Ecomodernist Cheer for the Holidays


November 20, 2015 |

I wish I had written this great article by Ed Cumming in the Guardian. Titled "The scientists with reasons to be cheerful," it's a multi-profile of Ruth DeFries, Max Roser, Steven Pinker, and Hans Rosling, and other optimistic scholars. 

In the last few years I've noticed a surge in what one might call "reality-based" cheeriness about the future. As those profiled in Cumming's article and others show in their work, the world as a whole is getting better along almost every dimension: public health, prosperity and security, violence and conflict, and even environmentally in many ways. Maybe the best part of the article, though, is this quotation from DeFries, who coauthored An Ecomodernist Manifesto:

“If people are bombarded with catastrophe, they stop paying attention. But the other side is that everything is fine and there’ll always be a techno fix. I wanted to find a way between those extremes by taking a historical look at how people have figured out how to produce food over many millennia."

DeFries is describing her great recent book The Big Ratchet, and she speaks to a central view of ecomodernism: humanity has the capability to create a good future, but it is not automatic.


Rachel Pritzker, who runs the Pritzker Innovation Fund and also coauthored the Manifesto, gave a great TEDx Talk earlier this month. Check it out (starts around hour 8:35):


Breakthrough's Jessica Lovering was quoted in this teriffic deep dive into Californian nuclear power by David Baker at the San Francisco Chronicle. I was really struck by this graph and how one single industrial facility can produce electricity on par with dozens or hundreds of installations of different power technologies:


Julie Kelly and Amy Levy have some nice ecomodernist thoughts to offer the UNFCCC in Paris:

The optimistic yet pragmatic approach is attracting people who, until now, have been unable to find a place in the conversation on climate. A Republican food writer, a liberal mom from the Bible Belt, scientists, farmers, Democrats, and Libertarians - while they can make for strange bedfellows, they are jumping on board and finding their voices in ecomodernism. In other words, it's an environmental approach that makes sense to the big, busy cluster in the middle of the political spectrum who don't identify with the hardcore climate change deniers on the right or the anti-corporate Earth Firsters on the left.


Will Saletan, who earlier this year authored a tremendously good blockbuster report on GMOs for Slate, is back with a note on the recent FDA approval of GM salmon:

What’s so safe or natural about depleting fisheries and flying in salmon from Norway? What’s so noble about insisting that 25 percent more fish be extracted from the ocean to feed your non-GE salmon? And what’s so progressive about suing the FDA to stop the approval of more genetically modified animals, such as disease-fighting mosquitoesor pigs that resist swine fever?


I just really like the headline for this Dutch magazine's article on ecomodernism:


Image credit: TEDx Beacon Hill


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By Another comment on 2012 09 12

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By comment 1 on 2012 09 12

@Peter: Thanks for the comment. I'm glad you hold Breakthrough Institute to a high standard, which we appreciate.

We're actually nearing completion on a comprehensive review of the current state of the art in analysis, modeling, and empirical research into the rebound effect, so stay tuned in January for a very detailed look at this key issue.

You are right that rebound effects do not always eliminate 100% of the energy gains from energy efficiency measures -- a scenario known as "backfire." As you note, however, rebound effects are very real, and have been largely ignored in contemporary energy policymaking. Rebound effects at macroeconomic scales are quite significant, and backfire is even likely in certain circumstances.

To date, most American energy analysts will argue that rebound effects are "real but not significant" and often cite a range of 10-30% as the amount of efficiency savings "taken back" by rebound effects.

Those figures however trace their origin back to a good but limited study of energy consumption rebound among consumers in wealthy countries -- but these are precisely the scope of analysis and sectors of the economy where rebound would be lowest.

Two-thirds of global energy use is in the productive sectors of the economy (industry and business) and there, direct rebounds are typically much larger. Meanwhile, greater and greater shares of energy consumption are in the developing economies, where rebound is also greater, as demand for energy is far from saturated there, and improving the productivity of energy has profound impacts for the pace of economic expansion.

Studies of these micro-scale (or "direct") rebound effects are useful, but efficiency advocates in the U.S. have latched onto this limited research, which (intentionally or unintentionally) distracts attention from macro-rebound, indirect rebound and rebounds in developing nations.

Remember, for Jevons, his focus was on the macroeconomic impacts that are most important, and this was all intuitive. Increase the productivity of any factor and you increase both demand for all factors as well as economic output.

Now, 150 years later, as we consider the ability of efficiency to deliver lasting emissions reductions at a global scale, a growing body of research utilizing a variety of empirical, modeling, and economic methods have shed new light on these complex macroeconomic dynamics in which full-scale rebound resides, and in which the the scale of rebound does indeed become very significant.

And let's all remember, that the only scope that really matters from a climate perspective is the full scale of rebound in the global economy (e.g. one climate, one global economy).

Rebound effects are thus far more significant at this scale of analysis than generally believed, and while Owen may miss the mark once or twice, he is more right than not in his article, and worth reading closely. Stay tuned though for the kind of "nuanced analysis" on the rebound effect you've been looking for in early 2011. Take care,

Jesse Jenkins
Director of Energy and Climate Policy
Breakthrough Institute

By Jesse Jenkins on 2010 12 23

The point you make is a valid one, but your use of characterizing the environmentalist worldview as polarized completely discredits your argument. When people think of "will Change A solve Problem B," there are always entire sets of issues to look at in the middle. Policy is a huge problem with GE crops when it comes down to "patenting life" and who ends up with the cash in their pocket. If GE crops are supposed to prevent human suffering, there's going to need to be some major shifts in economic thinking in order for those crops to get the the people who need them in an affordable way. The insufficient amount of isolated field experiments prior to mass employment is also a problem. We know a lot, but nature's systems are tricky, which requires very very little room for human error. In regard to nuclear, it would be advised that you mention the issues surrounding the waste, which is a primary ecological concern, and what many consider long lasting proof of our hubris. And in reference to the previous comment, the "magic wand" question is completely ridiculous. If you believe that carbon emissions are the only thing we need to confront, you're living under a concrete block. It's definitely the most dramatic, and time-sensitive, but because of that, it's overshadowing other emergencies. What kind of world do you want to live in, and provide for your children? One where people are packed cheek to jowl in steel cities, all of our food now a creation of our intellect and absent any connection to where we had come from? One where there are no wolves, bears, eagles, whales...because they aren't essential to human survival? Humans are an amazing species with amazing potential, but it's time we start recognizing that potential, and as you advocate, actually apply our logic where we need it most.

By Jameson on 2010 05 31

Taka, thank you for your comment.

There are certainly dangers associated with uranium mining, as with any other form of mining, and those dangers are further exacerbated by risks associated with radiation exposure (although coal and other hard rock miners are often exposed to radiation as well, and the burning of coal releases relatively large amounts of uranium and other radioactive materials into the atmosphere as well).

We did not include a factoid for recent fatalities from uranium mining, and much of the earlier mining impacts, such as those in the article you cited, were fueled by demand from the military nuclear weapons apparatus, not later civilian nuclear power operations. Like the early history of coal mining (which we don't include here), the early history of uranium mining is clearly much worse than today's operations, although both coal and uranium mining still have their impacts.

It's also worth noting in this context though, that pound-for-pound, uranium is a couple orders of magnitude more "energy dense" than coal, meaning much much less uranium must be mined, processed, 'burnt' and then reprocessed or stored to produce a given amount of energy, compared to coal. In other words, whereas coal ore, fuel and waste are measured in quantities of hundreds, thousands or even billions of tons, 'equivalent' quantities or uranium are probably described in terms of hundreds of pounds or dozens of tons. Much of the environmental and human impacts of mining and waste thus scale proportionately.

In the end though, as you clearly understand, all forms of energy have their risks and impacts (which was much the point of this post), and the key is to examine their relative risks and impacts to make informed decisions about our energy supply options. Thanks for stopping by Taka. Cheers...

By Jesse Jenkins on 2010 05 17

Any new federal government programs will run into the usual quagmire of influence peddling, favoritism .

