in the house of representatives.  You’ll find that it relies heavily on technology to capture and store CO2 underground – technology that doesn’t even exist yet – while continuing to burn fossil fuels.  Included in the bill is money to incentivize the development of such technology. 

So for the first time in Copenhagen, political leaders, economists and the scientific community came together to face a global threat to the common good with goals, but no solution.  They reached deep into the economic tool bag and found only one tool left – delaying the inevitable.  Given a choice between acting for the common good of future generations vs. basking in the “we can grow forever” delusion for just a little longer, they chose the latter.  Given the opportunity to finally cast off their failed model in exchange for one built on stability and sustainability, the “see no evil monkey” of economics and its minions of gullible political leaders chose to close their eyes even more tightly. 

Whether you believe that global warming is man-made or not is probably irrelevant.  The point is that the majority of scientists, political leaders and even economists believe that it is, enough so that they convened this conference in Copenhagen to address it.  They came with goals for cutting emissions, but because they were without solutions, they couldn’t bring themselves to pull the trigger.  At Copenhagen, the field of economics,  its model of perpetual growth and its blind faith in man’s ability to push back boundaries was finally exposed as a fraud.

Population Growth Injected into Carbon Cut Debate

October 14, 2009



As reported in the above-linked Reuters article, at least one low-level government official recognizes that projected U.S. population growth will make America’s goals for reducing carbon emissions much more difficult.  Brian O’Neill, a scientist at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, who also works at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria, has correctly observed that projected population growth makes carbon emissions reductions more difficult for the U.S. compared to some other developed countries where their populations are stable or declining. 

The leaders of the G8 nations have agreed to cut carbon emissions by 2050 by 80% from their 1990 levels.  Some of these developed nations are expected to decline in population by 2050, but not the U.S., whose population is projected to be 60% higher in 2050 (at 400 million people), vs. its 1990 population of 250 million.  So an 80% reduction in those emissions by 2050 would translate into a per capita reduction of 87.5% for the U.S.  For nations whose populations are projected to decline, their per capita reductions would be less than 80%.  This will translate into a lower standard of living for Americans than for other developed countries. 

Why is O’Neill talking to Reuters correspondents about this?  Is he a rogue low-level official speaking for himself?  Or is he parroting thinking that he’s heard at higher levels in his organization?  Or is it possible that this is an intentional move by the Obama administration to inject the subject of population growth into the carbon emissions debate? 

If the latter is the case, then to what end is the administration broaching this subject?  Two possibilities come to mind.  Since virtually all of our population growth is due to immigration, could it be that the administration is setting the stage for a dramatic change to immigration policy?  The second possibility seems more likely to me – that the administration is trying to shift the focus of carbon emissions reductions to a per capita basis instead of total emissions.  If so, they may think that the U.S. can get some relief on its own emissions goals vis-a-vis other G8 nations, but there’s a danger that such an approach could back-fire.  If total carbon emissions reductions are translated into a per capita basis, then it would be logical to apply the per capita figure evenly to all people of the world.  In such a scenario, U.S. emissions would have to be cut much further, since vast numbers of people already exist at far lower levels of per capita emissions, and population growth projections for many third world countries is even worse than the projections for the U.S.  In other words, if everyone gets to emit their fair share, then U.S. emissions will have to be cut much more drastically than 80%, a level that many already believe is simply unattainable. 

My interest in all of this is, of course, not so much reductions in carbon emissions, but the pressure that this subject brings to bear on the need to reduce our population.  Since economists don’t understand that reductions in our population would actually have huge economic benefits, we’ll all be better off in the end whether the impetus for population reductions is economic or some environmental concern.  The good news here is that, as much as environmentalists would like to keep the population factor below the radar, it’s beginning to be openly discussed.

Finally, the article ends with a quote so egregious that I can’t let it pass without comment:

David Satterthwaite, of the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), said … “It’s consumption that drives dangerous climate change, not population.” … “There is at most a weak link between population growth and rising emissions of greenhouse gases.”

Anyone who would make such a statement is being disingenuous, to put it mildly.  The rise in greenhouse gas emissions is directly related to the growth in population over the past couple of centuries.  Even a fifth-grader can understand that total emissions is a function of population times the average per capita emissions.  Only a fool would focus solely on per capita emissions while discounting the role of population growth.  Stabilizing and reducing our population is critical to achieving our goals for greenhouse gas emissions reductions.  If reduced enough, it could also have the side effect of providing a huge boost to the standard of living for everyone.

