Greenpeace’s indefensible attack on the House clean energy bill perpetuates myths about the European carbon trading system

I can certainly understand why people are unhappy with the weakening of Waxman-Markey.  Heck, I lowered the grade for it to B or B-.

But I wasn’t grading on a curve.  The bill remains a stunning legislative achievement that (if enacted) would require the United States to eliminate virtually all greenhouse gas emissions in four decades — no mean feat, even for those of us who know that is eminently doable (and climatically crucial)!

Indeed, when was the last time the nation’s political system enacted a major economy-wide air-pollutant regulatory system?  [Hint:  It was a long time ago and a key reason it passed is a cap-and-trade system that gave away virtually all of the pollution allowances to industry — interesting NYT piece today on the politics of emissions regulations then and now.]

On the other hand, if Waxman-Markey fails to get out of committee or fails to make it through both houses of Congress over the next 12 months or so, don’t expect any US climate action for a long time — the political mavens will not take failure as a sign to pursue a stronger bill.  And failure would mean the international negotiation process would be dead.  Equally important, why would China agree to a target if we don’t?

If the hardcore enviros want to attack the bill (as opposed to some of its provisions), to undermine support for what Al Gore called “One of the most important pieces of legislation ever introduced in the Congress “¦ has the moral significance” of 1960s civil rights legislation and Marshall Plan, well, it’s a free country, as they say.

And I’m free to point out the absurd rhetoric and factually flawed arguments.  Before I get to the myths about the European Trading System that Greenpeace is peddling in its press release Thursday, let me start with their indefensibe and over-the-top first line:

A piece of legislation that started out as a real opportunity for the US to combat climate change has been co-opted by special interests and now threatens to do more harm than good.

Uhh, no it does not.  Maybe it threatens to not do as much good as it could as fast as it might, but, frankly, that was true of the first draft.  Or any politically feasible energy and climate bill.

To repeat, whatever people imagine that this bill “threatens” to do, what it actually does is enact into law a sweeping clean energy revolution that puts the nation on a path to virtually eliminate global warming pollution from the entire economy in four decades.


Beyond the overheated rhetoric is the repetition by Greenpeace of a now too-common myth that needs addressing:

According to reports, the bill might actually end up giving as much as 55 percent of the permits away for free. The EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme originally gave away so many permits that pollution permits were trading for as little as 1 euro cent, providing no incentive for polluting industries to clean up their act. Now the fossil fuels industries — who have spent some $45 million lobbying against the bill — are succeeding in convincing House Democrats to make the same mistake.

Not quite.

Greenpeace — and many other people, to judge by the e-mails and comments I get — are conflating two completely different issues.

The EU’s emissions trading scheme (ETS) had too many total permits. That was why the price crashed, not because those permits were given away for free.  If the EU had auctioned all the tons, the price still would have crashed as soon as everybody realized there were too many in the market.

What people forget about ETS Phase one, from 2005 to 2007, is that the hard emissions caps the Europeans had agreed to under the Kyoto protocol didn’t kick in until 2008.  Phase one was thus a wild and unique experiment — a trading system without a true, binding cap.  I never thought it would seriously motivate much action by industry or be a big success, but in fact, it certainly wasn’t a total failure, especially given that the Europeans had never done anything like this before.

A poorly headlined piece in Reuters, “U.S. cap and trade plans risk European mistakes” almost gets the story right but ends up spreading confusion:

The European Union scheme, launched in 2005, has struggled to shake off two early mistakes: handing out too many permits which removed the requirement to buy them, and giving them to power plants for free.

Analysts say utilities pass on the price of carbon permits to consumers regardless, making billions of euros (dollars) in windfall profits across the sector as a result.

And because there were initially too many permits the EU carbon price crashed to zero two years ago, relegating the first trading phase of the scheme from 2005-07 to an experiment.

Note to Reuters:  It always was an experiment.  In Phase 1, the EU was not under legally binding emissions reduction targets.

Why did the EU have too many allowances?  Well, unlike the United States, where we have a single Energy Information Administration that keeps close tabs on coal, oil, and natural gas supply and demand as well as total greenhouse gas emissions, the EU is still a relatively dysfunctional collection of very distinct countries.  It simply is a lot harder for them to estimate accurately total emissions, particularly since they had never done it before and never had a trading system before.  As one 2007 analysis put it:

… at the outset, the European Commission had no reliable information about companies’ emissions, and was therefore obliged to use figures provided by installations themselves. In the spring of 2006, it became evident that in fact actual emissions were below the initial allowances. This led to some of the most volatile days in the market as prices fell close to zero.

I would note that an analysis by MIT’s Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change (among others) had predicted a price crash back in Ocotober 2005, concluding that the ETS’s market clearing price should be “about 0.6 to 0.9 euros/tCO2 (~2 to 3 $/tC) for the 2005-2007 period in a base run of our model in line with many observers’ expectations who saw the cuts required under the system as very mild.”  I think is quite fair to say that the Europeans screwed up the Phase 1 experiment, especially how it was perceived elsewhere — but given how many people foresaw both what was going to happen and the reason why it happened, I just don’t think you can point to Phase 1 as proof that a cap-and-trade system is inherently flawed.

