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Time to Vote Out Coal

The U.S. cannot afford four more years of pandering to coal.

Never has climate change felt so real as waking up two weeks ago to orange skies, darkened by the smoke and ash from dozens of fires throughout California and across the American West. Trump’s response? “It’ll start getting cooler. You just watch.

The Trump Administration has spent the last four years pandering to U.S. coal. Even before moving into the White House, Trump appointed Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency, a lawyer who rejects climate change and who had spent his career suing the EPA. From there ensued a systematic dismantling of U.S. environmental protections, ending the moratorium on leasing federal land for coal mining, suspending the Clean Power plan, withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement, and weakening the Mercury rule.

Despite all this, U.S. coal is in retreat. But if we continue to tear down environmental protections, this retreat could be delayed or reversed. We don’t have time to waste. For mitigating climate change, for the quality of air, for human health, and for providing a sustainable example for the rest of the world, it is time to stop burning coal.  

The Case against Coal

A large and growing body of scientific evidence documents the societal costs of climate change. One particularly alarming recent example is the evidence from the Greenland Ice Sheet. Ice is being lost at up to one meter per year, seven times faster than during the 1990s. Climate change in the Arctic is accelerating, matching what used to be worst-case scenarios.

There is also a vast literature on the societal costs of air pollution. Burning coal emits large amounts of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulates – pollutants linked with stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, respiratory disease and asthma. Coal kills.

Adding all this up, the external cost of coal is over 5 cents per kilowatt hour. The map below shows that in parts of the U.S. where coal is a large part of generation, the external cost of electricity generation exceeds 6 cents and, in many places, 10 cents per kilowatt hour.

Why would we continue to burn coal when the all-in cost of grid-scale solar and wind is less than 4 cents? The answer, of course, is that these externalities are not priced. If we priced externalities then coal would immediately become unprofitable. And even if you don’t think demand response, batteries, and hydro can address intermittency, then natural gas certainly can.

“Beautiful” Coal

From the very beginning, Trump made coal a centerpiece of his campaign, promising coal miners he would put them back to work.

Trump went on to pummel Hillary Clinton in West Virginia, winning every county and 68% of the vote. Trump also narrowly won Pennsylvania including most of Pennsylvania’s coal region. It is hard to say how much Trump’s coal promises weighed in these outcomes, but the message clearly resonated with many voters.

Some have criticized Trump for not living up to his coal promises. It indeed made little sense to declare, “We are back. The coal industry is back.” at a West Virginia rally in August 2018. But the truth is that the administration has done just about everything they possibly could over the last four years to favor coal over renewables.

“We love clean, beautiful West Virginia coal. We love it. And you know that’s indestructible stuff. In times of war, in times of conflict, you can blow up those windmills. They fall down real quick. You can blow up those pipelines. They go like this and you’re not going to fix them too fast. You can do a lot of things to those solar panels. But you know what you can’t hurt? Coal.” – Trump in West Virginia, August 2018 

Too Big a Risk

If your only issue in the 2020 U.S. Presidential election is to protect U.S. coal, then it is clear who you should vote for.

There’s a different choice for the rest of us, however, for those who want to breathe clean air, or who have a family member with asthma, or who think that rising temperatures and shrinking ice sheets signal a real climate crisis. For those of us who want the U.S. to be a leader in climate policy — it is time for the country to restore its environmental protections and stop burning coal.

It won’t be easy. The most inefficient coal plants have already closed so those that are left tend to be more efficient with lower operating costs. And until we price carbon and other externalities, coal continues to enjoy a large implicit subsidy which means that the playing field is inherently uneven.

I never would have expected to see some of the things we’ve seen in the last four years. Desperate incumbents will go to great lengths to maintain their market share. Let’s not be surprised again.

Keep up with Energy Institute blogs, research, and events on Twitter @energyathaas.

Suggested citation: Davis, Lucas. “Time to Vote out Coal” Energy Institute Blog, UC Berkeley, September 21, 2020, https://energyathaas.wordpress.com/2020/09/21/time-to-vote-out-coal/

 

Lucas Davis View All

Lucas Davis is the Jeffrey A. Jacobs Distinguished Professor in Business and Technology at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley. He is a Faculty Affiliate at the Energy Institute at Haas, a coeditor at the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, and a Faculty Research Fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research. He received a BA from Amherst College and a PhD in Economics from the University of Wisconsin. Prior to joining Haas in 2009, he was an assistant professor of Economics at the University of Michigan. His research focuses on energy and environmental markets, and in particular, on electricity and natural gas regulation, pricing in competitive and non-competitive markets, and the economic and business impacts of environmental policy.