By on 2010 05 17

Oil, gas, coal, nuclear energy - is a serious threat to the planet and each of us ... Propose a mutually beneficial partnership for the project a clean energy source which is gravity. For more information visit: For the interested partner is ready to discuss specifics. Sincerely, Igor.

By Energyland on 2010 05 16

Thanks Phil. This is clearly a complex situation, and I'm not saying Eskom has the best plan to move forward. What I'm trying to draw attention to is the broader complexity of challenges inherent in the intersection of development, energy poverty and climate change.

For a country where energy poverty is widespread, as we agree is the case in South Africa, efficiency doesn't preclude the need for MUCH more energy. In the context of rapidly developing nations, we can talk about the most efficient EXPANSION of energy supplies and economic well-being, but clearly an absolute reduction in energy usage isn't in the cards. They'll need a LOT more energy, and if we don't want to sacrifice climate and environmental goals, we need it to be clean, and if we don't want to sacrifice economic development and poverty alleviation goals, we need it to affordable. Clean, affordable, and abundant. That's the core point I'm trying to raise. While Eskom may not have the best plan to further any of those goals, South Africa's case is emblematic of those interlocking challenges.

When it comes to balancing a renewables-only grid, the technologies "are there" in the sense that they physical exist and are known. The question is if they are affordable and readily scalable in a timely manner to meet expanding energy needs. That remains an open question and is not a trivial matter.

Thanks for the additional information about Eskom's plans. Much appreciated. Cheers,


By Jesse Jenkins on 2010 04 02

Different people in the world take the credit loans from various banks, because that is comfortable.

By Tiffany18Callahan on 2010 04 02

As an American from the West Coast who lived in Australia for six months, I can attest to the serious and prolonged burrito drought ravaging the entirety of the continent! Anyone with the gumption to start a burrito chain in Oz could make some good money...

Great profile of a great BTGen fellow. Leigh is missed around here.

By Jesse Jenkins on 2010 04 01

Obama should start from scratch, and look for smart, strategic investments that can solve our short-term woes while creating an economy that's built to last. Obama is the best President

By adalah multiple search engine popular on 2010 03 17

Don't argue with Bill Gates. He knows what he is saying.

By Eva on 2010 03 16


Sorry for taking so long to reply to your comments. I think I would characterize my position on CLEAR as a willing pragmatist, rather than an ardent supporter of a cap-and-dividend model. That said, a lot has happened since my original comment and scant little of it bodes well for passage of a Waxman-Markey type climate bill--or most any other kind of climate bill, for that matter--in 2010.

First, Democrats in my homeland of Massachusetts somehow lost the late Sen. Ted Kennedy's seat, fumbling what the mainstream media loves to call the Democrats' "filibuster-proof super majority" (when in actuality, the Democratic Senate Caucus has shown little ability/willingness work together to get any significant legislation passed).

Second,President Obama omitted the projected $646 billion in revenue generated by a cap-and-trade in the 2011 budget, perhaps, signaling the Obama Administration's unwillingness to get behind a pure climate bill in favor of a broader jobs bill or energy bill.

Now it's really a question of strategy. Should those advocating for climate legislation continue to push for what is arguably not the strongest cap-and-trade scheme, to be passed by what is arguably not the strongest/most united Democratic Congressional Caucus? Or might it be a better strategy to consider other alternatives? I don't necessarily mean CLEAR specifically, but state, local and regional levels have been where the real innovation in carbon markets, clean energy policy and energy efficiency has been taking place anyway.

Yes, we need federal legislation, but I think it's a mistake to assume the feds have to be the ones to lead on this issue. They will eventually come around one way or the other. But right now, there will be many more immediate victories in this whole thing if we chose to push in places that are more likely to bend.

By Tim on 2010 02 02

ruusia will come back sovit union

By adham on 2010 02 01

Glad to see your Part 2 was more favorable to the CLEAR Act. Advocates for spending the money always seem to assume the money will be well-spent. But check out the "clean" coal, nuclear, and ethanol lobbies. Anyway, there are tons of reasons to return the money to consumers instead, and I think the politics are coming around. In CA, if we wait around much longer there will be a state initiative to suspend AB32. Dividends are the best defense. I don't know where you came up with the idea that dividends are for the "elite." R&D spending benefits PhD's the most until it eventually trickles down to West Oakland in 2030. And without dividends, West Oaklanders would be paying higher prices. Hope you guys can join the CLEAR bandwagon (sure, keep asking for better targets, or for 350, or for where the CERT funding goes), but don't just be the two old guys in the balcony from the muppets.

By Mike S. on 2010 01 29

Pretending there are limitless resources available to support our current economy is the dangerous denial in question. There is no magic silver-bullet technology that makes energy cheap and clean. The obvious (and politically distasteful) answer is to fully pay for the energy we use - which means including a price on carbon for our gasoline and electricity.

The marketplace will adjust, creating entire new industries in both transportation and electricity efficiencies and conservation.

"It is not a momentous technological undertaking," to transform our economy away from fossil fuels. Its technologically possible today, and the "costs" of implementation are actually investments in our collective future.
See Dr. Saul Griffith "Climate Change Recalculated" to understand what it will take to build the renewable energy infrastructure we need.

By LMerry on 2010 01 14

TN writes, "I can find no evidence that you or any of the other prominent bloggers and columnists we cited have ever publicly rebuked Romm for his behavior, which is toxic to civil and healthy democratic discourse."

Nice addition of the "we cited" escape clause. If you look a little more broadly you get William Connolley at Stoat who went after Romm quite harshly long before your post here:

Now the funny thing about that is what Connolley had to say about the Superfreaks and how it contrasted with your approach:

"Joe Romm has a fairly characteristic attack; and just for a change I'll agree with him; though he chooses odd bits to assault."

Personally I think Connolley is over-harsh with Romm, while I also think Romm is insufficiently cautious about his interpretations of what he's learned.

It's more than clear, however, that Superfreaks wrote a horribly-flawed chapter. While I'm no one of consequence, I was able to write three posts critiquing Levitt and Dubner without once referencing Romm, and I doubt I'm the only one.

I think the most telling part of TN's post was citing favorably to Jon Stewart's puff-piece interview of Levitt, the shoddiest work I've ever seen from Stewart. It was a content-free response that ignored the many substantive criticisms to the chapter, and here we see it repeated again, beyond a few cursory acknowledgments of errors.

By Brian Schmidt on 2009 11 08

You might get the wrong impression, although Eli would not, but some others, not Eli, whem MS writes

"You say above that you actually read the global warming chapter of their book. How curious, then, that you chose not to refer to it in your review."

But if, as Eli did, you read the post, the reason is clear.

"Wm Connolley stopped when he had found ten serious errors, so I'll continue where he left off and see if I can find ten more. To make it more of a challenge, I'm just going to look at the extract that appeared in the Sunday Times entitled "Why Everything You Think You Know About Global Warming Is Wrong"."

Roy would have been proud

By Eli Rabett on 2009 11 07


I believe you when you say that you had exaggerated your headline to make a point. In this way your headline was consistent with your exaggerated review, which neither represented the argument of the chapter nor said anything of about what the authors got right about global warming.

Your claim that your ten complaints about the book represent "ten serious errors" is also a gross exaggeration. The first three misrepresent the Caldeira affair. All are minor. And none contradict the larger argument the chapter makes, which is that efforts to reduce emissions have failed, for good reasons. There is a huge technology and price gap between low-carbon power and fossil fuels. Apocalypse mongering will not motivate governments or their citizens to make fossil fuels more expensive. And the religious discourse on climate is counterproductive.

It's quite telling that you chose to not even represent the core argument of the book in your review. You offer not a single sentence that states the argument above. You elevated minor issues -- as did Romm and his other followers -- as a way to get reviewers and readers to dismiss the book. And above in the comments you continued to misrepresent the exchange between the authors and Caldeira.

You say above that you actually read the global warming chapter of their book. How curious, then, that you chose not to refer to it in your review.