Why did the EU give away such a high fraction of the allowances?  In part because they became sold on the benefits of cap-and-trade in the first place from the incredible success of the acid rain program in this country, which achieved faster and deeper emissions reductions at a far lower cost than everybody had predicted.  And the EPA gave away 97% of the permits to industry for free.

What about the windfall to industry and the possible disincentive to industries to clean up their act of they are are given free permits?   Waxman-Markey learned from European mistakes, as Reuters explains:

So far the U.S. plans appear aware of the risks — allocating free permits for example to the steel sector according to average emissions — meaning if you pollute less you’ll still get the same number of permits, and a surplus to sell as a reward for being clean.

The ruling Democrat plans would also avoid some of the risks of EU-style windfall profits, because in the electricity sector the permits would go to local distribution companies regulated by states which could limit how far utilities pass on costs.

“The difference between this and the EU is that they go to regulated entities that have to pass the value directly to consumers,” said Tony Kreindler, spokesman for Environmental Defense Fund.

Let me also return to the must-read (or must-watch) E&E TV interview of Richard Morgan, a DC commissioner and leader of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners’ Task Force on Climate:

Monica Trauzzi: Looking at Europe as an example, too many credits were handed out there which ended up creating windfall profits for utilities. So how does Congress find that balance between auction and allocation?

Richard Morgan: Well, we haven’t specified what exactly the right balance is. I think we want to start out more toward an allocation of free allowances and move toward an auction over time, I would say at least a decade, perhaps a little bit longer. And we can avoid the problem that happened in Europe. Yes, they had too many allowances, that’s one problem. We want to avoid that. The other problem was that they gave away the allowances without any strings attached. And I’m not proposing that we do that at all. The allowances should only be given to entities that are price regulated, where they can’t just simply pass along these free allowances as profits to their shareholders. If their price is controlled, we make sure that the price is set in a way that reflects the value that they’ve received in free allowances. And then consumers will receive those benefits simply as an offset against the higher prices that they’re paying. So, in effect, what we’re doing is recycling the higher cost that people would pay in their utility bills back to the very customers who are paying those higher prices, so that it basically reduces the impact on those consumers.

Again, the Waxman-Markey bill is far from perfect.  Some of the allowances it gives away are not to entities who should get them.  For instance, merchant coal and long-term power purchase agreements receive 5% of the allowances — although even in that case, merchant coal is only part of the 5%, and the merchant coal part is phased out steadily from 2012 to 2029.

I’d very much like to see the bill improved, if not in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, then the full House or in the Senate.  So go ahead, attack some of the provisions — I’m with you!  But suggest the whole bill threatens to do more harm than good, that it repeats the mistakes to the experimental European Trading System Phase one,  or that cap-and trade is inherently doomed and we must abandon it fir some other approach (the imaginary simple carbon tax” for instance) — and we part company.

37 Responses to Greenpeace’s indefensible attack on the House clean energy bill perpetuates myths about the European carbon trading system

  1. L.D. Gussin says:

    Can you cite a discussion of the EU utility industry’s positions and actions leading up to and during ETS Phase One? Thank you.

  2. Dill Weed says:

    When was Greenpeace ever satisfied with anything?

    When could a government or businesss ever do enough to please an environmentalist group?

    When could you get a hot dog at a PETA convention?

    You can never please some people all of the time.

    Dill Weed

  3. ecostew says:

    All must be involved in making sausage – the more that get informed of the peer-reviewed climate science the better. Let’s hope the news media does this sausage making justice.

  4. Modesty says:


    I think yours is a fair representation of these particular issues.

    Moving right along, the straightforward 2015 performance standard for new coal plants is missing in the new version of the bill. There’s a complicated CCS-type provision for plants initially permitted 2009-2020 that goes into effect in 2025 (I think) and a more straightforward, but also CCS-type, provision for plants initially permitted after 2020.

    Could you (or someone) blog the arguments, (1) climate-wise and (2) politics-wise, for and against adjusting the performance standard from the draft to the current version in this way.


    [JR: Hmm. I might be able to find someone to explain the current provision, which is indeed complicated, but I’m not certain about getting them to compare it to the original.

    BTW, I finally found that provision about not giving allowances to coal plants that do more than 15% cofiring with biomass — but that appears to apply only to merchant coal plants, of which I am pretty certain there are none that cofire much (if nay).]

  5. Jim Beacon says:

    Greenpeace obviously feels, as you do, that this may well be the only shot we’re likely to get — and they want it to be a better one. But you are correct that to condemn the whole bill because you’re unhappy with some of its provisions is too radical. But then no one ever accused Greenpeace of being moderate and middle of the road. It’s their job to be out there on the edge and they’ve shown the way for a lot of people and done a lot of good by taking that course over the decades.