50 thoughts on “Time to Vote Out Coal Leave a comment

      • Jonathan, nobody has won. Winning means getting CO2 below 350 ppm this century, as rapidly as possible. Here’s where we are: https://sioweb.ucsd.edu/programs/keelingcurve/wp-content/plugins/sio-bluemoon/graphs/co2_800k_zoom.png
        CO2 stays in the air for centuries, so the last 30 years of carbon pollution will have to be manually extracted, which will cost money. Maybe you are old and won’t be the one paying, but this will cost trillions of dollars, and it is a debt we should not feel good about leaving the next generation.

        The IPCC SR15 report lays out emissions reduction scenarios that are required to hold warming at 1.5˚C this century. The UN has provided this interactive page to show how difficult they will be to achieve even with all our efforts: https://www.unenvironment.org/interactive/emissions-gap-report/2019/

        This is not “winning”. Waiting for the market to save us on its own has already failed, or CO2 would be around 350 ppm not 411 ppm and still rising. Ignoring science when it identifies long-term risks because they don’t affect you as much as it does others is simply irresponsible.

        • “Winning means getting CO2 below 350 ppm this century, as rapidly as possible. ”

          Rubbish. Current CO2 levels are positively beneficial to humanity, period. If they NEVER go down, we would be dandy.

          “The IPCC SR15 report lays out emissions reduction scenarios that are required to hold warming at 1.5˚C this century.”

          Yes it does, but to what purpose? You are clearly utterly ignorant of context. Nothing magical happens at 1.5C.

          We have been in an Ice Age for several million years. Ice Ages make up about 10% of the Earth’s history. For about the past 40,000 years of the current Ice Age, or what corresponds roughly to modern humans, we have been in what is known as an Inter Glacial period. Those make up about 5-10% of Ice Ages, or about 0.5-1% of the Earth’s history. +/-2C of our CURRENT temperatures are well within the normal variation for an Inter Glacial period. All of the bellyaching is just over property prices – going up in Canada, down in Saharan Africa. The Earth doesn’t care about our feelings, and will be fine no matter what we do.
          http://geology.utah.gov/map-pub/survey-notes/glad-you-asked/ice-ages-what-are-they-and-what-causes-them/

          If we were ever going to make a determination of what ought to be the “normal” temperature for the earth, today’s temperatures are the LEAST likely possible.

          I keep telling you, and perhaps that portion of your mind is simply damaged – markets CANNOT fail. They can only “arrive at a different outcome than the one YOU want.” Frankly, I could care less what you want because what you want is for government to spend trillions of dollars on a project that won’t make a noticeable difference in the world. It is simply too late no matter HOW much they spend to change the peak warming by more than 0.2C, period. Climate cult fanatics want us to exhaust ourselves financially on an utterly meaningless exercise that cannot possibly result in more than a 0.2C temperature difference that nobody will notice. Given that this country is already on a suicide trajectory to debt collapse within no more than the next 20 years, that is tantamount to jumping out a 30th floor building and then shooting yourself on the way down “because it isn’t happening fast enough.” Not very smart.

          It is you who are “ignoring science.” Nowhere in the IPCC report does it conclude the world will burn up, it only tells how much temperature variation DUE TO CO2 we can expect, all other things remaining equal – which they most certainly do not. As I said, temperatures will be going down this decade and the next due to solar dimming.

          Armageddon has been cancelled, and you simply can’t bring yourself to stop fighting anyway. So sad.

          • Jonathan, the IPCC SR15 report compares a 1.5˚C warmer world with a 2˚C warmer world. It is absolutely clear that we do not want to put ourselves through a 2˚C warmer world based on what we know through science: http://carboncashback.org/science/.

            You disagree with that, but go ahead and try to provide a single scientific organization anywhere in the world that supports your position. You can’t. Here are 200 scientific organizations from around the world that agree with the general conclusions of the IPCC: http://climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus/.