More Useless Trade Talks with China, Part II

July 28, 2009

As evening news programs carried the opening remarks by President Obama and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner at the U.S.-China talks that began in Washington, D.C. yesterday, it became clear how the administration envisions that the “fundamental changes” in our economy, in which Americans will save more, will somehow create jobs.  As I said in my post yesterday, saving money has never created a single job.  Only spending money creates jobs.

It seems that the plan is for the spending to take place in China.  The U.S. will save more, buying fewer goods from China, while China will boost its own economy to a level where their consumers will buy more American-made products.  When you think it through, you realize that this plan can only work if Chinese manufacturers take it upon themselves to move their operations from China to the U.S., and then ship the products back to China. 

I’m sure that the Obama administration, looking into the audience of 150 delegates from China and seeing the puzzled looks on their faces, concluded that they were wrestling with the language barrier and translation issues.  Instead, what they were really seeing was probably bewilderment and disbelief.  The Chinese were surely thinking to themselves, “are these guys nuts?”  “We have a labor force that’s twice the size of their entire population and we’re supposed to buy products from them?  We can’t even employ our own people!” 

So let me get this straight.  We buy all of the products we need from China.  And China will buy some of what they need from us.  Does any of this make any sense whatsoever, especially when you consider how much all of this shipping will increase carbon emissions from ships transiting the Pacific at the very same time that we’re trying to cut carbon emissions?  Wouldn’t it make a hell of a lot more sense, for both the U.S. and China, to just manufacture everything domestically? 

Of course it does.  The problem is that the Obama administration has already disavowed any measure that would provide real impetus to shift manufacturing back to the U.S., because any measure that tended to do that would be considered “protectionist.”  So how is this going to work?  Is WalMart going to tell China “no thanks, we’ve decided to make our own stuff here in the states.”  Will they just let their shelves run empty, waiting for American suppliers to materialize out of thin air?  Even if they did, wouldn’t those new suppliers more likely be in India, Bangladesh, or some other place that’s bursting at the seams with excess labor capacity?  What good does it do to focus on China alone when, relative to size, our trade deficit with other nations is even worse? 

With each passing day, woefully defective economic theory guides the shaping of the global economy in an ever-more convoluted and dysfunctional direction.  Political leaders and economists alike don’t understand the relationship between population density, per capita consumption and unemployment.  They don’t see the role played by population density disparities in setting up persistent trade imbalances.  All they need to do is look to the example of trade between the U.S. and Japan to see that economic development has absolutely no hope of improving a trade imbalance between two nations grossly different in population density. 

It all comes down to this:  trade policy based on flawed economic theory can never be anything but bad trade policy, and can never yield anything but bad results.  The Obama administration is making the same mistake as previous administrations when it tries to correct for that policy by asking other nations to act in our interest instead of theirs.  As proven by a cumulative trade deficit of $9.4 trillion amassed over thirty-three consecutive years, that approach is naive and doomed to failure.

Trade and Shipping Come Under Cap and Trade Scrutiny

July 23, 2009

It’s funny how the rest of the world, once so eager to push America to address global warming, gets cold feet when they see it dawning upon U.S. policy-makers that imported products and the fuel burned to ship them contributes as much (if not more) to global warming than products produced domestically.  They once thought that the unilateral enactment of carbon curbs by the U.S. might drive more manufacturing off-shore, boosting their own economies.  Now it looks like the tables might be turned. 


To address the serious threat of global warming, Americans should be required to “pay” for the carbon content of goods they consume from countries around the world, a top U.S. official said on Friday.”It’s important that those who consume the products being made all around the world to the benefit of America — and it’s our own consumption activity that’s causing the emission of greenhouse gases, then quite frankly Americans need to pay for that,” Commerce Secretary Gary Locke told the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai.

… The U.S. House of Representatives has passed legislation that creates a market for companies to trade permits to emit greenhouse gases, which would be capped at a certain level and then reduced over time.

The bill also contains “carbon tariffs” that would allow the United States to slap duties on imports of carbon-intensive goods such as steel, cement, paper and glass from countries that have not taken steps to reduce their own emissions.

Locke said Chinese officials raised concern about those provisions this week.

“They feel in essence it’s a tax on their carbon activity,” he said.