    I note that the Al Gore’s recommendation of the bill was made when W-M was first introduced and when it was a much stronger piece of legislation than it is now. Have we heard him say anything about it lately? If so, I missed it.

    [JR: As with Obama, I can’t imagine that the modest changes made in the bill would change Gore’s judgment. I assume he’s not terribly happy with some of the allocations — but that is purely a guess on my part. I do not believe he is overly concerned with the offset provisions, as long as significant oversight remains.]

    Since the Cap and Trade provisions of W-M aren’t even going to start until 2012, there is no real rush to put the specifics in place today. At this point, just to get the bill with all of its other important provisions to the Senate quickly, I would advocate stripping out the weakened Cap and Trade provisions and put them into a separate bill (or maybe Al Franken gets seated and the Senate could put back in strong Cap and Trade provisions once it gets there). Even “Shady Joe” Barton said he would support the bill if Cap and Trade was pulled. And since climate change will continue to get worse, in another year or two even more of the public will be willing to support a tough Cap and Trade program. I honestly think that would be the best move, rather than settle for a lousy 17% by 2020 and be stuck with it. Talk about what’s politically possible: I just don’t see any chance of the target being revised upward once the law is signed by the President. That will be it.

    [JR: No and no. I certainly thought it would be a better idea to have an energy bill and then a climate bill, but that’s not what the powers that be decided. So we have what we have. That said, the 17% target by 2020 was all but inevitable given the two-term presidency of George Bush. The U.S. political system was never going to agree to far deeper cuts in under a decade. Consider the fact that California — with infinitely more progressive politics than the country as a whole, especially when it comes to clean energy and the environment — passed a law that only returned them to 1990 levels by 2020. That said, the painful reality of global warming is only going to get more painfully real, so the targets can only move in one direction over time, not that I am expecting the 2020 target to get moved. But I really wouldn’t obsess about that. The 2030 target is more important.]

    But instead of going for a long-term and painfully complex Cap and Trade system, I rather like the idea Pat Richards suggested of simply offering to pay the utility companies about $330 million apiece for 200 of their oldest coal-fired plants and phasing them out over the next 10 years. It would result in very fast reduction of a lot more CO2 emissions. The 10-year phase out would create a guaranteed predictable increase in demand which would make private enterprise feel safe about building expensive new clean energy plants to meet. The program would cost around $66 billion dollars — but would pay back some of its cost as the old plants would continue to generate income while they were being phased out. And it is a pure capitalistic solution which the conservatives really couldn’t object to: Offer to buy up a large block of the outstanding stock at a price the current owners would be happy to jump at and then pull the stock off the market. It’s done all the time on Wall Street.

  6. john says:

    Greenpeace’s rhetoric is certainly over the top. Perhaps they offer it as a counter weight to the overblown nonsense coming from the right.

    And yes, a cap is a cap, regardless of whether the allowances are given away or auctioned.

    And yes, the goals and caps in Marky/Waxman are aggressive, and as good as we could hope to get out of the political process.

    There are, however, serious consequences with giving away a substantial part of the allowances to polluters, and that problem is exacerbated by the fact that Marky Waxman has failed to include some simple supporting policies which would substantially reduce the costs of a cap and trade program.

    First the consequences. Absent some intelligent supporting financial and fiscal policies a cap and trade system is likely to impose substantial costs on society, and this is particularly true if generators get the allowances for free. When allowances were auctioned, there was sufficient revenue to recycle the funds to consumers in the form of tax cuts or efficiency programs (as RGGI does), thereby insulating them from the costs. Under this scheme, polluters paid, and consumers were made whole. Now, not so much.

    And now for the smart policies which are NOT in Waxman/Marky, that would substantially mitigate consumer costs. Berkely First, Montgomery County Maryland’s HELP program, Annapolis EZ, Babylon NY, and Palm Desert CA all have a variation of a strategy which provides low cost money; stretches the amortization period, and reduces lender risk by using on-bill financing through the real-estate taxes for deep energy retrofits and/or renewables. Using the real-estate taxes reduces administration fees and virtually eliminates defaults, and even better, it embeds the value of the energy savings in the building, not the owner, which eliminates short time horizons and discounting. An owner only pays for the value he or she gets. This enables the monthly energy savings to exceed the monthly cost of the loan for even deep efficiencies or extensive renewable capacity.

    The result — huge energy cuts (or substantial renewable capacity) with a net positive monthly cash flow. Van Hollen has proposed a federal program to help fund these kind of programs at the local level.

    But Waxman/Marky gives the economic break to the generator, puts the costs on consumers, and doesn’t have the kind of policies which would mitigate those costs.

    So here’s my concern: I believe Americans will not support the kind of measures we need if they are forced to bear the burden. A recent Post poll said that 75% percent of Americans supported action on global warming, but it also found that 77% were worried about the cost of addressing it.

    It doesn’t matter if the caps are right now if they get rolled back later. This bill needs to either auction all allowances and recycle the revenue back to consumers or implement smart policies to minimize the costs on consumers — preferably both.