          • “ You disagree with that,…”
            404 – Not Found is not very convincing. I have seen MANY studies, and the 2C outcome does NOT have anywhere near the consensus you seem to believe. It is a worst case Irwin Allen projection. However, I do not and never have argued that, so you are just as bad as the other fellow here trying to put words in my mouth in order to cast me as “anti science.” Denied.
            I think it must be a kind of religious zealotry that precludes comprehension of what I’m saying among the alarmists. Certainly I haven’t used big words, scientific jargon, nor made any attempt to trick you. So please, if you feel you have some countervailing argument to the following SIMPLE statements of truth, then do so – but for goodness sake please desist with the foolish red herrings.
            All of our best energy industry (not “climate science”) experts agree we are within a decade (probably 6-8 years) of the time when solar plus enough battery backup to provide reliable power without fossil fuel backup will be cheaper to build and operate than new fossil fuel plants. Six to eight years after that and they will be half that price, making it uneconomical NOT to replace remaining fossil fuel plants. The result of this will be the virtual (not absolute, but close enough) elimination of fossil fuel use for energy by about 2050. Given that timeline, there is literally nothing governments can do beyond what they are already doing that can make enough difference to matter to humanity, but the attempt to do so anyway will be egregiously expensive and will harm the poor. Therefore the correct path forward is to do such things as spur economic growth, making countries better able to finance the conversion. If in fact 2050 isn’t soon enough to avert Armageddon, we weren’t going to avert it anyway because it is already too late – so our money would be better spent relocating people whose homes might become flooded.

          • Here you go, Sherlock:

            http://carboncashback.org/science

            The IPCC’s SR15 report is a few scrolls down the page linked above. While you’re there, check out some of the other reports as well – the Fourth National Climate Assessment (volumes I and II).

            Some of the major findings in the SR15 report are summarized here: https://www.wri.org/blog/2018/10/half-degree-and-world-apart-difference-climate-impacts-between-15-c-and-2-c-warming

            Tmany impacts are seen today, from 1°C global warming. Much bigger impacts will be here in two decades, at 1.5°C global warming, which is already locked in because the CO2 needed for that is already in the air. What we do in the next decade will determine how close we go to 2°C warming, or beyond.

            The IPCC AR5 report has more about the impacts of those higher temperatures, and they are not something we should even consider making the next generation go through.

            The 4.1°C warming is the business as usual future. That’s what we’ll get with no government intervention. This MIT tool let’s you compare the impacts of various climate policies: http://en-roads.org/.

          • Well, what I see in there is a lot of speculation, and not one thing at all discussing how much we can move the dial by spending tons more money. 6cm of ocean rise? You have to be joking.
            You are welcome to your Irwin Allen fantasies. The SCIENCE is clear – even another 2C is still well within the normal variance within an inter glacial period like the current one, and it is literally too late given how close we are to switching simply for economic reasons to make a noticeable difference in the outcome (ie more than about 0.02C – certainly nothing like 0.5C). It is all hand waving histrionics. Irrespective of what you do or don’t want, we are limited in how quickly the technology advances – and forcing people to adopt early, immature, expensive solutions will be more likely to slow adoption than speed it up.
            If you and your fellow alarmists insist on spending a lot of money we don’t have, how about cleaning the plastic out of the oceans or regulating the runoff that causes red tide? At least those would provide a measurable benefit. Spending $50 trillion on clean energy will not move the final position of the needle by more than 0.02C, and will negatively impact millions of the poor – especially once the inescapable fiscal collapse from such a misguided and irresponsible course of action hits.

  1. Yeah, so im unclear on how the consumption of COAL (which has kept food in my kids bellies, roof over thier heads, clothes on thier backs for years) is a direct contributor to wildfires which is put on the forefront of article. So now after EVERYONE forgets we won 2 WORLD WARS in part with coal (steel, for tanks, planes ect) they wana claim that lightning OR man isnt the main source for wildfires. Yup our coalmine industry is already suffering from the “wanna be do gooders”, keep trying to put even more hardworking miners out of jobs.