By Michael Shellenberger on 2009 11 07

BTI might improve the quality of the cap-and-trade discussion by more technology assessment for concentrating solar with thermal storage (CCS, or as Joe Romm calls it, solar baseload) and the other elements of "all the technology we need."

The GAO has done some very good work, but it is hard to find links to it. The Vorsana site has some. Gore and other sincere proponents of climate action need to have a fact check source lest they continue to damage the cause by unrealistic technical claims.

By Wilmot McCutchen on 2009 11 07

Michael, the title of my post is hyperbole. Hyperbole is exaggeration for emphasis and is not meant literally. I chose that title to reflect the title for the Sunday Times extract which was "Why Everything You Think You Know About Global Warming Is Wrong". This was also hyperbole and I haven't you notice demanded a retraction.

Tell me, Michael, if someone says: "I'm so hungry, I could eat a horse!", do you point out that their stomach volume is insufficient to hold an entire horse and that if they care about accuract and integrity they should issue a retraction?

If you had read my post you would have noticed that I document ten serious errors just in that extract and not counting the ones that William Connolley found. If you had read my post, you would have noticed that I am not echoing Romm, or taking Romm's word for anything except one quote from Caldeira. I wrote the post after reading chapter 5 of the book because I was appalled at how badly they got the science wrong. I was particularly disappointed because I liked their previous book and had spent a fair amount of time defending it against what I considered unfair criticism.

Try not to fit everything that happens into your feud with Joe Romm.

By Tim Lambert on 2009 11 06

PaulM wrote:

An excellent article. May I correct you on one point. The country's most-read climate blogger is not Joe Romm, but Anthony Watts, whose wattsupwiththat climate blog is read by roughly twice as many internet users as Romms, according to the Alexa web information site. Wattsupwiththat also ranks above climate progress on the wikio list of top science blogs.

PaulM: Thank you for this. I went to and indeed you are correct. We stand corrected. I shouldn't have taken Romm's word for it. We will make the change.

By Michael Shellenberger on 2009 11 06

This discussion is going around in circles, so I'll just repeat a few quick points and leave it at that.

Ted N: It's going around in circles because you continue to shift the discussion away from Romm's latest effort to intimidate and discredit a well regarded journalist who had criticized him.

1) Superfreakonomics made a lot of grave errors and misleading claims about climate science (and about things like solar panels) that had absolutely nothing to do with Caldeira. Given that it's a book a lot of people will likely read and discuss, it was very much worth criticizing and rebutting these errors, which was a big focus of my original post. Complaining that this sort of criticism constitutes "ganging up" or "mobbing" is silly.

Ted: There is much less than meets the eye to the errors that you and other critics have alleged. The number of errors and their magnitude has been exaggerated in order to discredit Dubner and Levitt rather than deal with the main argument of the chapter which is that based upon the last several decades of experience and the current absurdly inadequate efforts to address global carbon emissions, we probably need to start thinking about other ways to deal with climate change.

2) On the Caldeira point: Yes, Dubner/Levitt did misrepresent Caldeira's views, which is bad, but this particular mistake was probably not that big a deal in the grand scheme of things, especially given all their other, more serious, errors. If the sentence about the "right villain" had been the only error, it wouldn't have been worth an endless round of blog posts. Alas, it wasn't the only error.

Ted: I think it's been pretty well demonstrated in the comment above that Dubner and Levitt did not misrepresent Caldeira's views. That charge is based upon a single sentence that Dubner and Levitt revised at Caldeira's request. Caldeira did not explicitly ask that any part of that sentence be revised. He offered an ambiguous comment suggesting that he had a somewhat different view than Myhrvold. Dubner and Levitt revised the paragraph in a manner that was entirely appropriate given Caldeira's comment upon reviewing the manuscript. Not much point in debating it further. Folks can make up their own minds.

3) Debating the difficulty of reducing CO2 emissions, and how best to do it, is a totally valid discussion and I hope we have more of it. I certainly don't want to shut down that debate, though I'm sure you'll find some way to accuse me of doing so. In my last comment I should've written "difficulty" rather than "impossibility," but it was just a hasty word choice, not some dastardly attempt to "narrow climate politics."

Ted: I'll accept your explanation that the choice of words in your prior comment was just hasty and not intentional. However this is the second time in your comments to this post that you have had to take back your words. In the first case your word choice implied that we agreed with Superfreakonomics, and in the second that we thought emissions reductions were impossible. In both cases your misstatements indicate a very particular pattern of misunderstanding.

By Brad Plumer on 2009 11 06


It is quite revealing that you continue to misrepresent Superfreakonomics even after it has become clear that the authors represented Caldeira's views quite well. That they offered to modify a single sentence is not an acknowledgment that they misrepresented Caldeira.

On October 16 you claimed that "Everything in Superfreakonomics about Global Warming is Wrong". If you believe that then you also believe there is no connection between carbon emissions and global warming, a connection the authors clearly and repeatedly state as a fact.

Admit it, Tim, you mobbed Superfreakonomics on Joe Romm's signal, just like Plumer, Yglesias, Roberts and Krugman did. There's no evidence you read the book before making your claim that "everything" in it on global warming is wrong -- which may be why you don't actually refer to the book in your post, only to an excerpt in the Sunday Times. If you did read the book you grossly misrepresented it. Either way, you did not investigate before making your wild accusations.

If you care at all about accuracy and integrity, you need to retract your post, and correct your comment above.


By Michael Shellenberger on 2009 11 06


I did not suggest in my comment that curbing emissions is impossible and neither do Dubner and Levitt. They do suggest that the current framework for doing so has failed and will continue to fail, that the technological challenges to doing so are a good deal more substantial than you and Romm acknowledge, and that the costs as such, given current technologies are very high and represent a substantial obstacle to effective emissions reduction action. On these points, Dubner and Levitt, Caldiera (the ostensible victim in the drama that you, Romm, and others have manufactured), and Michael and I are in agreement. Indeed, in his correspondence with Dubner and Levitt, Caldiera writes:

"My pessimism stems from the apparent difficulties of solving the "prisoner's dilemma"- and "tragedy of the commons"-type aspects of this problem."

And in his controversial New York Times op-ed from 2007 he is even clearer on this point:

"Despite growing interest in clean energy technology, it looks as if we are not going to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide anytime soon. The amount in the atmosphere today exceeds the most pessimistic forecasts made just a few years ago, and it is increasing faster than anybody had foreseen."

Your reduction and mischaracterization of this view to "the impossibility of emissions reduction" is as good an example as any of the ways that you, Romm, and others in the climate blogosphere continually attempt to narrow climate politics to a pitched battle between those who believe that we are going to eliminate global carbon emissions with light bulbs and off the shelf technologies like wind and solar, and so-called "deniers/delayers" who Romm and others say are undermining efforts to save the planet - in Krugman's words, to "commit treason to the planet."

The fact that Dubner and Levitt have offered to revise a single sentence in the book does not in fact constitute an acknowledgment of significant error in the representation of Caldiera. Caldiera has acknowledged that the book's representation of him is accurate and that the change that Dubner and Levitt in fact made in the manuscript was a reasonable response to his comments. The attempt by Romm and now you to manufacture this revision into a major retraction and acknowledgement of error is a tried and true tactic. Get your opponent to acknowledge a minor mistake and then blow it up to suggest that it is evidence that the entire argument is bogus. It is one reason that retractions and corrections have become so uncommon in contemporary political discourse - because opponents use them to imply much greater error than the corrections themselves actually represent.

Finally, it is pretty clear in the original post, the update, and my comments that we are suggesting that you have participated in the "mobbing" of Dubner and Levitt, not being the primary source of McCarthyite behavior. McCarthyism is a very strong word and a serious charge and we reserve it for Romm. But McCarthyism requires enablers and mobbing, as noted in the post is a common feature of bullying. In the workplace, mobbing refers to "ganging up" by others to harass and intimidate an individual." It is hard not to read your post in the context of the overheated reaction from climate bloggers and conclude that the reaction to Superfreakonomics has been a classic case of mobbing and that you have been party to it.