    Right now, it doesn’t do enough of either.

    [JR: I’m almost with you, John. But I think that giving permits to the regulated utilities is actually a reasonable way of getting money back to consumers — indeed, the tax code would be a hard way to achieve regional equity, since it would be very tricky to figure out how to amend the tax code to give bigger returns to people in more coal intensive utility service areas.

    Also, I don’t expect this to be the last energy bill, nor do I expect the targets to be rolled back. As the painful reality of global warming becomes more painfully real, we will do more, not less.]

  7. ecostew says:

    Keep making sausage Joe – just what we need!

  8. Robert says:

    Joe – The fact that you routinely delete my posts tells me all I need to know. If you are only prepared to debate with people who agree with you then I assume the bill is not really defensible.

    [JR: And yet there are lots of comments from people here who don’t agree with me. Hmm. Wonder why? It’s because they don’t keep repeating stuff that isn’t true, forcing me to waste time explaining why it isn’t true.]

  9. ecostew says:

    Good Joe – sausage must be made!

  10. max says:

    Since I am in the plant biotechnology industry and have seen Greenpeace’s indefensible anti-scientific positions against GMOs, I am not surprised to see them once again spouting untruths with regard to climate legislation. I have yet to hear a coherent argument against golden rice for example and don’t understand Greenpeace’s opposition to it.

  11. Again these are political solutions to a scientific problem – hence will be imperfect. No matter what the political success, warming and climate destabilization will continue for decades. This is a desperate catch-up act.

    I am disappointed that we seem to overlook some opportunities to demonstrate and educate. We need more information.

    Time to fund serious studies, time to launch that fully funded satellite that reads earth climate changes (nixed by the Bush administraion)

    Time to label CO2 impact to all goods and services – much like federal requirements for nutrition labels. Consumers should see the impact of all actions – from a cup of coffee to a new car. Everything should be labeled – even if it is a general estimate – it would serve to prepare people for the next steps.

    These seem like political education no-brainers that should have been instituted years ago. We should not perpetuate consumption that ignores consequences while we quibble over bigger bills.

  12. Leland Palmer says:

    The bill remains a stunning legislative achievement that (if enacted) would require the United States to eliminate virtually all greenhouse gas emissions in four decades — no mean feat, even for those of us who know that is eminently doable (and climatically crucial)!


    A stunning legislative achievement.

    I don’t think we have four decades to get down to zero, Joe.

    Each warming estimate exceeds the previous one.

    We have maybe five years to get into the negative numbers, I think, if we want to prevent runaway global heating.

    If the richest society on earth can’t do better than this, we’re doomed, IMO.

    [JR: We probably will do better than this as I expect over time the medium and longer term targets will get tightened — just as happened under the Montréal protocol to save the ozone layer. But as I have said many times, that is really only going to happen once we get desperate. We’re just in the beginning phases of getting serious.]

  13. Len says:

    Greenpeace is doing what no one else seems to have the courage to do — push for a better bill. You know full well that industry-owned politicans will keep watering this down to nothing if no one pushes back and says enough.

    [JR: Most everyone I know in the progressive and environmental community are pushing to make this bill better. I certainly am. But I do think there is a difference between pushing to make this bill better — a realistic possibility — and pushing for an entirely different bill or entirely different approach — which is fantasy island.]

  14. I think that the most interesting thing about this whole debate is that it’s a window onto the psychology of large problems.

    Really large problems get fixed all the time, and the solution always starts with a first step that seems wholly inadequate. Losing 150 pounds starts with that first five-minute walk. Becoming a recovering alcoholic is a one day at a time affair basically forever. We have to start with some kind of energy legislation. In the big scheme of things, Waxman-Markey is a fairly strong first step.

    It’s the unsatisfying character of that first step that makes it so hard to commit, or believe in the change, and then to keep following through. Greenpeace’s response is psychological, not reality-based. And it sounds exactly the same as my sister in law talking about all the reasons she will never loose weight. She perceives the problem as so huge that no first step will ever be dramatic enough.

    Anyone out there marketing or messaging this needs to address the psychology of making big changes. Personal finance has an interesting set of success stories about this that are transferrable. There are a big handful of people who sell the idea of getting out of debt–a simple, painful task that mostly requires followthrough. And they each succeed because they create a specific way to address the psychological barriers to that followthrough. Dave Ramsey uses god and community and the quick success of paying off the lowest balance first. Suze Orman uses a weird mix of self-myth, forced intimacy and maternal goodwill.

    There are a million ways to do it, but the point is that humans are weak like this. It makes sense that the people who care the most are doing the most to hamper incremental progress right now. It makes sense that Greenpeace finds Waxman-Markey as hard to believe in as Joe Barton does, and is engaging in the same kind of hyperbole and Danger Rhetoric.

  15. Kieran says:

    Here’s a video highlighting just how unprepared we are for the perils of climate change. Please watch.