    • Here’s some of what we know that is of concern to many scientists:
      Humans are now adding 40 gigatons of CO2 to the air each year, mostly from burning fossil fuels.
      The CO2 concentration has increased about 50% since 1800, half of that in the last 30 years (https://sioweb.ucsd.edu/programs/keelingcurve/wp-content/plugins/sio-bluemoon/graphs/co2_800k_zoom.png).
      That’s worth about 1.5˚C global warming, 1˚C of which has happened since 1900, the remainder will be here in about two decades.
      Warmer average Earth surface temperatures reflect different changes in the climate in different locations,
      The poles warm faster than the equator, reducing that temperature differential changes major patterns, like making the jet stream weaker, which makes it move slower and be more wavy. Some regions get more severe heatwaves and droughts. Some get more precipitation. Warmer seas power stronger, more damaging storms. Slower storms that drop more precipitation cause more flooding and damage. Melting land-based ice and thermal expansion causes sea level rise, which increases the height of storm surges.
      Hotter, drier conditions make fires more likely and hotter.
      As the Earth warms, we get closer to predicted tipping points which once passed will be impossible to undo. Some of those tipping points are feedbacks that cause more warming, like loss of snow and ice cover at the poles (loss of albedo), and melting of biomass and methane clathrates, releasing large amounts of additional greenhouse gases into the air.
      For details see http://carboncashback.org/science/.

      • “ Here’s some of what we know that is of concern to many scientists:”

        Assuming the IPCC report is 100% correct, it is all utterly irrelevant to humanity. Our dependency on burning fossil fuels for energy will be over by 2050 for the same reasons we stopped buying horses, steam engines, and typewriters. The future begins in earnest in just a few more years. Take a look. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2b3ttqYDwF0

  2. I love coal. I love natural gas. I love nuclear power. I like mines. The earth will take care of itself. We will be gone! Good dat! MAGA!

  3. Lucas: Thanks very much for this piece. It very much captures the frustration and anger many of us are feeling as our state seemingly comes apart. And just wait for the mudslides this winter. It is far from over. Even if we eliminate coal today, climate impacts will be with us long into the future, and people’s expectations need to be made to face that fact. The effects of todays actions will take a generation or likely more to become noticed. All the more reason to get started now. I do feel that the threat of compelling regulatory action can drive political interest in other solutions like pricing. We need to keep that tool in the toolbox No matter the political difficulty. The threat is a sword of Damocles that captures the attention of otherwise recalcitrant policy makers in coal states. It has already worked once. I remind you that it was precisely the threat of draconian controls that led to the market breakthrough in the Clean Air Act of 1990 to control the emissions from coal responsible for acid rain. Other solutions in the West, including a west-wide wholesale electricity market can put intense pressure on coal plants (and next gas plants) to exit the electricity supply regardless of shifts in political winds. This will also take considerable political will, but perhaps the consequences of not doing it — amid the difficult and divided national political environment — will serve at least one good purpose, i.e. to spur action to modernize and take advantage of the relentless power of wholesale markets and marginal cost resource dispatch to do what out political system may be incapable of: rapidly eliminate coal from our generation stack.

  4. California is already moving forward with a coal-free energy resource mix. Our bigger and more pressing emission problem is wildfires. How do we vote out California wildfires?

    • It will take a global carbon price to make a difference on CA fires. That can be achieved through a bipartisan bill like the Energy Innovation Act (energyinnovationact.org).
      The way to vote against CA fires is to vote for leaders who are willing to address the global climate pollution problem from fossil fuels that is increasing the likelihood and severity of fires.

  5. The best way to get rid of coal is to stop trying to compel a solution. Well over a billion people in the world depend on coal for energy, and will for another 20 years. Ours is the cleanest – remove the export restrictions.

    As for doing nothing – solar and battery prices have been declining exponentially for over 70 years. Within no more than 10 years solar plus enough grid storage to provide reliable power 24×7 will be the cheapest solution on earth, and the only obstacle will be how quickly production can be ramped up. Humanity will abandon fossil fuels for the same reasons, and nearly as quickly, as we abandoned horses, steam engines, and typewriters.

      • “ According to economists, the best way to get rid of coal is to address the failure of the energy market to account for the full costs of producing and using them:”

        Exactly, I’m glad you brought that up. If that is done honestly, then the GOOD accomplished by coal but unaccounted for in the price of the product must also be accounted for. Every site I have ever looked at, including yours, is little better than political theorizing with double counting, “worst case hypothesis,” and pure speculation. What we CAN tell factually, to compare three scenarios: the net benefit of coal; the harm imposed on the poor by forcing them to switch to the next cheapest substitute (including wood and cow chips); and forcing those same people to do without completely. In every case except where natural gas has become available as a coal substitute where previously it was not (not going to happen EVER most places in the world, the US is an exception), the math is easy to compute – all other choices other than simply sticking with coal until market forces retire it naturally cause far more harm than good, and in most cases result in worse pollution and environmental harm.