The legislation passed by the House also contains provisions for including importers and the shipping industry in the “cap and trade” program.  It’s not clear how this would work, but any legislation that doesn’t treat the fuel burned in ships the same as fuel burned in any other enterprise is clearly illogical and flawed.  Burning billions of barrels of fuel to ship manufactured products all over the world, products that could just as easily (and probably more efficiently) be made domestically, makes absolutely no sense and is probably the lowest-hanging fruit available in the quest to cut carbon emissions. 

The U.N. seems to agree, sort of.  It’s considering timid, voluntary measures aimed at improving the efficiency of ships. 


The United Nations shipping agency on Friday agreed to voluntary proposals aimed at cutting carbon emissions, delegates said.But environmental groups said it fell short of what was needed.

… Shipping accounts for nearly three percent of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and pressure has grown for cuts ahead of a crucial climate change summit in Copenhagen in December. Delegates from around 90 countries approved non-compulsory technical and operational measures to reduce greenhouse emissions from ships.

These included an energy efficiency design index for new ships to ensure new vessel designs are environmentally friendly as well as an index for existing vessels.

Want to improve the efficiency of shipping?  How about taxing or even banning empty ships?  Nothing is less efficient than returning empty ships to their point of origin.  And roughly half of all ships (and virtually every oil tanker) bound for the U.S. from China, Japan, Saudi Arabia or wherever return home empty, burning thousands of gallons of oil per hour as they go.  At the very minimum, the importation of products on ships destined to return home empty should be discouraged with carbon taxes on the fuel burned both in delivering those products and in returning that ship to its point of origin (or to its next destination) anything less than full. 

If the problem of global climate change (not to mention the problem of peak oil!) is as dire as they say, then no fuel-burning enterprise should get a free pass if we’re serious about fixing the problem.  Let’s tax the fuel burned in ships, including the fuel burned by empty and partially-laden ships, just as heavily as any other fuel-consuming enterprise.  It’s the only logical and fair way to deal with the issue.

Cap and Trade: Trading One Problem for Another

June 30, 2009



On Friday, barely noted by the media amid all the hubbub about the death of Michael Jackson, the U.S. House of Representatives passed sweeping “cap and trade” legislation that, over the next forty years, will slowly but profoundly change our way of life in America. 

The main goal of the legislation is to address global climate change by reducing CO2 (and other “greenhouse gas”) emissions by 83% from 1997 levels by the year 2050.  It establishes an all-encompassing energy policy and, though not stated in the legislation, also offers the added benefit of dramatically reducing our dependence on foreign oil (or so I had hoped).  The top link provided above will take you to a summary of this 1200 page bill.  (Just enter “H.R.2454” in the search window to get to the bill.  The 2nd link will take you to a Reuters article reporting on the passage of this legislation by the House.) 

I applaud the administration for tackling this urgent issue.  But, based upon my reading of the summary, I have two major concerns.  First, upon hearing that the major goal of the legislation was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 83%, I jumped to the conclusion that this would translate into an 83% reduction in our use of fossil fuels – eliminating our dependence on foreign oil and, with it, a big percentage of the trade deficit that has driven us to the brink of financial ruin.  But that’s not the case.  Since the law would only require that 20% of our electricity come from renewable sources by the year 2039, it’s clear that the bulk of the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions will be achieved by capture and underground sequestration.  That is, the CO2 will be removed from the by-products of combustion of fossil fuels, stored and then eventually be pumped underground. 

In fact, the legislation calls for programs to incentivize the development of the technology and even a corporation for the management of the underground storage facilities.  In other words, our strategy is to continue extracting fossil fuels from the ground, filling the voids with CO2 and other greenhouse gases, and hoping to God that it never leaks.  This is the same strategy for dealing with waste from nuclear power plants that has been such a source of concern that it has prevented any such new plants from being built in the U.S. in decades.  I think that most people, when they come to understand the strategy, will be very disappointed in this legislation.

But secondly, my bigger concern is that, as far-reaching and sweeping as this legislation is, it has a hole big enough to sail a super-tanker through it.  That is, it does absolutely nothing to address the government’s plans to increase our population by 50% by the year 2050 and indefinitely beyond.  The bill addresses total emissions but, since that’s simply a function of only two variables – per capita emissions and population – it means that if we allow the size of our population to drift higher by 50%, then per capita emissions will have to be cut not by 83% by 2050, but by 92%.  And the underground gas bubble, just waiting to explode to the surface following an unexpected catastrophe or good old corporate mismanagement, will be 50% bigger than it needs to be. 