  16. Steven Biel says:

    I think it’s fair to say that some parts of the bill “threaten to do more harm than good,” and this is an important element to inject into the argument.

    [JR: That’s not what they said and your phrasing makes it meaningless.]

    Repealing the authority to regulate global warming emissions from stationary sources and replacing it with a cap that has 2 billion tons of offsets could certainly be a net negative outcome. You’re convinced that the cost of carbon will be so high under the cap that the lost Clean Air Act authority is not as important as what’s gained. Fine, but you don’t know that, and I think everyone would rather keep the fall-back option of being able to regulate sources directly, which is why a bunch of the groups that are still supporting the bill are asking for this, even NRDC.

    [JR: I’m not at all convinced the cost of carbon will be high. I’m just aware that once the bill passes, it has infinitely higher impact than the “lost CAA authority” which really is much more about new sources. I’d like to keep the authority, but it’s just not close to a dealbreaker for me.]

    Another example is that the RES introduces bad precedents that will get copied in state legislatures (subtracting CCS and nukes from the baseline, counting trash incineration as renewable, etc.) while mandating less renewable energy than we will get under business as usual. That’s why a number of people have argued that we’re better off just dropping the RES, since it adds little in the way of new energy and sets bad precedents.

    [JR: I’ve said the RES provision isn’t terribly important anymore. But I don’t think it sets a bad precedent. I just don’t think it is going to do much compared to BAU, as you say.]

    Also, if you’re a campaigner in India or Japan, this bill isn’t helpful to you. Yes, there’s a broader picture that the U.S. needs to act, but if you’re trying to win a short-term campaign in one of those countries to get something in line with IPCC’s fourth assessment numbers for 450 in place (or something even better), then this is unhelpful. Maybe you think other things are more important, but it’s true.

    [JR: Sorry. We very much part company here. This bill is precisely what a campaigner in another country needs. Indeed, if you really believe this then I think we are just in fundamental disagreement. This bill is a staggering achievement in the rest of the world will see it as such. It goes far beyond what any major industrial country has done.]

    I would agree with your criticism of Greenpeace if they said, “this bill does more harm than good and we urge people to vote no.” End stop. But their statement was much more qualified than that. They’re saying they drop their endorsement. That’s not the same as opposing. They have a very high standard for what gets their seal of approval. That’s good for the environmental community that such a gold standard brand exists, so that it’s not only folks like NRDC and EDF to tell the people what’s really happening.

    And I gotta say that even if their line in the intro is a little overstated, it’s nowhere near as over the top as your praise of the bill as enacting into law “a sweeping clean energy revolution that puts the nation on a path to virtually eliminate global warming pollution from the entire economy in four decades.”

    [JR: The difference is, my statement is accurate and theirs is not.]

    Whatever positive things might be said, that’s just silliness, and we undercut ourselves in future fights by overselling what this is. Everyone on the green side advocating for this bill needs to be very careful not to claim that this bill alone solves all our problems, which is a habit you’re falling into. What will you do if, god willing, this bill is signed into law without any further weakening, and the next day we all need to start pushing for more?

    You’re doing just what the reform groups did around McCain-Feingold when they told everyone that this bill alone would get big money out of politics. Well, it didn’t, but where are they now? They have to start all their conversations by explaining why they were wrong before and why they should be listened to now.

    [JR: You couldn’t think of a less appropriate analogy. Nor does it apply to anything that I’m doing on this blog. Attack the bill and me all you want — but please don’t put arguments into my mouth. I have said the exact opposite of what you claim it in the last two paragraphs. This bill is just a beginning.

    And I think it is important for me to repeat to all commenters. I don’t put up with people who misstate my position in order to attack it. I get enough of that from the deniers.]

  17. john says:


    While some utilities do a good job of passing on savings from efficiency, most do not.

    I think our main difference may be that I don’t think we have time to wait for serious consequences in the future, and I don’t think it’s politically feasible to get enough early action through a cap and trade alone.

    The science is pretty clear. If we don’t start cutting carbon now, within four or five years, we will have triggered several amplifying feedbacks which will make catastrophic consequences inevitable and unavoidable, so for me, this is it. Even if, faced with more obvious consequences some time in the future, we do take AGW more seriously and pass draconian laws, it won’t matter. Either we get it right now or we’re toast. Methane has risen dramatically for two years running, and satellite data suggests it’s from the polar regions, meaning the worst of these feedbacks has already started. If we’re lucky, it has not become a self-reinforcing loop.

    Smart fiscal policies like the ones I described above — especially if they include triggers like requirements for point of sale and retrofit permit audits and upgrades — will move us much faster than caps alone could. If we make it in folks’ economic self-interest (for the entire built environment) to become more efficient and to install renewables, we’ll cut more sooner than a politically acceptable cap could. We’ll also save some money on grid costs. So for me, if we’re smart, caps will be irrelevant. And if we’re not smart, they won’t matter.

    Auctions were a surrogate for smart policy in that they gave public entities enough money to do serious efficiency and renewable programs like the ones in Berkeley and Annapolis.