        The punch line is this – if we simply wait until alternatives are actually cheaper (experts say that is about 7 years out), the conversion globally will happen faster than if we try to force it and will cost trillions less. One way or another, the world will be fossil fuel free for all practical purposes by 2950, and Global Greening will be mopping up the extra CO2 for free.

        • Sticking with coal for direct use in the developing world where the alternative fuel is another biomass is probably a good strategy, but that is really a trivial amount of GHG emissions. But this post is NOT about that setting–it’s about coal use in the U.S. where the alternative choice is not cow chips. In that case, as we’ve seen with renewable mandates, government policy intervention is often needed to accelerate the development of a new, beneficial technology. The private sector underinvests in socially beneficial R&D because we can’t define and enforce the property rights from spillover effects. That’s why we need to go beyond the market mechanisms in many cases.

          • “ Sticking with coal for direct use in the developing world where the alternative fuel is another biomass is probably a good strategy, but that is really a trivial amount of GHG emissions. But this post is NOT about that setting–it’s about coal use in the U.S. where the alternative choice is not cow chips.”

            Again, why? Running natural gas lines to the remaining coal plants is expensive, almost impossible to do legally due to environmentalist activists, and ultimately pointless. Waiting another decade will literally make no meaningful difference to our air or climate. The theory that “government intervention is needed” is demonstrably untrue as every industry expert and, more importantly, the financiers who will fund the shift will now tell you.

            This is like a war that one side has already won yet still insists on continuing hostilities (against our wallets) because they simply can’t come to grips with victory.

            Here’s a video by an environmentalist who explains this for a living, perhaps he will convince you. If not, it’s religious zealotry and further conversation would be pointless anyway. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2b3ttqYDwF0

          • I was responding to your specific comment about impacts on the poor and their alternative energy sources. Your comment was irrelevant to the subject of the blog post and this response does nothing to refute my point.

            “The theory that “government intervention is needed” is demonstrably untrue as every industry expert and, more importantly, the financiers who will fund the shift will now tell you.”

            Really? That’s a truly amazing statement as I consistently see statements from industry experts and financiers about the needs for government intervention in this market space. Including the word “every” is particularly striking and erroneous. There might be a few who believe this, but I doubt that even Elon Musk would agree with this statement.

          • I retract the word “every.” There are certainly plenty of fanatics with political agendas clamoring for pointless government intervention. Good catch.

          • Jonathan,

            This time you tried to provide a source, but environmentalists are not economists, and it’s economists I trust to provide the best information about markets. Read the one-pager from just about every leading US economist, and think about why they support cash-back carbon pricing: clcouncil.org/economists-statement/.

            And your opinion that businesses don’t think carbon pricing is needed is spectacularly wrong. The IPCC, IMF, World Bank, World Economic Forum, and many leading US businesses agree that carbon pricing is absolutely essential:

            JPMorgan, Citi support carbon price as CFTC panel says financial sector unprepared for climate impacts: https://www.utilitydive.com/news/morgan-stanley-citi-jpmorgan-cftc-panel-climate-report/585004/?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Issue:%202020-09-11%20Utility%20Dive%20Newsletter%20%5Bissue:29609%5D&utm_term=Utility%20Dive

            Even Exxon and other leading fossil fuel producers support the clcouncil.org position that cash-back carbon pricing is needed.

            Please read “Merchants of Doubt”, by Naomi Oreskes. The ideas you are espousing are the central theme of the free market fundamentalists she describes in the book. There’s a Sony Pictures documentary movie based on the book with the same name if your short on time.

        • Jonathan, you made a lot of claims without providing any sources behind them, and you are suggesting government intervention is not required to address the problem. The general effect is to make you sound like a free market fundamentalist – one who thinks that markets don’t fail, and if left alone they will produce the best outcome for everyone. The overwhelming consensus of any economist is that we are in the midst of a market failure, and market failures do not fix themselves.

          The approach of letting the market run wild has already failed. If it worked, it would have fixed the problem over the last three decades. In 1988, leading climate scientists in NASA testified to Congress that greenhouse gases, mainly from using fossil fuels, were collecting in the air and producing measurable changes in the average global temperature and of the pH of the oceans, and that if left unaddressed some of the consequences would be catestrophic and irreversable. The consequences are here now. The market did not save us. The report card for the energy market trying to work this out itself can be seen in the Keeling Curve. 350 ppm is a passing grade. Look at the 1700-present view to see what 411 ppm looks like in relation to that: https://sioweb.ucsd.edu/programs/keelingcurve/

          Independent studies by expert economists uncover more flaws in your views. The value of fossil fuels is in the energy they produce, not in the fact that they are fossil fuels. The market can easily replace them over time, and thus eliminate the bad side-effects, while still providing all the benefits through other means very efficiently if we let it. But it has proven the pace of change is not what is needed for a safe climate future. We can accelerate the pace simply by putting a price on pollution. There are a number of independent studies summarized here that back this up: http://carboncashback.org/benefits/.