By Ted Nordhaus on 2009 11 06

Ted, respectfully, I have to disagree about Caldeira. Dubner/Levitt really did misrepresent his views with that "right villain" sentence, and I'm not going to retract my saying so. I do think Dubner's explanation in his latest post of how the error happened is reasonable (they didn't realize why Caldeira was objecting to the sentence), but it's still an error. As far as I can tell, the main thing Romm got wrong initially was that he claimed Dubner/Levitt never ran the quote by Caldeira. But on his other points, Romm appears to be correct.

Your other argument, that people should've focused more on Dubner/Levitt's points about the impossibility of curbing emissions, rather than their many serious errors and misleading statements, is fair enough, but grave errors in best-selling books always attract more attention than the reasonable points. I guess I just disagree that this counts as McCarthyism.

By Brad Plumer on 2009 11 06

An excellent article. May I correct you on one point. The country's most-read climate blogger is not Joe Romm, but Anthony Watts, whose wattsupwiththat climate blog is read by roughly twice as many internet users as Romms, according to the Alexa web information site.

Wattsupwiththat also ranks above climate progress on the wikio list of top science blogs.

By PaulM on 2009 11 06

Levitt and Dubner claim that Caldeira believes that carbon dioxide is the wrong villain. This misrepresents Caldeira's views. Caldeira saw this line in a draft and objected to it. Even though Levitt and Dubner saw this objection, they left it in. Dubner no longer disputes this. (See his latest post.)

So rather than showing Romm's charge that he misrepresented Caldeira to be false, Dubner now concedes that it was true.

By Tim Lambert on 2009 11 06


Thank you for clarifying your intent and correcting your mischaracterization of our views on Superfreakonomics and geo-engineering. There are indeed a number of errors in the global warming chapter of which, as you note, much has been made by you, Romm, and many others.

But there is also much in that chapter that Dubner and Levitt get right, about which much less has been made, most especially the utter insufficiency of current or proposed policies to achieve substantial emissions reductions, the high cost of existing alternative energy technologies, and the resulting high costs of mitigation given current technological options.

These points, largely ignored in the scathing attacks upon the book by you and others, are a good deal more significant than the obsession with Nathan Myrhvold's views about black solar panels or whether Ken Caldiera was accurately portrayed in the book (given what we know of Caldiera's communications with the authors, his prior writing on the topic, and the tepid retraction he has actually requested it is difficult to conclude that he was not fairly and accurately represented).

The main issue at hand remain, which is Romm's effort to intimidate reporters and the tacit acceptance, if not outright approval, of these practices by other bloggers, including you. You piled on once Romm attacked ("mobbing," in the parlance of bullying), reflexively repeating Romm's charges, and casually adding as an update to your post simply that Dubner had responded.

So let's be clear. In the update you never acknowledged that Dubner and Levitt had not misrepresented Caldeira -- a fact which Caldeira acknowledges. You did not mention in your update that Romm had planted Caldiera's quote and misrepresented his correspondence with Caldiera. Nor did you acknowledge that Dubner had shown Romm's charges to be false. Instead, you excused Romm's misrepresentations and your amplification of them because Dubner hadn't corrected the other errors in the book.

Further, in the comment above you misrepresent what you actually said in your update. You wrote, "I thought it was a reasonable response and said so" -- in fact, you said nothing of the sort in your update.

You know as well as we do that Romm engages in this kind of thing routinely, and that you rushed to pile on to his attacks without investigating for yourself. I can find no evidence that you or any of the other prominent bloggers and columnists we cited have ever publicly rebuked Romm for his behavior, which is toxic to civil and healthy democratic discourse.


By Ted Nordhaus on 2009 11 05

Ah there is a character limit.

The diode lasers have too high a divergence to be used for the down link and the Nd lasers he proposes are not nearly that efficient. It is tough to see how diode laser pumped Nd lasers could be better than 20% efficient, and more likely much less than that. Then we get to the issue that neither type of laser is eyesafe.

Again, apologies for the divergence, but this actually is an issue that Eli is interested in

By Eli Rabett on 2009 11 05

Sorry, but there are a bunch of straw men being attacked in this post.

I mainly criticized Superfreakonomics for its shoddy and misleading presentation of climate science, as did William Connolley. (That post of mine you linked cites Romm only at the end.) A lot of other critics also focused on serious mistakes in the book that had absolutely nothing to do with Romm. Delong raised a whole slew of concerns. Krugman discussed the book's misreading of Marty Weitzman's research. These were all valid objections, and trying to wave them away as mere "bullying" is wrong.

Look, it would have been perfectly fine if Dubner/Levitt had just wanted to discuss the subject of geo-engineering. Plenty of other people have done so and that's a good discussion to have. But Dubner/Levitt came under fire because there was a lot of rubbish in their book

By Brad Plumer on 2009 11 05

Some others might say (not Eli of course), that you left out a word or two there, so let us look at the entire paragraph, which, as it happened was talking about how geo-engineering would require a world government

"The bottom line is that geoengineering requires fleets of black helicopters to get done. The requirement for something that will not amuse the guys at the Breakthrough Institute and their CEI/Heartland type funders. (OK, that's a WAGNER, but Eli is a smart bunny). Stuff like that on a global scale requires a global Ghengis Khan to pull the strings."

Now, to be charitable, and we are all charitable here, some might say (not Eli, of course) that it is easy to leave out a word or two when you are crying. Eli fully understands that tearing up is a real problem. However, just for the record, because, of course, it makes not a little bit of difference, there is that word -type- of funders and WAGNER, is a Wild Assed Guess, No Explanation Needed and it would appear reasonable to think that BI gets a lot of its funding from libertarian types. Still, there are others, not Eli of course who would like to know who your funders are. That, of course is their, not Eli's interest.

SNIP. TN: Were Herr Professor Halpern not such a lazy bunny he'd hop across the hall to the political science department where they might explain to him that libertarian funders typically don't fund organizations that advocate MASSIVE STATE INVESTMENT IN THE DEVELOPMENT AND DEPLOYMENT OF CLEAN ENERGY TECHNOLOGIES. But then once a clever bunny gets so far down the McCarthyite rabbet hole such details apparently don't much matter.

By Eli Rabett on 2009 11 05

Thanks for dropping by Mr. Halpern. Coming from a guy who won't comment or blog under his own name and recently smeared us by claiming that we where funded by "CEI/Heartland funders" it should come as little surprise that you would defend Romm's McCarthyite behavior.

By Ted Nordhaus on 2009 11 05

Kloor went looking for a fight and a bunch of links and he found it. Now everyone is whining. As dsquared said:

Okay, point one. The whole idea of contrarianism is that you

By Eli Rabett on 2009 11 05

Our climate has and always will change, sometimes getting colder, sometimes warmer. This is part of nature so it is natural and good. The average global temperature has not risen in the past few years. Still, every century, since the last Ice Age ended about 10,000 years ago, temperatures and sea levels have risen.
Many natural causes, including variable Sun radiation contribute to climate change. Still there is only one thing we hear over and over and it is the greenhouse effect. This is caused mostly by water vapor, which averages about 2% of our atmosphere. In scientific notation 2% is written as 20,000 PPM (parts per million) and therefore water vapor is the most important greenhouse gas. In comparison, carbon dioxide is only an insignificant 387 PPM.
Irrigation for agriculture, and even lawn care, has increased the water vapor in the atmosphere. Worldwide, untold millions of acres are irrigated. That means a lot more evaporation and more water vapor in the air. Twenty-year studies at various locations show that water vapor is increasing at over 100 PPM per year.
Another consequence of irrigation occurs when the water is pumped from wells where the water is not replaced for hundreds of years. This is the case in many desert areas. The water vapor eventually turns to rain and is evaporated again and again. However, within four months, most of the water ends up in the ocean raising the ocean level.
Carbon dioxide is a trace gas and has relatively little effect on climate change. At 387 PPM, it is well within the normal level. In fact, if the concentration falls below 200 PPM, all green plants will die causing widespread famine and death. The optimal level for most green plants is actually about 1,200 PPM.
Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant or smog. (Smog components include sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, ozone, carbon monoxide, but not carbon dioxide.) We exhale carbon dioxide and it is even added to our soft drinks to make them bubble. The majority of American scientists believe it is not a significant climate change gas. Still, ignoring the facts of real science, political science says it is a problem. Through their scare tactics they hope to transfer many billions of dollars from the average hardworking American and give it to their corrupt political friends. It

By Beau Joule on 2009 11 05

Anna, would Michael and Ted be justified in their comments about Romm if your search had come up with those names you want to see (I only recognize two of them)? Your logic escapes me.