    The flip side of making it cheap to do the right thing is to impose carbon tariffs on the exports of countries which do not agree to binding caps at Copenhagen.

    So yes, I do believe in caps — but primarily in the context of international agreements. Domestically, they’re necessary, but not sufficient.

    I believe if we’re going to avert disaster, we need a flat out ban on coal plants, an aggressive EEPS coordinated with an RPS so that we are forced to begin retiring existing coal plants, and the fiscal and financial policies that make it affordable to do this. As I’ve said before, people don’t care about the price per kW; they’re concerned with their monthly bill. If we’re smart, we can transition to a cleaner low carbon energy system faster and cheaper and hold bills constant, and do it faster than a politically acceptable cap and trade program alone could.

    Keeping consumer costs constant or even reducing monthly bills for the first twenty to thirty years of this transition would also rob Republicans of their primary weapon.

    Krugman suggested we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good in this issue. That’s usually good advice. But for climate change, I think the science is clear: we don’t have time for good. We need pretty close to perfect.

    [JR: Unfortunately, the choice isn’t between doing what you (or I) want and Waxman-Markey. It is between doing nothing for the foreseeable future and Waxman-Markey.]

  18. john says:


    The longest journey may start with a single step, but if you’ve only got a short time, you won’t reach your destination one step at a time. Thanks to a couple of decades of inaction, we need to sprint to avoid catastrophe, so your theory of solving large problems does not apply here. I wish it did.

  19. John,

    I understand you, but there literally is no other way. No first step is going to satisfy the scale and timeline of the problem. Therefore, thinking in terms of the scale of the problem, or the time left, will continue to doom us to inaction.

    The only rational thing to do at this point (just get started) feels really irrational. You’re proving my point.

  20. Greg Robie says:

    If a “B” or “B-” means a grade of 80 – 85%, doesn’t that also mean that 15 – 20% is left to contribute to the math of compounding errors?

    In the financial sector, relative to compounding errors and the math of risk management, only 1-5% was ignored in the “grading” of the health of institutions. Everything was fine . . . until it wasn’t (in March of 2007 Secretary Paulson was saying only “tweaking” was needed because everything was going so well).

    Using the comparison I’ve made, the risk this environmental legislation ignores is 300 – 2000% greater. If the errors in 1 – 5% can compound to bring on the collapse of a global capitalism based on debt-based fiat currencies, what is possible when what is ignored/understood wrong is several fold greater? Given that, once klimakatastrophe gets up its head of steam, there is no environmental bailout possible for homo sapiens(something we cannot unequivocally know/observe until the fact that the tipping point was passed is a historical truth that is 30 years old), advocacy for getting the government’s policy as right as can be scientifically and mathematically determined seems rational. Can the same be said (given our observed behaviors and level of awareness/knowledge) for an assumption that if/once this ACES legislation become law its errors will be corrected?

    I ask for one of my focuses is atmospheric methane. At the “Science Basics” web page of The Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, the stated facts about atmospheric methane is wrong (see last section “Can we stop it?” section). The error is linked to a 2006 BBC News report to verify the truth of what is misstated. Why wasn’t NOAA’s current reports on atmospheric methane referenced? Is such an inconvenient truth?

    I find it exponentially sobering that (according to a report from the ISCC this March in Copenhagen) only 20 scientists are studying methane world-wide; Arctic methane is currently very challenging to gather data to study. This ignorance and limited knowledge means that the possibility for errors to exist that can be compounded is much greater than was the case in the financial sector. Doesn’t this suggest that support, not criticism, is merited for those arguing that the math and science of climate change requires legislation that gets the highest grade imaginable.

    BTW, my Representative, John Hall, is on this Select Committee. Now that I have written and posted this comment, I am calling his office (again) to alert him to the (I hope) oversight and misstatement of the facts of atmospheric methane.

  21. Joe,

    Thanks for this post. It explained a lot to me, as I was not aware of Greenpeace’s positions and some of the political wranglings. And your clarification of your use of the term ‘eco-sniper’ in another post helped too.

    I respect your work, and I am grateful to read your blog. It is the best I have found for good info, political insights and nut-and-bolts global warming.

  22. Dorothy says:

    Kieran, I like the video of the snorkeler, but do you think signing one more petition is going to do it? The image of the guy backing on to the bus in his flippers will get less and less funny as the years go by.

    What’s really not funny are the 350 amendments (outlined in Joe’s previous post) to W-M the Republicans plan to introduce. Irrational, bordering on lunatic. This makes one think there may a frightening, massive mental health problem in Congress. What can anyone do about this? Strapping muzzles on these aberrant Members of Congress would probably be a violation of their civil rights, even though they are showing they are a threat to society.

    This also makes one think the W-M bill in its present form is the best we can get. And this is very sad, because it’s a long way from what we need to prevent really dangerous climate change.

