Hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue

That’s about the best I can say for the agreement on climate change announced today. It appears to offer nothing beyond an acknowledgement that the problem exists.

This supposedly represents the response of the US, China, India, Australia, Japan and North South Korea to the problem of climate change, but if so, the Americans don’t seem to have noticed. There’s a brief item in the NYT, but it doesn’t even appear in the International section of their website. Going directly to the White House website, there’s nothing on the front page, but digging a bit deeper produces an innocuous item headed President’s Statement on U.S. Joining New Asia-Pacific Partnership which I’ve reproduced over the fold.

If this is the Bush Administration’s answer to Kyoto, they’re keeping pretty quiet about it.

President’s Statement on U.S. Joining New Asia-Pacific Partnership

The United States has joined with Australia, China, India, Japan, and South Korea to create a new Asia-Pacific partnership on clean development, energy security, and climate change. This new results-oriented partnership will allow our nations to develop and accelerate deployment of cleaner, more efficient energy technologies to meet national pollution reduction, energy security, and climate change concerns in ways that reduce poverty and promote economic development. The six Asia-Pacific partners will build on our strong history of common approaches and demonstrated cooperation on clean energy technologies. I have directed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Energy Sam Bodman to meet with their counterparts this fall to carry forward our new partnership and provide direction for our joint work.

37 thoughts on “Hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue

  1. In this wonderful free market pact these are the areas that will be targeted: I am assuming that it is in priority order. If you look wind and solar are at the bottom and forgotten even though they are one of the only things mentioned that are actually in production and working. The list is from http://www.evworld.com/view.cfm?section=communique&newsid=9016

    — Energy efficiency
    Good easy and cheap and doable

    — Clean coal
    Not developed or working in production yet

    — Integrated gasification combined cycle:
    In production but dearer then just burning coal. Still releases CO2, the only gain is from a gas turbine with exhaust recovery is 55% efficient whereas steam turbines are at best 36% effiecient.

    — Liquefied natural gas
    Still releases CO2

    — Carbon capture and storage:
    Only in the first stages of research and not in production or even near. Australia would have to sequester 140 million tons of CO2 per year to offset its coal CO2 output. Also in much the same as nuclear power there are no gaurantees that the CO2 will not bubble to the surface in 1000 years.

    — Methane capture and use:
    Good – methane is a powerful greenhouse gas

    — Civilian nuclear power
    No CO2 however this is just shifting the pollution to the future

    — Geothermal, rural/village energy systems
    Can be good however the hot rocks do cool in time

    — Advanced transportation
    This means fuel cells completely ignoring the fact that lithium battery electric cars are totally practical now and could be in large scale production tomorrow without waiting 10 years for practical PEM fuel cells and hydrogen storage

    — Bioenergy: using materials such as wood and manure in place of coal to generate electricity.
    OK

    — Hydropower
    Can produce CO2 due to covering of forests etc with water causing them to rot and release the carbon

    — Wind power
    Now right down at the bottom is one of the only in production and ready, non CO2 releasing power sources. Wind power is already producing gigawatts of power all around the world however it is put at the bottom of this list of speculative and imaginative power sources that are either not even close to production or still release CO2. I would say it is at the bottom so hopefully people will ignore it.

    — Solar power
    Same as wind. There are solar thermal plants in operation producing power to the grid. This also includes PV panels on roofs and solar hot water.

    …AND IN THE LONG TERM

    — Hydrogen: an environmentally friendly fuel that, if processed in a fuel cell, generates only electricity and water.
    Environmentally friendly only if produced from renewables. For transport it is more efficient just to use the electricity in an electric car. Can be stored and used for backup power and base load.
    — Nanotechnologies: working with extremely small particles to try to create miniscule computers and tiny medical devices. A nano is a billionth of a metre.
    Not even out of the labs

    — Next-generation nuclear fission
    Hooray more nuclear waste

    — Fusion energy
    50 years of trying still not a watt of power

  2. This sort of thing is defective policy because the treaties themselves build in preconceptions about the directions of technology. For instance, I’ve pointed out before that the quickest way to remove carbon from the carbon cycle is to have lots of forest fires and bulldoze the remains into landfills and creeks, thus sequestering charccoal of biological origin in a non-biodegradable form away from water/ultraviolet oxidation.