          • John Gage, to go further on your point, the rapid drop in costs of renewable technologies extolled by Jonathan Galt have been directly spurred by government policy interventions. Solar costs have been following the classic learning by doing cost reduction profile, and that learning by doing was created by the various solar mandates enacted by various government agencies, including California. Similarly, the battery cost reductions have been spurred by two government policy interventions, the first being telecommunications deregulation that led to the spread of cell phones and associated energy storage requirements, and the second the incentives and mandates for electric cars. None of this would have happened in this time frame if left solely to the marketplace.

          • “ John Gage, to go further on your point, the rapid drop in costs of renewable technologies extolled by Jonathan Galt have been directly spurred by government policy interventions.”

            About 35-40% of investment in renewables have come from government, most spent in private research facilities or in joint operations within universities, it is true that to a very small degree government can redirect resources to very slightly speed development in SOME areas at the expense of others. Nothing is free.

            “ Similarly, the battery cost reductions have been spurred by two government policy interventions, the first being telecommunications deregulation that led to the spread of cell phones and associated energy storage requirements,…”

            Yes, DEregulation accelerated innovation. Government can never create, it only redistributes at a cost. All of the electric car incentives added together have had ZERO impact on the pace of battery development – they have amounted to pure political grandstanding at taxpayer expense benefitting the rich at the expense of the poor. Simply waiting until the batteries were truly cheap enough would have resulted in faster development at lower cost.

          • No, it wasn’t government R&D that boosted renewables. It was MANDATES starting with the 1978 PURPA that boosted renewable investment which then triggered cost gains from learning by doing. The evidence is overwhelming on this point. Your whole exhortation about markets eventually solving are environmental problems is entirely dependent on government intervention creating the conditions in the market to solve this problem.

            “All of the electric car incentives added together have had ZERO impact on the pace of battery development ”

            Please provide evidence to support this false statement. Here’s one contradiction to your unsupported assertion: https://spectrum.ieee.org/transportation/efficiency/companies-report-rush-electric-vehicle-battery-advances

          • Your posts are getting downright silly. It isn’t worth responding to you other than to say, “you are wrong, you lose.”

          • Wow, there is so much wrong to unpack in there. Where to begin?

            “The general effect is to make you sound like a free market fundamentalist – one who thinks that markets don’t fail, and if left alone they will produce the best outcome for everyone.”

            If it sounds like that to you (and I assure you, it doesn’t sound that way to everyone else), then it is an indication you’ve done no research whatsoever into our technology trajectory. Fact: Solar and battery prices have been declining exponentially for over 60 years. They are nowhere near their theoretical limits, and so that trajectory will continue, and within 8 years +/- one or two will be the cheapest reliable source of energy on the planet in most populated regions.

            “The overwhelming consensus of any economist is that we are in the midst of a market failure, and market failures do not fix themselves.”

            That is nothing more than pure, unadulterated political nonsense. Fact: It is not possible for a free market to “fail;” the worst that can happen is that it does not deliver the outcomes YOU want. It is in fact an act of utter and supreme arrogance and hypocrisy to make that claim, as if your opinions on “the right outcome” are somehow more important than the seven billion other people busy maximizing their happiness in the world with their own spending choices. A free market is the greatest Democracy ever invented. If we were all going to choke to death before we switched to clean energy, I would agree that people are in fact so stupid and suicidal that this would require government interference to prevent individuals from causing racial suicide, but that is nowhere near the case – our air and water today are cleaner than in the 70s.

            “The approach of letting the market run wild has already failed. If it worked, it would have fixed the problem over the last three decades.”

            It has worked splendidly; you are just demonstrating ignorance. Hundreds of entrepreneurs hiring thousands of scientists with money from millions of donors are all busy pursuing a piece of the multi trillion dollar fossil fuel industry and succeeding every day. Already new battery plants are being built in lieu of new gas peaker plants because it is CHEAPER. That wasn’t possible until this decade. New solar farms are also being built with some integral storage – also cheaper and more useful. Science isn’t mysticism, it doesn’t work on your arrogant timetable and governments do not possess a magic wand. The only tool governments have at their disposal is force, and force always raises prices.