McCarthyite behavior is wrong. Period. It has no place in the climate debate or any part of American society. Wouldn't you agree?

By Confused Green on 2009 11 05

> "Anna, this isn't about Morano or Michaels or Harris"

Jesse, this is about saving the world for human habitation - a cause which isn't helped by running a blog that's fixated on Romm to the extent that it hasn't even *mentioned* the most egregious climate inactivists - my Breakthrougn Institute blog Google search returned 0 mentions of Pat Michaels, 0 mentions of Tom Harris, 0 mentions of Marc Morano, and a gazillion mentions of Romm.

If this is what your funders are paying you to do, they're getting their money's worth. If it isn't...

By Anna Haynes on 2009 11 05

One thing is disagreeing with an idea, a another is claiming someone should not or is not allowed to express their views. This is unjustifiable in a democratic society. Disinformation was the same pretext used in mock trials in soviet union and it is not an excuse for silencing, inciting others into trashing someone and the like.

If people don't understand this basic principle, may god help us...

By fd on 2009 11 05

Anna, this isn't about Morano or Michaels or Harris, although I hope you're not excusing McCarthyite tactics even against those you may fervently disagree with. Click through the links to some of Romm's posts included above and you'll see him similarly lashing out against committed grassroots activist organizations like Greenpeace and the Energy Action Coalition, climate reporters like Andrew Revkin (NY Times) and Bryan Walsh (TIME), and of course, those of us at the Breakthrough Institute, who are one and all committed to effective and immediate climate action.

By Jesse Jenkins on 2009 11 05

To quote Deep Climate: "Sure, call out Romm on whatever you think he's done wrong. But how about sparing a bit of that outrage for the likes of Patrick Michaels, Marc Morano and Tom Harris, who have done so much to confuse the public on climate change issues."

But maybe you've already been doing so...let me google...

I guess not. Findings:

* Your search - "morano" - did not match any documents.
* Results 1 - 2 of 2 from for "harris" (neither of which was Tom Harris)
* Results 1 - 3 of 3 from for "michaels" (none of which was Pat Michaels)


* Results 1 - 10 of about 283 from for romm.

Vision, Michael & Ted, vision...

By Anna Haynes on 2009 11 04

Once I read about this Greentech company in a newspaper. This article is more interesting than that report. Thanks for sharing such nice blog here. I am glad to post here. I like this site very much as it has such nice article.

By accessoires psp on 2009 10 06

If only the "schedules" had a more desirable name...

By Danny on 2009 10 05

I would like to examine why American innovation has so few friends in Congress. I guess the beginning is to look at who the enemies are:

1. Big corporations. They like the status quo, which is predictable and profitable for them, and they don't like new inventions that would make their inventory obsolete and might give competitors an advantage. They don't like clean energy innovations because they might be forced to spend money to install them. They don't like the prospect of new markets that they can't dominate. They contribute heavily to re-election campaigns of their friends in Congress. "What's good for General Motors is good for America" used to be their battlecry, until GM went bankrupt.

2. Academics. Whatever money is available for research somehow winds up going to exotic pure science like string theory, cosmology, particle physics, hot fusion, etc. etc. instead of the grubby applied science and engineering that will be needed for clean energy cheap.

3. Department of Energy. DOE's clean energy research, which is limited to chemical CO2 capture and underground storage (e.g. the FutureGen project), is doomed to failure, like trying to fly by flapping mechanical wings. But that's all DOE is going to look at. Despite a very critical GAO report last year, institutional inertia keeps digging deeper dry holes.

4. Polluters. Despite their green talk, they really want nothing to change.

By Wilmot McCutchen on 2009 10 03

The wind farm would slightly alter the view of the ocean from certain points on Cape Cod, Martha

By creatinine on 2009 10 02

It sounds like something we need right now, jobs and clean energy.

By chris on 2009 10 02

The UCS document has not been published on their website. It was provided to us via email and we have uploaded it here for others to download.

By Jesse Jenkins on 2009 10 01

This is a measured response given how CP has slammed BTI this year. Well done.

BTW, Romm's inside-the-beltway perspective is that ACES is all that DC can muster, no ratification of a climate treaty is possible, and, without ACES, the chance of avoiding klimakatastrophe is zero (and only a little better with it). This is not the same as saying ACES is a strong bill, just as good as it gets.

I think you all would find common ground with the following haiku assessment of ACES:

Jacks or Better


By Greg Robie on 2009 09 29

By Allexx on 2009 09 28

Nowadays seem to everywhere already alert about energy crisis. It's definitely good way to save the world by start to use green power solution.

By DIY Solar Panels on 2009 09 28


The information I got was pulled from the FAO web site. The publication name is "Global Agriculture Toward 2050," and it was prepared for the FAO Hunger meeting in Rome next month.

The FAO document you cited advocates no-till agriculture as "conservation agriculture." It does not advocate a return to small scale organic farming.

Indeed, it concludes, "Conservation agriculture is not organic farming, but both could be combined, FAO emphazised. In Conservation Agriculture, farm chemicals, including fertilizer and herbicides are carefully applied. Over the years, however, quantities tend to decline."

In other words, FAO's description of conservation agriculture is the improvement of the industrial agricultural path we are on. Sounds sensible.


By Michael Shellenberger on 2009 09 28

The bottom line for me is that a carbon tax isn

By muskel on 2009 09 26

Certainly Levi makes a strong argument for policy over credit - and recent history seems to support his claims. But an issue of the specificity and scale of policy bubbles to the surface when discussing these ideas of global intentions. The development goals of LDCs and the developed giants are rarely well-aligned (but are not necessarily misaligned), and creating policy that is both applicable and mutually desirable is a challenge that Levi seems to push to the back burner. How can we realistically expect the international community at Copenhagen to achieve action-inducing resolutions if the rifts in states' intentions are left unconsidered? And if all participating nations' goals are influential in the decision making process this December, how can policy be implemented at an efficient and economically viable level? Is it really feasible to allow individual governments to determine their own policy at the level of institutions using a blanket set of international requirements?

By Ben mitzner on 2009 09 08

Just posted this comment on Lisa Jackson's(of EPA) column at the Huffington Post.
Dear Lisa,
We need alternative energy sources to reduce pollution in all communities, whether rich or poor. Wind energy is very important. As head of EPA you should be all for wind energy,
So why don't you do everything in your power to expedite the the permitting process for the Cape Wind project in Nantucket sound off of Cape Cod. This project can provide electricity to 300,000 homes on Cape Cod that currently get there electricity from oil fired power plants.
This project has been blocked wealthy and highly privileged residents of the Cape , Martha's Vineyard, and Nantucket that don't want their precious ocean views defiled by gauche turbines. The most prominent opponent of this ecologically sound and necessary project was the late Senator Ted Kennedy. He didn't want to see the turbines from his oceanfront cottage. You no longer have to be afraid of being bitten by the Lion of the Senate. You can move this project along without worrying about offending the Senator now. You can show the ordinary people, unprivileged masses you speak of in your post that you are willing to step on a few hypocritical privileged green toes for the sake of the greater good by permitting Cape wind to go forward now. Show this elitist, selfish, hypocritical, wealthy , Nimby obstructionist crowd that you are willing to stand up them and do what is right for America and Planet Earth.