Opponents of this legislation warn that it could dramatically lower our standard of living, cut consumption and lead to staggering job losses.  They may very well be right.  (Although the alternative of extinguishing life as we know it doesn’t seem a viable alternative.)  It doesn’t have to be this way.  By 2050 we could make dramatic progress toward cutting our population in half.  Greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by 50% – without spending a single dime, without creating massive new government agencies requiring more taxes to fund them.  The remaining 33% reduction in emissions could easily be achieved through the conversion to renewable energy. 

Obviously, Obama’s economic advisors – avid followers of primitive, 18th century economics that relies upon population growth as an engine for economic growth – had a heavy hand in crafting this legislation.  Even when population growth has brought us to this – relying upon the creation of giant, high-pressure, underground CO2 gas bubbles to avoid cooking ourselves in our own atmosphere, they cling desperately to the mantra of economics that mankind is smart enough to overcome any obstacle to growth. 

This isn’t responsible leadership, it’s creating the illusion of action while actually kicking the can down the road, transforming today’s obstacle to further growth – global warming – into a different obstacle to further growth to be dealt with by future generations and their economists – how to deal with the threat from the rapidly growing, high-pressure, underground CO2 gas bubble.  I suspect that, if they had the opportunity to question their ancestors, they’d grab them by the throats and, barely containing their anger, would shout  “What in the hell were you thinking?!?!?”

Waving a wand and crossing our fingers, hoping that future generations can come through with technologies to comply with mandates,  isn’t the kind of serious, sober handling of issues that we expected from Obama and his administration.  Is this what they teach at Harvard, that the earth beneath us is an infinite trash can into which we can just dump our problems – out of sight, out of mind?  Come on, President Obama, get real.  We want real, permanent solutions, not dodges.

Cap and Trade: Don’t Forget the Shipping Industry!!

April 8, 2009


The linked article summarizes the Obama administration’s plans for a “cap and trade” system that has a two-fold purpose:  cutting carbon emissions to combat global warming and reducing our dependence on foreign oil.  The basic idea is that the program would begin with the government auctioning permits to industry that would allow them carbon emissions – essentially paying for the privilege of burning fossil fuel.  Once auctioned off, permits can be traded and sold.  This would cap carbon emissions at a certain level.  It would also have the effect of raising the price of fuel and energy, forcing efficiency and a shift to clean and renewable forms of energy.

In crafting such a plan, each nation will have a tendency to draw a line along its borders and apply the program to industries located within.  But there’s one industry that, lying within no one’s borders,  may tend to fall through the cracks – the shipping industry.  For example, each year thousands of container ships arrive from China, Japan, Korea and other exporting nations.  On average, each arrival has burned about 2 million gallons of fuel crossing the ocean, just on the inbound leg.  Obviously, since the U.S. has an enormous trade deficit, many of these ships return empty, burning nearly as much on the outbound leg of the trip.  This amounts to many billions of gallons of fuel per year.  Someone needs to fold this industry into their cap and trade plans. 

The obvious approach may be for each nation to sell permits to shipping industries operating within its borders.  But this would be exactly the wrong approach.  It would simply drive shipping operations offshore to nations without cap and trade programs.  The right approach is to apply a tax to all inbound ships, including ships delivering imported oil.  Each nation has control of its imports, and no control of exports.  Taxing the fuel burned by inbound ships would encourage domestic manufacturing and have the desired effect of dramatically reducing carbon emissions from the shipping industry.  It would also encourage the spread of cap-and-trade programs around the world, forcing other nations to tax the fuel burned by inbound ships in order to prevent their exports from being put at a competitive disadvantage.  On the other hand, taxing the fuel burned by outbound, export-laden ships would encourage other nations not to subject their outbound ships to cap-and-trade, worsening our competitive position and intensifying the global trade imbalance that has collapsed the global economy. 

For the U.S., this would have the highly desirable side effect of reducing our trade deficit.  Sure, nations like China would also tax imports from the U.S. but, since we’re the ones with the trade deficit, any overall reduction in trade will ultimately work in our favor.  