            As for CO2, more boogeyman nonsense. Again, if it were to appear we were on course for 1,000 ppm, then perhaps this MIGHT be a different discussion. But, we aren’t, not even close. Between now and the time we no longer use fossil fuels we MIGHT see an additional warming of .15C – if it weren’t for the fact that we are entering this century’s version of the Maunder Minimum. Temps will be going down this next few decades, and by the time it is over Global Greening will be mopping up the extra CO2 for free. Meanwhile, the extra CO2 has been a net boon to the world.

            In your final paragraph you unintentionally support everything I’ve said. The value is in the energy, and compelling people to use more expensive sources for no good reason simply hurts the poor. Within no more than ten years the cost equation will flip, and “greedy” utilities and individuals by the billions all demanding cheaper energy will all get their wish.

          • Jonathan, in your attempt to refute my claim that you are a free market fundamentalist you repeatedly supported it.

            “A free market is the greatest Democracy ever invented.”
            I can’t easily parse that sentence. Democracy did not invent a free market. Free markets have been around for millenia.

            Basic economics and history supports my contention that a market left unguided by government is a recipe for disaster. The breakups of monopolies in the US past, the need for child labor laws, and workers rights laws, are a few examples that support my case. Your example of the rapid evolution of battery and cell phone technology are a case in point. When the government broke up the AT&T telephone monopoly, it opened up a market in which others could compete. Before that government intervention, the AT&T-monopoly-controlled phone market inefficiently delivered corded black phones that hadn’t evolved for decades.

            Monopolies hurt consumers and monopolies don’t fix themselves. Monopoly power in a market results in a failure of the market to produce goods efficiently. The market fails to deliver the best outcome to producers and consumers. Sometimes a market failure involves harm to a third party. Economists call those harms external costs, or negative externalities. The fact that you ignore the fact that markets can fail to be efficient without government intervention is a red flag that you are a free-market fundamentalist. Please read ‘Merchants of Doubt” by Naomi Oreskes, or at least watch the Sony Pictures version of it, for elucidation!

            An efficient market is a powerful thing for the good of society, producing the optimal outcome. You seem to think any free market does that on its own. No trained economist would agree with you.

            Regarding the failure of the energy market to account for the true costs of producing and using fossil fuels, please read this one-page Econommists’ Statement, signed by nearly every leading US Economist of our time (and over 3500 others): http://clcouncil.org/economists-statement/. Take note of the phrase “market failure” in the first section:

            “A carbon tax offers the most cost-effective lever to reduce carbon emissions at the scale and speed that is necessary. By correcting a well-known market failure, a carbon tax will send a powerful price signal that harnesses the invisible hand of the marketplace to steer economic actors towards a low-carbon future.”

            Your attempt to deny the scientific consensus that human activities, mainly the burning of fossil fuels, are the cause of global warming since at least the middle of last century goes against the conclusions of NASA, NOAA, the DOE, DOD, National Academy of Science, and every other scientific organization in the world that has weighed in on the subject: http://climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus.

            Your denial of basic science is a red flag you’ve let your market ideology interfere with your common sense. This is called motivated cognition. Take a break from the ideologically-opinionated blogs, PR, and entertainment sources that support your own view, and expose yourself to facts and ideas that most people in the world accept – the understanding of our natural world through science. The two-page Highlights section of the Fourth National Climate Assessment is a good summary of what we know and how confident we can be about that based on all the available evidence: https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/executive-summary/

          • “A free market is the greatest Democracy ever invented.”
            I can’t easily parse that sentence. Democracy did not invent a free market. Free markets have been around for millenia.”

            The most likely reason you can’t comprehend it is because you are a political indoctrinate unable to recognize anything that conflicts with your dogma. It causes cognizant dissonance with what you think you know. I’ll explain what it means in simpler words.

            Every person in the world has, to some degree or another, control over a certain amount of resources. In exchangeable form it is generally called money. They make hundreds or even thousands of choices each day how to “spend” their money on various things or services. Spending (or not spending) money is effectively “voting” to continue, increase, or decrease the production of that item or service. Their “votes” all count no matter their race or sex. When government does not compel them in how they spend their money, it is called a “free market.” A free market is a perfect Democracy where everyone’s votes count equally.