By Ted Getzel on 2009 08 31

Test 1

By Shane Rathbun on 2009 08 12

Anything change did not happen.
This is sad!

By mortgage_loanmodification on 2009 08 02

Breakthroughs are not that far away, with modest investments in R&D for advanced nuclear power. For example, the liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR) can produce electricity cheaper than from coal. This is the only way we will ever convince nations to stop burning coal. You quote Jeffrey Sachs "It is difficult to see how coal-based developing economies such as China and India will subscribe to tight targets on emissions.." as I do in the presentation on the technology and benefits of LFTR. Here is a technology that produces < 1% of the waste of existing nuclear power plants, that runs on inexhaustible (for many millennia) thorium fuel, can burn existing nuclear waste, and is being pursued by hundreds of scientists and engineers, on a voluntary basis, with hardly any R&D funding. Concepts were proven in the 1970s. It now desperately needs funding to actually construct a prototype. Yet a proposal to ARPA-E for a bit over $100,000 to pursue one of the benefits (waste destruction) was rejected. There is a groundswell of consensus that somehow "renewable" or "green" technologies will solve our climate and energy problems, but anything related to "nuclear" is a priori dismissed. Please visit the Aim High presentation about the technology and benefits of the liquid fluoride thorium reactor at

By Robert Hargraves on 2009 08 02

Of course, everyone, including Joe Romm, is in favor of discovering clean tech breakthroughs. But just money is not enough -- we need a realistic plan for mission-driven research. We don't need more pure science woolgathering, like string theory, supercolliders, and giant hot fusion projects. But due to the politics of academia and the grant process, that's where the money keeps going. Nor do we need more research on chemical capture and underground storage, which are known to be dry holes.

Joe Romm believes that we already have the technology we need for clean baseload power(concentrating solar with thermal storage, CSP) and that therefore all available resources should go to deployment of his suite of solutions. Delaying deployment in the hope that more research may discover better solutions is not a prudent course, in his opinion, given the urgency of the CO2 problem. He has a point: delay can be endless, and research no more than an excuse for doing nothing.

[Teryn Norris: Breakthrough Institute strongly advocates that the federal government invest $30 billion per year in the direct deployment of low-carbon energy sources. We recommend $15 billion per year in clean energy R&D. Joe Romm repeatedly (and willfully, since we've clearly stated our position several times) misrepresents our position on this front, falsely claiming that we are only for radical "breakthroughs" in technology driven by basic R&D.

Whereas the Breakthrough Institute strongly supports public investment in deployment, Romm consistently recycles his assertion that no technological development is necessary to successfully tackle the global energy and climate challenge. After Jesse Jenkins highlighted this issue in a posted titled "Is Joe Romm an Energy Challenge Denier?" we receive no public response from Joe. We therefore conclude that this analysis is correct.

I do not agree with him that desert mirrors can save the planet. Water for mirror cleaning and steam turbines is scarce in the desert, and building out the transmission lines to get the power to the cities is going to be very hard. Replacing coal with CSP in the US will be insufficient to make a real difference globally, now that China, India and the rest of the world are intending to burn coal as hard as they can to sustain economic growth.

So we need a clean coal solution. But what we have mandated in Waxman-Markey and in DOE policy is a stubborn persistence in digging deeper dry holes to prove that chemical capture and underground storage are fundamentally dumb ideas. We don't need $150 billion to discover that.

By Wilmot McCutchen on 2009 07 31

The Chinese government has full authority over utilities and wields a strong hand in many investment decisions. That is not the case in the US, so here the amount of government spending isn't the key. The Waxman-Markey bill has emissions targets and a host of policy provisions. The private investments which they'll generate will be worth many times what the bill sets aside for the government to spend. Your piece frets that apples are not oranges; both can be used to make a fruit salad.

By jay alt on 2009 07 31

Let the politicians spin. Let Asia take over as the supplier of the cheapest windmills (they are the inevitable source of cheaper anything). Spend money to train a bunch of guys on how to fix alternate energy machines for "green collar jobs." Piddly, incremental changes for way too much money and little return.
Meanwhile, what Americans should do is what we are best at: INNOVATE. Create "magical solutions" in the true sense - go for creative destruction via totally out of left field solutions. Experiment. Entrepreneurs go for it! Panic is right around the corner and we cannot predict what the solutions will be. Throw out seed money. Fund basic research and playgrounds for really smart, creative people. Give a monster prize for something that generates energy at some ridiculously low price.
I don't think the government can do it as a "Man to the Moon" effort because there will not be just one solution. And the answers aren't going to come from straightforward engineering or straight-jacketed bureaucracies. Smart grid? Not if we need to build a massive infrastructure to get there. We need something more like the way the Internet grew - organically, chaotically.
We need good old American Wild West adventurers to solve this problem. Let's figure out how to get out of the way and cheer 'em on!

By Georjean Adams on 2009 07 30

Weaker legislation?? Invest more! The energy and power sector creates and sustains millions of jobs. One of America

By Maura on 2009 07 29

I think we still have to wait for a while to get the real effects of the stimulus plan. It will take several years to get back on the track again.

By Inversiones inmobiliarias on 2009 07 29

Apart from the grid connected solar power plants, the Indian government is also focussing on roof top solar power plants. Utilities such as NDPL (Delhi state power distribution utility) have come up with net metering schemes for roof top power systems connected to the grid. This would boost the solar power market through distributed generation.

For more information visit

By Nimisha Garg on 2009 07 28

Green Energy
I think clean energy is a point which should be considered by each person in particular, not only by the government.
Two years ago, my brother, who is an inventor, created a solar-powered mini-electric station, which we use up till now, and half a year ago a small electromobile for kids, now he is working on other useful things, and he does not need billions of dollars for this. He takes his ideas mostly from
So I think we should not only sit and wait for help from the authorities. We can start making our planet clean today!

By Lucy on 2009 07 27

Anyone who has taught science or read Tom Friedman's book, The World is Flat knows that our culture has become not only complacent but lazy in promoting science, technology, engineering and math. This will be part of our downfall if we don't correct it soon. Thank you for bringing this to light and call to action.

By Glenn Fay on 2009 07 27

Please drop us a comment: What do you think the U.S. needs to do to win the clean energy race?

By Jesse Jenkins on 2009 07 27

"but he kept the details vague"

All politicians are the same, even this one that holds so much hope for the USA!

By Nuera Green Network on 2009 07 27

"getting most Americans to realize that the only way to solve the problem is"

I think this is where the problem ultimately lies, it will take another 10 years to get 'most' Americans onside.

By Gotta Go Green on 2009 07 27

I believe the most productive application for photovoltiac solar panels is at household level, rather than in vast arrays at centralized locations far from urban settings.

When a household has the means to recharge the battery pack of a plug-in hybrid vehicle, they gain the choice of driving or cutting utility bills. Imagine; this incentivizes the reduction of both driving and household energy consumption.

The households with a modest photovoltiac panel system and plug-in hybrid vehicles can survive an emergency grid failure indefinitely! They gain the means to more closely monitor household energy consumption. Their routine driving evolves into shorter trips whereby in time more trips become possible without having to drive. Walking and bicycling thus become more viable travel options, and mass transit more practical to arrange.

You should see how this is a 'breakthrough' concept. Run with it.

Art Lewellan
Author, "The Seattle Circulator Plan"
(blacklisted in Seattle)

By Art Lewellan on 2009 07 23

Perhaps the reason that China, South Koream, and Japan are pushing ahead faster is that their relative amount of LNG imports are higher. My own experience in Korea was the observation that they went heavy into nuclear in the 80

By R Margolis on 2009 07 21

A quick comment - why all the harping on
emission reductions in capped US sectors?
Do you or do you not agree that global greenhouse
gas emissions would decrease by the amount mandated by the bill (ie by an amount equal to 20% of US emissions by 2020, etc.)? And isn't that what
ultimately matters?