Also, let’s not forget that there may be no industry more capable of switching to renewable energy than the shipping industry.  Until the invention of the steam engine, all trans-ocean commerce was carried in sailing ships.  The wind is still there and could be utilized again.  Sure, ships will be smaller and slower, so we’d need bigger fleets – a boon to the ship-building industry. 

When it comes to a cap-and-trade program, let’s not forget the hundreds of billions of gallons of oil being burned on the high seas.

Holdren to be Nominated as Obama’s Science Advisor

December 20, 2008


As of the time of this writing, it’s not official yet, but it’s being reported that John Holdren will be named Obama’s Science Advisor.  From what I can gather about Holdren, this is a terrific pick.  Holdren has been an outspoken advocate of strong action to address climate change and, earlier in his career, co-wrote papers with Paul Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb.  (Here’s a sample:  http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/pdf_extract/171/3977/1212)

As I’ve said before, although Obama has never directly addressed the problem of population growth, nor has he given any indication at all that he sees it as a problem, you have to believe that someone as intelligent as Obama who is truly concerned about climate change and our dependence on foreign oil will eventually come to the realization that fueling population growth with high rates of immigration will be counter-productive to his environmental and energy objectives.  An advisor like Holdren can surely expedite that day of reckoning.

Obama’s Opportunity to Kill Three Birds with One Stone

December 19, 2008

The inextricably linked issues of global warming and energy (eliminating our dependence on oil from the Middle East and Venezuela) have been elevated to national security issues by the Obama administration.  So, while consumers have welcomed the plunge in gas prices, they couldn’t have come at a worse time for this administration, for there is nothing that drives down the consumption of fossil fuels (the burning of which contributes directly to global warming) like high prices.  Without high prices, there is no profit potential to provide the motivation for a switch to more expensive alternative energy sources. 

So what is the Obama administration to do?  I see a unique opportunity for Obama to actually kill three birds with one stone here.  “Wait,” you’re thinking.  “You’ve only identified two birds – global warming and energy.”  Stick with me.  We’ll get to the third. 

The key is to drive fuel prices higher, restoring the impetus for improving energy efficiency and for converting to alternative energy sources, without hurting the consumer.  Here’s how that can be done.  It begins with imposing a large federal tax on fuels – oil, natural gas and coal.  Now I can just see your eyes rolling already, so hear me out.  Every penny of this tax should then be rebated to consumers in the form of a tax reduction of some kind – either a reduction in the tax rates or through a tax deduction or tax credit.  This tax reduction should be applied evenly to all individual taxpayers, but not to businesses.  (More on that later.) 

For example, let’s suppose that this tax drives the cost of gasoline back to $4 or $5 per gallon, and that a total of $600 billion is collected from this tax.  And let’s say that there are 150 million taxpayers.  Doing the math, each taxpayer would get back $4,000 at the end of the year.  If, on average, each taxpayer burns 2,000 gallons during  the year, and the tax added $2 per gallon to the price of gas, then that taxpayer comes out even. 

So how does this accomplish anything?  The tax rebate isn’t based upon how much you consume.  It’s based on total consumption by the American public.  So, if you do a better job than average of cutting your consumption, you’re going to come out ahead.  If you cut your consumption to 1,000 gallons for the year while the average remains 2,000 gallons, you’re going to come out ahead by $2,000 at tax time.  In other words, you have an incentive to slash your spending on gas.  At $4 per gallon, we’ve already seen how quickly people begin to use it more efficiently.  The tax rebate at the end of the year is just gravy.  Everyone is going to be highly motivated to cut their spending on gas, just as they were this past summer.  And now the profit potential is still there to motivate a switch to alternative energy sources. 

Why not extend the tax rebate to businesses?  Because, unlike consumers, businesses use vastly different quantities of fuel, depending on the nature of the business.  It’d be an accounting nightmare to try to keep them “whole” in terms of fuel cost vs. tax rebate.  Besides, their products are all consumed by individual taxpayers, so if the fuel tax collected from businesses is also rebated to individual taxpayers, then the latter are kept “whole” in terms of the tax rebate off-setting the higher cost of products.  In addition, with higher fuel costs and no tax rebate, businesses will be super-motivated to improve their energy efficiency. 

