Planet Gore

A Few Comments


You calculations are certainly directionally correct. This is a quick chart that illustrates the political coalition impacts of a carbon tax:
A RNCT is often described as a relatively neutral measure, but that is only as compared other carbon-specific mitigation programs. In fact, it shifts a broad tax on all marginal consumption by anybody who pays income tax to a tax only on carbon consumption. This will directly threaten millions of jobs and trillions of dollars of installed infrastructure. Those interests are not just going to roll over for this. I go into this in some detail in the long post that Ken and I have both referenced.
I agree that given a choice between a tax, cap-and-trade or some other regulatory regime that would force an equivalent reduction in emissions, I would choose a tax. I don’t accept the premise, however, that we will be forced to accept one of these three alternatives (though I recognize this is a judgment call).
Here’s how I characterized the political debate in the NR story last year:

Global warming is a manageable risk, not some existential crisis, and we should get on with the job of managing it. Conservatives should propose policies that are appropriately optimistic, science-based and low-cost. They should oppose the imposition of a vast global regime of carbon taxes, or even worse, a unilateral carbon tax or cap-and-trade system in the US and Europe based on the fantasy that China and India will follow us off that cliff.
This should be an attractive political program. It is an often-caricatured, but very healthy reality that Americans usually respond well to converting political issues to technical problems. After all, we’re very good at solving them. It can nonetheless feel like there is unstoppable momentum behind a quasi-messianic program of aggressive emissions reductions. In this kind of debate, however, appearances in can be deceiving. As usual, Tocqueville put it best when he described in eerily accurate, if not completely flattering, terms how the American people react to radical plans put forth by a revolutionary leader:
They do not combat him energetically, they sometimes even applaud him. To his impetuosity they secretly oppose their inertia; to his revolutionary instincts, their conservative instincts, their homebody tastes to his adventurous passions; their good sense to the leaps of his genius; to his poetry, their prose. He arouses them for a moment with a thousand efforts, but soon after they get away from him, and, as if dragged down by their own weight, they fall back.
No matter how often activists feel like they’ve won all the debates in think tank meetings, editorial pages and faculty lounges, it is still going to be a tough battle to convince 51% of voters to make huge sacrifices based on the evidence that we have now. Wharton Econometric Forecasting Associates estimated that implementing even the limited emissions abatement envisioned for the US under the proposed Kyoto Protocol would cost the average US family about $225 per month. Ongoing polling conducted by researchers at MIT indicates that the median US family would be willing to pay $14 per month to “solve global warming”. That’s quite a bid-ask spread.
The electorate, like all markets, is pretty unsentimental in pursuing its own interests. This dynamic drives the activists crazy, and if conservatives keep their cool, will ultimately lead the activists to commit serious blunders that alienate public opinion. They are already starting to attack the consensus science of the UN IPCC as too timid because it does not support predictions of global catastrophe tomorrow morning.

That’s still how I think we should approach it. The talk-to-action ratio on AGW remains enormous, both in the U.S. political process, and in the international confabs. We should avoid getting spooked by what remains a bunch of talk.

Jim Manzi is CEO of Applied Predictive Technologies (APT), an applied artificial intelligence software company.


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