  23. Greg Robie says:

    John and Deborah,

    Your various points/”truths”, relative to what is rational, reflect the sensibilities of our species gender-based socio-psychoneuroimmunoendocrinologies. Both of you are therefore “right,” and, consequently, together we are all wrong.

    We are in a dynamic that is graded (will be resolved) on a pass/fail metric. Given the trends in the science and climate modeling, the likelihood the we are already fully enmeshed in klimakatastrophe is increasingly hard to rationally argue against. Aren’t our aforementioned gender differentiated neuropeptide addiction systems “working,” such that the result is that, together, we are continuing to avoid living so as to effect meaningful change? This question is informed by what was possible to learn from Prohibition in the US: moral behavior cannot be successfully and sustainably legislated (unless the governed population wants to be moral). Isn’t how we have lived/are living proof, that in matters of tipping out of klimakatastrophe (if such is still possible), we talk a talk we do not walk? If so, are we immoral? Or, if questions about morality/immorality are not persuasive, have we “evolved” scientifically and unleashed our creative powers to change our environment faster than we are evolved to adapt to that change (if that was possible)?

    Anyway, as a male, I feel John is right. ;) Tipping out of klimakatastrophe is an all or nothing matter. For this to happen, systemically, the nature of the currencies of the economny need to change from debt/enslavement to something sustainable. I argue this can most efficiently be accomplished through a new (and Constitutional) currency coined in carbon credits. Deborah, if we all hold hands when we cross “the street” such a change in wealth represents, would your sensibilites feel that such is a trustworthy solution?

    Now I will call Hall! =)

  24. Greg,

    You’re conflating gender and psychology, to rather obtuse and silly ends. Let’s cut through all that, seeing as how you and I can definitely agree that time is of the essence.

    What I am arguing is that the very urgency that you are referring to demands immediate action.

    We have an existing representative government, and an existing economy that everyone already agrees upon.

    You seriously want to waste precious time remaking the tools instead of just deploying them?

    Do you realize how much time it would take to get enough people on board to your proposed solution? I’d rather just start working with the tools at hand, for all the reasons you state.

  25. john says:


    You are right, of course. We cannot (and I do not) oppose Waxman-Markey because of it’s shortcomings. But I do think we need to press for including the kind of improvements that Van Hollen’s National Home Energy Revolving Fund (extended to commercial buildings) would offer.


    You are a skilled rhetorician, but to preemptively capitulate and accept that which will not achieve the results we NEED is irrational. Let’s continue to fight for what the planet needs, even as we accept what the political process is now offering us. The fault in your logic is that these activities are somehow mutually exclusive. They are not.

  26. Hey John,

    I am not suggesting that we leave it at Waxman-Markey. You are right: that would be irrational.

    I am saying that damning Waxman-Markey because it’s not good enough (Greenpeace’s stance. Hansen’s stance) is a losing strategy. Saying no when you’re starting to get what you want is a bad strategy.

    I think we are actually in agreement–fighting for more and accepting what you get are absolutely not mutually exclusive.

  27. john says:


    I think we are in violent agreement!

  28. Greg Robie says:

    Hi Deborah,

    In my experience, for an intentional paradigm shift to happen, what is being done that is wrong must be named, understood/felt as wrong, and turned from. To effect an intentional paradigm shift, can one (rationally) go with an approach that is effectively the same as pretending one is only a little bit pregnant. It seems to me that one is either living with integrity in the new paradigm or one is still part of the old. Anything else has a high probabilty of being motivated reasoning.

    From my (and I hope) rational observations, we have–and playing with the wording of the assertion offered–a representative economy (i.e. an existing government that conforms to our economic choices. Isn’t government today, preponderantly, about the money? If so, until the difference between how much time we spend involved in acts of self-governance, and how much time we work to pay the taxes on which government operates become more commiserate (here in NY the tax free day is around today), is it rational to feel that we have a government (beyond the economy; beyond our economic choices and how we are living)?

    Given the trends in the science of climate change and modeling, the “precious time,” for what you experience as rational, has been wasted. Systems do collapse. Concerning this fact, about the only choice we rationally have is whether a collapse, when it happens, is intentional, or bits us/US in the butt. In our situation there _MAY_ be time for intentional catastrophic change that could tip us/US out of klimakatastrophe (i.e. a paradigm shift). If so, won’t the change need to be as radical as repenting and embracing the four Constitutional changes I have outlined which our economic choices have caused us/US to be traitors toward?

    Regardless, I hope you do start working with the tools at hand, and for the reasons you state. Personally, I have been trying to do things, as you suggest, for my whole adult life. The sooner you find out it does not work, the sooner you may be willing to give up your exclusive trust in them; to become open to thinking differently–an more complexly–about the nature of the systemic dynamics we are in the midst of. Conversely, it is also possible, because you are a woman, that you and the work you do will be treated differently than I have been.