    Yet that would count as releasing carbon, merely because the cycle itself registers an increase in carbon flow more than the cumulative carbon sequestration.

    What we need is more bush clearing and burning and bulldozing. That would do the job quick smart.

  3. So let me get this right – the “market-friendly way” to address global warming isn’t to impose a cost on emissions for all major emitters and leave them to identify for themselves the msot cost-effective way to minimise that cost. Rather it’s for government to identify what it thinks will be the appropriate technological solutions and throw public monet at them?

  4. Don’t be silly Ian. We run a mixed economy these days as you are well aware. So, you impose a cost on the emitters and let them work out the most cost effective way of doing business. The gas and utility companies pass this cost on to consumers because of their natural monopoly. Our steel, aluminium, manufacturing industries offshore to China, India,etc, because they don’t enjoy this market advantage, while our public servants beaver away at legislatively getting us to change our wicked ways with all sorts of new programs like Greensmart Housing Codes. They of course need indexed wages to ameliorate all these extra consumer cost burdens and you know what that means.

  5. Actually Observa it’s highly unlikely that our aluminium etc. industries WOULD relocate – electricity is only one cost of production and an increase is unlikely to offset the loss of local sunk costs, the transition costs of relocation and the higher costs of other factors of production.

    There’s a reason the world’s entire manufacturing basis hasn’t decmped to subsaharan African where wage costs are even lower than in China.

    The aluminium industry et al are always careful to report job losses as losses comapred to the Business as Usual case. In fact, if you look at the detail of the McKibbin modelling, employment in manufacturing and minerals processing would rise if we ratified Kyoto – but by a lower amount than the BAU scenario.

  6. Ender, I think we’ve discussed this topic before (let’s just say I think you’re grossly overestimating the risks from long-term storage of nuclear waste, but one point that we haven’t is Jevon’s Paradox. Basically, the suggestion is that using a resource more efficiently doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll get used less; it may get used more. The implications for energy efficiency as a greenhouse mitigation scheme are pretty obvious…

    Thoughts, everyone?

  7. i googled for the etymology of the title, and this post itself is the top google link.

    the quote has exceeded the notoriety of the original author.

  8. Robert,

    It is true that in some circumstances the reduction in price will result in greater consumption but ask yourself the follwoign questions:

    1. If toilet paper cost half as much woudl you use twice as much?

    2. If the cost of air conditioning fell significantly would you start cooling your workspace to 5 degrees celsius?

  9. Robert,

    It is true that in some circumstances the reduction in price will result in greater consumption but it isn’t always the case. Ask yourself the following questions:

    1. If toilet paper cost half as much would you use twice as much?

    2. If the cost of air conditioning fell significantly would you start cooling your workspace to 5 degrees celsius?

  10. Meanwhile,back in the real world, Spain takes solar thermal energy from research to commercial pilots: http://www.elpais.es/articulo/elpporeco/20050725elpepieco_6/Tes/Constructoras%20y%20el%E9ctricas%20invierten%20300%20millones%20en%20centrales%20solares%20t%E9rmicas
    Note that they still need a big subsidy, confirmng the “not by technology alone” principle. But the solar thermal tchnology isn’t complicated, the only high-tech bit is the porous ceramic target, through which you blow air to extract the heat. Not much to go wrong, and the scheme should get cheaper quickly.

    Another good sign (paradoxically) is that the price of solar photovoltaic panels is rising: http://www.solarbuzz.com/moduleprices.htm . Since the underlying costs must be falling, this means that demand is very strong. 1 GW a year, increasing at 25% a year, ain’t peanuts

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