By Prasad Kasibhatla on 2009 07 21

Hi Katherine, thanks for the comment. The WashPo figure is an annual figure ($44-66 billion annually) and the figure above is the sum-total of the 10 year investment plan China is reportedly planning ($440 to $660 billion over ten years). Hope that explains it.

By Jesse Jenkins on 2009 07 20

There would be a huge demand for solar energy in China and India. The right government investment policies will definitely help to grow the industry.

By Magniwork Generator on 2009 07 19

I think there may be a typo here. The Washington post article lists China as planning to invest 44-66 billion. Thanks for the great analysis.

By Katherine Philipson on 2009 07 19

Many are waiting for the marvel from him now.
But there will be change at a price of only large victims i think.
Under very long time.

By Loan modification on 2009 07 17

It is great news to hear that China and India are so committed to large scale solar power. Having visited India several times recently, it is obvious that they are in a near crisis situation with regard to air quality in the large cities. But with a large commitment like this there is good chance for reversal. It is kind of alarming to see the US potentially falling far behind in the area of cutting edge green technology, as this would be squandering a huge and vital economic opportunity.

By memory foam on 2009 07 17

Despite the questionable science around global warming or climate change, we are likely to replace most of our fossil fuels with fuels from agricultural products in the next century. As a result, these fuels will be carbon neutral.

For the Natural Laws of Innovation see

By Dale B. Halling on 2009 07 16

All these words, but not one word about the two instances of the most dangerous word in ACES, nuclear!

By Harold One Feather on 2009 07 13

This is something that I posted on on July 9, responding to Joe Romm's blog about James Hansen's HuffingtonPost article. This has relevance to "The Need for a New Framework ..." (aka "Plan B"), so I'm cross-posting it here. (Joe Romm has not yet released this from moderation quarantine -- not sure if he's going to. Some readers may find my perspectives to be offensive or objectionable.)


For all of Waxman-Markey's faults, I think it gets two things right: (1) allowance set-asides to fund tropical forest conservation, and (2) a meaningful price floor. These measures move U.S. policy closer to the rational and pragmatic goal of minimizing emissions within limits of cost acceptability. However, they leave W-M with no coherent policy foundation, because its other regulatory mechanisms -- the cap, trading, economy-wide linkage, banking, borrowing, and offsets -- all operate to achieve the converse objective of minimizing costs within limits of a predetermined (and unsustainable) emission cap.

The irrationality of the latter objective is demonstrated by the U.S. SO2 trading system, which continues to focus regulatory incentives on further cost reductions -- not emission reductions -- even when allowances are selling at a fraction of what was expected when the cap-and-trade system was enacted, and even when quantifiable benefits of further emission reductions would exceed costs by a factor of 25.

[Note to JR re "... So they do more than is necessary ...": That is because of banking, which has the effect of shifting the over-allocation into future compliance periods. They do more now only so they can do less later.]

Suppose that the SO2 allowances had been sold at fixed price (no emission cap), with sales revenue distributed according to the same proportionate allocation formula that was used for allowance allocation (or any other preferred formula). If the price were set at the lower limit of the original expectation level (about $650/ton, compared to the actual market of about $200/ton) then SO2 scrubber technology would have been adopted much sooner, and the more ambitious goal of the EPA's recent Clean Air Interstate Rule might have been achieved years ago without further regulatory intervention.

But that's not the kind of program that Hansen and other carbon-tax advocates are propounding for GHG regulation. Their proposals are very similar to Obama's original 100% auction, 80% tax dividend plan, the main difference being that allowances would be sold rather than auctioned. Obama, to his credit, knows how to recognize a brick wall when he sees it and he backed off on his original plan. The carbon-tax lobby, by contrast, is still banking its head against the wall in its insistence that carbon taxes operate primarily to extract revenue from the regulated industry. In my view, it is this dogged and dogmatic adherence to a "punitive" regulatory approach that leaves W-M as "the only game in town".

However, if tax revenue is used only to finance or incentivize emission reductions in the taxed industry, then I think there would be three consequences: (1) Industry costs would be dramatically lower (even if emission-reduction incentives are much higher than cap-and-trade's), so pricing instruments would lose their political stigma. (2) Price certainty, in addition to low costs, would make pricing instruments much more attractive to industry. (3) Pricing instruments would be more compatible with sectoral policies having limited scope, and hence limited political opposition. (Monolithic, economy-wide policies like W-M's tend to lead to "monolithic, economy-wide" political opposition, but the rationale for economy-wide linkage disappears when the policy objective is minimum emissions -- not minimum costs.)

Passage of W-M is not a sure bet, so it would be prudent to start thinking about some kind of viable "Plan B".

By Ken Johnson on 2009 07 11

400 million dollars to develop technology that already exists. What a bargin! Does anyone in the government pay attention to anything that goes on outside of the beltway? Save the taxpayers some money and do some research on the internet.

By sohbet on 2009 07 10

400 million dollars to develop technology that already exists. What a bargin! Does anyone in the government pay attention to anything that goes on outside of the beltway? Save the taxpayers some money and do some research on the internet.

By sohbet on 2009 07 10

Thanks for the sharing this website. it is very useful professional knowledge. Great idea you know about company background.
web application development

By nirenjan.raj on 2009 07 10

To the guy above, I guess it depends what state the carbon is in...lots of things are good until they are modified or used in high quantities.

I pray that electric cars become a reality in the next 10 years because of our terrible reliance on oil.

By Green Recycling Gal on 2009 07 09

He wouldn't need an artificial volcano - just lift the sulfur controls on coal burning plants.

Of course, the government would never think of doing something so simple.

By Sam on 2009 07 09


Great post. I too am jazzed about a VW plug in hybrid diesel. The is the best of all worlds
1- internal combustion engine that can be fueled with bio fuel (i.e. home brewed bio diesel made from used vegetable oil)
2- electricity generated from renewable sources to charge the battery.

There are several studies that point out the emission reductions that can be realized by replacing crude oil (i.e. gasoline) with electricity (even produced from dirty coal). EPRI and NRDC did one such study (

Controlling emissions is easier to do from stationary sources (read power plants) than moving vehicles.

I am a proud owner of a plug in hybrid. Namely a 2005 Toyota Prius that was upgraded with a Hymotion 5KW Lithium Ion battery back made by A123Systems. The car gets over 100MPG during the summer months for over 30 miles. The electricity is generated from my rooftop 4.7KW solar array. I live in upstate NY and produce over 6MW of electricity per year. Yes, I said UPSTATE NY!

I am living proof that using clean decentralized renewable power can be used for transportation to displace non renewable fossil fuel.

By Christian Grieco on 2009 07 09

Re "a New Framework": One alternative approach is the following:

"A Decarbonization Strategy for the Electricity Sector: New-Source Subsidies"

(This is a draft publication submitted to Energy Policy.)

By Ken Johnson on 2009 07 08

After some simulation, I think the real problem with the reserve is not that it violates the cap, but that it fails to address volatility. It turns out to be hard to generate price trajectories that release many allowances, and those that are released are self-defeating because they compete with open-market stabilizing operations. See and preceding entries.

By Tom Fiddaman on 2009 07 08

Nice thoughts has been added. needs no addition
Shelly Smith

foreclosure auctions

By foreclosure auctions on 2009 07 08

I am glad that China and India are cooperating on Launch New Solar Energy Projects.

By solar panels on 2009 07 08

Breakthrough Institute Team,
I would love to feature this article on my solar news site - - with your permission. I will linkback, etc. and even set up your blog as a contributor if you want. please email me to discuss. thanks!

By scott weitzman on 2009 07 08

Big emitters of CO2 (e.g. coal-fired power plants) pretend in public that they really want to do something. But the economic reality is that pollution control costs money, and doesn't increase profits, therefore shareholders don't like it. The last thing the big emitters want to see is new technology that solves the problem they create, because the EPA might compel them to buy it.

Knowing that the potential customers are so reluctant, private sector technology developers are not willing to spend money on R&D for clean tech no one will buy. So the "free market innovation" that policy makers count on to address the CO2 problem faces a strong headwind.