    In any event, do you realize how quickly collapses happen when everyone is “on board” for it (and I find that most people I talk with are pretty ignorant of what the science is behind the change we are in; at best they seem to just want the problem to go away)? In addition, aren’t loyal oppositions vital for evolution. If something other than peer pressure and motivated reasoning is to dominate social behaviors systemically important? Without them isn’t a collapse of a status quo assured? And, if so, isn’t such a collapse thanks to a mix of denial, ignorance, limits relative to what can be emotionally processed, and lies?

    And speaking of ignorance and the essence of time, the staff person I spoke to at my Representative’s office was a self-describe neophyte relative to climate change. For a person who works for a Congressperson who serves on The Select Committee on Energy Security and Climate Change, is such, an interesting hire? Can such staff help a Representative be the leadership tool I hear you feel is there to be used? Regardless, I advised him that the statements about atmospheric methane at the Committee’s “Science Basics“ page was wrong. I, again, volunteered to network/be networked with, constituents in the 19th Congressional District of NY relative to working on Climate change at the municipal level. Silly, aren’t I?

  29. C. Vink says:

    Greenpeace (May 18): ‘Democrats pass bogus climate bill‘.

    My ‘amateur’ view is, Joe, that both you and Jim Beacon (see above: May 17, 4:20 pm are right :-). Thanks for explaining your position in relation to Greenpeace’s.

  30. C. Vink says:

    Jim is right about the role of Greenpeace, that is: ‘It’s their job to be out there on the edge and they’ve shown the way for a lot of people and done a lot of good by taking that course over the decades.’
    Of course much of the rest of his view is incompatible with yours.

    I think Greenpeace telling the world this bill is a watered down compromise with the industry etc. makes it less ‘radical’ and ‘leftist’ in the eyes of politicians and business people who’s support is needed to get the bill passed and make it work. So don’t be too harsh on GP.

  31. Robert says:

    “[JR: And yet there are lots of comments from people here who don’t agree with me. Hmm. Wonder why? It’s because they don’t keep repeating stuff that isn’t true, forcing me to waste time explaining why it isn’t true.]”

    Interesting. It seems that any post mentioning Jevons Paradox gets automatically deleted. Maybe you should blog on it and explain why.

    [JR: I have already blogged on the rebound effect, which is the main issue here, so yes, I delete people who post stuff that isn’t true that I have already blogged on. I will get around to Jevons after Waxman-Markey.]

  32. Robert says:

    I agree that you have to deal with out-and-out trolls – any blog will die under the weight of them, esp. one on AGW. I try not to be one. Any information I post is information I believe to be true, whether or not you agree.

    I know you have blogged on Jevons before (at least I recall you posting one piece that dismissed it). Jevons CAN be overcome providing you cap carbon as it enters the system, but otherwise it is a force that undermines conservation.

    My family leave CFLs on 24/7. Previously they might just about have got around to switching off incandescents occasionally… This is the invisible hand of Jevons at work.

    [JR: Hmm. Don’t want to insult your family, but that is just plain strange. Not a widespread occurrence, to go be California’s documented examples.]

    Waxman-Markey details the penalty clause for exceeding your emission allowance – double the going rate. This means that ultimately carbon isn’t capped at all – its just expensive. Improve efficiency enough and people won’t mind paying the premium.

  33. Robert says:

    “[JR: Hmm. Don’t want to insult your family, but that is just plain strange. Not a widespread occurrence, to go be California’s documented examples.]”

    Feel free to insult my family! They drive me mad. My daughter takes a delight in leaving her PC on permanently and threatens to fit a lock on the door if I drop it into standby one more time.

    I actually think that an ignorance and disinterest in climate change is very widespread, certainly in the UK. As an issue it has virtually dropped off the radar since the recession hit. People think that because they can afford to buy something it must be alright. Period. And anyone that bucks the trend is some sort of sad loser.

    I have come to the conclusion that all my personal initiatives are a complete waste of time (although it has cut my energy costs by half). Voters need to feel scared enogh to demand action from their political representatives. It will come but will it be soon enough?

  34. Start Loving says:

    Joseph, you are one of our greatest champions. Fight on brother.

  35. Robert says:

    “[JR: And yet there are lots of comments from people here who don’t agree with me. Hmm. Wonder why? It’s because they don’t keep repeating stuff that isn’t true, forcing me to waste time explaining why it isn’t true.]”

    Once you go down the road of moderating posters and deleting posts then [snip]

    [JR: Once you go down the road of moderating posters and deleting posts then you are like most climate blogs. Get over it. I have explained my long-standing policy of not tolerating people who constantly post long debunked disinformation, misstate my position (or others) for purposes of attacking a strawman, or keep engaging in ad hominem attacks. If you don’t moderate, then you end up taken over by the deniers, as we see on DotEarth and elsewhere.]

  36. At several important points in English history, Various factions opposing the King failed in their efforts because they failed to “make common cause.” Sometimes it worked the other way, but the Magna Carta was an unusual event.

    Greeenpeace is not an opponent because they differ on methods.

    Neither am I.

    Climate scientists will not prevail if they fail to make common cause with the kind of people that can do something about it.