But, since businesses will have to add this fuel tax to the cost of their products, won’t this make American-made products uncompetitive with imports?  Ah, this is where the “third bird” comes in!  Imports would also be taxed at a rate that would eliminate this cost discrepancy.  But isn’t that a tariff that violates WTO (World Trade Organization) rules?  Yup!  And this is where it gets really good!  The global community, led by the UN, has been beating us over the head to come up with a plan to address global warming.  So, UN, here’s the plan.  Do you have a better one?  If not, then the global community, led by the UN, needs to sit down with the WTO and demand changes to trade rules that accommodate nations’ efforts to address global warming.  After all, everyone acknowledges that one of the keys to cutting fuel consumption and CO2 emissions is to produce more products locally.  And no one can argue that trade policy takes precedent over the need to fight global warming. 

In fact, that brings up another issue.  Billions of gallons of fuel are burned every year in ships delivering products all over the world.  That’s a lot of oil consumption and a lot of CO2 emissions.  It has to be factored into the equation by someone, in some way, because the cost of dealing with global warming is going to be astonomical.  A good way to account for this is to require each nation to include in its emissions the fuel burned by ships delivering imports, beginning with their point of origin.  What I’m saying is that imports should be taxed based upon the fuel that was burned to deliver them. 

For example, let’s suppose that a ship delivering cars from Japan burns about five million gallons of fuel and delivers 5,000 cars (fairly typical figures).  That fuel should be taxed at the same rate as fuel burned in the U.S.  Again, assuming that the tax adds $2 per gallon to the cost of fuel, then that delivery of cars should be assessed a tax of $10 million.  That would add $2,000 to the cost of each imported vehicle.  In fact, even the delivery of oil in tankers should be taxed in the same way, to mitigate the cost of dealing with the emissions from the oil burned in the ship’s engines.   

This means that imports would have to be taxed twice, or in two ways:  one tax to offset the higher cost of domestically produced products (unless the exporting nation has implemented a similar system of fuel taxes, making the imports equal in cost to domestic products), and a second to offset the cost of mitigating the carbon emissions that came from the ship delivering them.  Of course, all of these taxes or tariffs, whatever you choose to call them, would also be rebated to American taxpayers.  The goal is not to collect revenue, although some additional revenue could go a long way toward balancing the federal budget, but that’s a whole can of worms I won’t open here.  Rather, the goal is to provide incentive for cutting the use of fossil fuels and switching to alternative energy sources. 

The beauty of this is that the higher cost of imports would also go a long way toward restoring a balance of trade, an issue that many experts now agree is at the heart of the global economic melt-down. 

So, with one stone – a tax on fuels – the Obama administration could kill three birds:  reduce oil consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, and even restore a balance of trade, all with minimal impact on American consumers.  He can use the climate change issue to drive a wedge between the UN and the WTO and effect a badly-needed overhaul in WTO rules that would restore some balance to global trade.

UN Climate Conference Notes Role of Population Growth

December 17, 2008


This linked article offers one more glimmer of hope that the subject of overpopulation is getting more attention.  Although the article reports that the UN is unwilling to take on the issue of population growth as it grapples with global warming, experts in attendance at the UN climate conference in Poland recognize the role of population growth in worsening the problem and see a need to address it on a national level.

“Population is the unmentioned elephant in the living room when it comes to climate change,” said Bill Ryerson, president and founder of the Vermont-based Population Media Center.

“A lot of people say population pressure is a major driving force behind the increase in emissions, and that’s absolutely true,” the U.N.’s top climate official Yvo de Boer said.

“If we don’t address the population issue and population continues to grow the way it is, … we will fail to solve the climate crisis,” Ryerson said.

Brian O’Neill, a population expert with the National Center for Atmospheric Research, said there is substantial evidence showing a strong correlation between a country’s economic growth and its emissions.

Even if it doesn’t come up in Poznan, the Worldwatch Institute’s Robert Engelman said policies to slow population growth will eventually find their way into the climate toolbox for many countries.

“Population doesn’t need to be part (of) international negotiations on mitigation. You don’t have (to) say country X will cap its emissions and population,” he said.

“But countries will begin to see that a more rapidly rising population will make it hard for them to curb emissions,” said Engelman, the author of “More: Population, Nature and What Women Want.”

With the heavy emphasis that Obama has placed upon the issue of climate change, elevating it to a national security issue, how could it possibly escape his attention that it is exacerbated by population growth?  To hope for some kind of national policy aimed at stabilizing our population may be a stretch but, at the very least, one would hope that it will make Obama reluctant to liberalize immigration policy.