If there were a realistically high price on CO2 emissions, something near what it would actually cost per ton, with no bogus Nigerian tree offsets, then there might be an economic incentive for a breakthrough. But after ACES it is clear that this will not happen.

So that leaves government research as the only hope. But ACES killed that hope too. Even if there were adequate money available for a serious research effort, it would probably go into the usual DOE dry holes: chemical capture, sequestration, hot fusion, particle physics, etc. That's the inertia to be overcome by Secretary Chu, who seems to have been appointed to be the fall guy for Congress and the Obama Administration, with all of the responsibility and none of the resources for doing the job.

By Wilmot McCutchen on 2009 07 04

There is already a solution for CO2. It is called Nuclear Power. The French already get 90% of their electricity from Nuclear Power and Hydroelectricity.

The trouble is the Greens would rather melt the icecaps than admit that Nuclear Power is part of the solution.

By Joel Upchurch on 2009 07 04

Exactly our point, R... Browner's legislation based approach may work for something like the banning of BPA in plastics, but just yesterday I was at the store looking for a sports bottle and saw that manufacturers are already taking it out voluntarily--in response to public pressure and the threat of bad PR!!! When legislation can only accomplish things that good PR pressure can do much quicker-- a BPA ban is right now stalled in the Senate!-- what we need is an innovator at the head of our energy and climate task forces, someone who's not afraid to break some of the old paradigms. Unfortunately, Browner just isn't it.

By Tyler Burton on 2009 07 01

To get rid of CO2 the way we got rid of lead and asbestos would require a much more massive substitution. There are simply not that many existing ways to make energy without using carbon and many of those require energy storage technologies that do not exist currently. Maybe that is why so many politicians seem to bury their heads in the sand on the climate issue.

By R Margolis on 2009 07 01

nice info

By John on 2009 07 01

I'm just passing by, having discovered this blog from another, but I wanted to point something out when it comes to oil prices that few seem to be aware of.

When priced in gold, the price of oil has been amazingly stable over the last 60 years, even during periods of extreme volitility, such as last years run up to almost $150/bbl and during the OPEC embargo. Just take the gold price in any given period, divide by oil price in the same period, then divide that result into a troy oz (approx 31.1 grams) to get the bbl cost in gold grams. It has remained around 3 grams over the last 60 years.

What we see is mostly the fluctuations of the currencies, namely the dollar. Btw, as of this writing, oil costs about 2.35g/bbl, well below the 60 year average.

By JustPassingBy on 2009 07 01

Wow. You are voicing the concerns of the wrong critics. People who can get away with saying that any law to reduce carbon emmisions must raise prices and make it painful for the consumer with a straight face must really hate the United States of America.

Do not get me wrong. Green initiatives and a move toward renewable energy is needed. It does not need to ruin the economy, cause economic stife within the family unit and work soley through negative reinforcement.

Instead how about if this blog was truly a blog of BIG ideas. How about if we promote green initiatives through incentivizing and how about if we move to carbon neutral energy by looking at Nuclear.

What this site and many like it fail to realize is that Nuclear is not a dirty word. New Nuclear technologies can be used to actually REDUCE the amount of nuclear waste we have on hand already. By reproccessing existing waste we can produce energy and reduce the toxicity of said waste as well as it's unstability.

By Bryan on 2009 07 01

(1) There's an important incentive in the pre-implementation phase here that isn't acknowledged. In the run-up to the implementation of a cap and trade system with free auctioning (and before the free allocation plans are defined), firms could have an incentive to increase (or not reduce) their emissions or perform other "gaming" techniques to maximize the number of allowances they receive. And this creates an extremely cumbersome bureaucratic process for allocating allowances, as compared to auctioning. Of course, this depends on how the allocation process is defined in the bill, and I haven't had time to take a deep dive into this part of the bill. If you do, let me know what you find.

(2) You're still not addressing my first point, which is that free allowance distribution significantly reduces what is arguably the most important component of cap and trade, major public investments in clean energy technology. Given that these public investments are likely to produce more developments in clean energy tech than the very low carbon price in ACES will -- and given that making clean energy cheap is arguably the single most important factor for achieving global emission reductions -- how does it make sense to argue that free distribution vs auctioning results in the same environmental result? Yes, in a closed system, free distribution and auctioning may achieve the same result, but the mass majority of future emissions will come from developing countries, and the public investments we make in energy technology are critical for addressing those.

By Teryn Norris on 2009 06 30

"free allowance distribution doesn't produce the right incentives ... because it doesn't provide as strong of an incentive for polluters to reduce their emissions"

This just isn't true. Money is money. Energy companies are going to try to maximize profits all the same (despite some, i.e., utility companies, being heavily regulated), and if they can reduce emissions for less than the market price of a carbon permit, they'll do so. Also, large companies aren't like ordinary people; they pay the utmost attentions to finances and the bottom line.

Auction or no auction, emission reductions will be the same.

By Stephen Collins on 2009 06 30

Thanks for your comments. There are a number of reasons why free distribution of permits is problematic:

(1) Free distribution of allowances reduces or eliminates the single most important component of cap and trade, the revenue stream for direct public investments in clean energy technology. The world's top energy experts have consistently called for $30 billion/year of federal investment in clean energy RD&D, and our analysis shows that a full suite of RDD&D requires $50 to 80 billion per year in the United States. ACES would only invest around $10 billion due to the small number of auctioned allowances.

(2) Free distribution of allowances to utilities and other energy industries can enrich corporate polluters. That's why Budget Director Peter Orszag stated, "all of the evidence suggests that what would occur is the corporate profits would increase by approximately the value of the permit." Pew Environment Group(which ironically is a member of US-CAP) strongly emphasized this point in a review of the European ETS:

"Free credit giveaways can lead to windfall profits and do not guarantee that costs are not passed on to consumers. A significant portion, if not all, of allowances should be auctioned, generating revenue that can be used to protect vulnerable populations and spur clean technology innovations that ultimately lower the cost of compliance. Windfall profits in the electricity sector were another unintended consequence of free allocation within the EU ETS. In countries such as Germany, the power producers received permits at no cost but decided to charge consumers the full market price of these allowances.7 As a result, electricity prices rose, yielding large profits for utilities.8 If allowances had been auctioned, revenues could have been redirected to assisting low-income customers and other vulnerable populations, as well as to other beneficial purposes such as helping industries retool production and supporting the development of clean energy and carbon sequestration technologies"

Congressman Waxman argues that free distribution is designed to protect ratepayers, yet actual consumer advocacy groups like Public Citizen argue that the bill doesn't do enough to protect ratepayers. Public Citizen writes:

"Proponents of the legislation claim that the legislation shields electricity ratepayers from major rate increases by requiring them to only use the free emission credits for the benefit of ratepayers. But a careful reading of the legislative language suggests that the lack of any definition of what constitutes a "benefit" will be interpreted differently by the 50 state utility commissions that the legislation bestows wide latitude to design allocation of the allowances... it is clear that the decentralized, cumbersome nature of the LDC mitigation approach has been prioritized to preserve jurisdictional exclusivity for the Energy & Commerce Committee at the expense of superior mitigation mechanisms... that would leave competing congressional committees in charge of the disbursement of funds."

(3) As President Obama made clear in his statement, free allowance distribution doesn't produce the right incentives, not only because it is much more prone to gaming and windfall profits, but because it doesn't provide as strong of an incentive for polluters to reduce their emissions.

By Teryn Norris on 2009 06 30

Another big part of the acid rain story that generally doesn't get told was the deregulation of the railroads (starting with the 1976 Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act), which made it much cheaper to ship low-sulfur coal from Western coal fields. That meant that by the time the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments established the SO2 emissions trading system to stop Acid Rain, fuel-switching to low-sulfur coal was economically feasible, even for coal plants in the East, and compliance with the regulations was easy. While Natural Gas may provide some low-cost fuel switching, there's simply no analogous way forward to the completely transformed, low-carbon global energy system necessary to stop global climate change.

By Jesse Jenkins on 2009 06 30



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