            It is true that governments have a role in economies. Their role is to enforce contracts, and to prevent fraud; theft; extortion; and prohibit sales of things which are poisonous or dangerous to no possible good use. Beyond that governments just love to meddle in other ways, because everyone (as you clearly do) always thinks they know better than everyone else what is “best” for everyone. It is of course arrogant nonsense – what’s “good” to you may be “evil” to me (and probably is, based on the thrust of your comments so far).

            Monopolies generally only exist because government creates them. Eliminate the protections that prevented others from entering the market place, and they generally dissipate quickly. The other name for monopoly is “crony capitalism.” I like to call that, “Crapitalism.” In any case, it is caused by government INTERFERING in the market to provide special protections for favored players. It is not caused by a “free market.”

            Carbon taxes proposed so far do zero to FIX anything – they just make energy more expensive for the poor. It’s a bad answer to a non-problem, because a) our extra CO2 is beneficial, and b) once we stop using fossil fuels Global Greening will suck up the extra for free.

            “Your attempt to deny the scientific consensus that human activities, mainly the burning of fossil fuels, are the cause of global warming …”

            Ah, now you’ve resorted to blatant lying. Good, it means you’ve lost the argument. I agree with the IPCC report and accept it as 100% settled science. However, it doesn’t mean anything that matters to humanity at all so it is merely a scientific curiosity.

            And finally, the lie of last resort – you call me a “science denier.” Sorry pal, you cannot point to a single thing I’ve said that denies ANY science. You are simply angry because your talking points don’t work on me because they are political nonsense.

          • Jonathan, Jonathan, where to start? I don’t have much time, so I’ll just pick at a the lowest of low hanging fruit.
            You said, “And finally, the lie of last resort – you call me a “science denier.” Sorry pal, you cannot point to a single thing I’ve said that denies ANY science.”.

            Immediately before that, you said, “I agree with the IPCC report and accept it as 100% settled science. However, it doesn’t mean anything that matters to humanity at all so it is merely a scientific curiosity.”

            What is a scientific curiosity that doesn’t mean anything to humanity? The IPCC says the climate pollution we’ve already emitted will increase global average temperature by about 1.5˚C from 1900 temperatures, which will kill 70-90% of all the world’s coral reefs. And if we add another two decades of emissions at the current rate, we’ll get 2˚C of warming which will kill 98-100% of the world’s coral reefs. Those reefs support 25% of all marine species at some point in their lifecycle – these are species humans rely on for food, livelihoods, and coastal protection. That’s just one ecosystem as an example, but there are many similar problems on land as well. There are also tipping points that are clearly evident in paleoclimate record that we are approaching, which could send global temperatures up another 5-6˚C in a few decades. Read Dr. James Hansen’s Storms of my Grandchildren for a good primer on that.

            Regarding your view that market failures correct themselves, that’s just an extreme ideology talking, not basic economics. You’re welcome to your own opinions, but saying them over and over again and using abusive language isn’t going to get you any converts. It’s your word against 3500 US economists, including just about all the ones most people have ever heard of: http://clcouncil.org/economists-statement/. I’m going with the experts, not the guy who seems to take pleasure insulting strangers on the internet.

          • “Monopolies generally only exist because government creates them.”

            Wow, you missed the whole history about the 19th century when monopolies proliferated across the US and Europe with no real government intervention other than to award property rights for free to corporations.

            So you’re solution to climate change apparently is that man-made GHG emissions will disappear entirely by 2050, somehow eliminating all of the long-lived legacy infrastructure and investment in existing fossil-fueled uses (not to mention the other non-fuel GHG emitting sources plus the methane released from the melting tundra.) I think you really need to check your understanding of the science again.

          • “Wow, you missed the whole history about the 19th century when monopolies proliferated across the US and Europe with no real government intervention other than to award property rights for free to corporations.”

            Nope. Those monopolies existed for one of two reasons. Some, like railroads, were literally created by government. The others existed because governments allowed private businesses to engage in closing markets through a multiplicity of strategies, including violence, that it is the job of government to disallow.

            They really need a block option on this site, your political ranting grows sorely tiresome.

          • “They really need a block option on this site, your political ranting grows sorely tiresome.

            You’re more than welcome to sign off. Your sole opinion does not reflect what others think nor dictate to them what their opinion should be. Other commentors do not agree with your assessment of my comments.

            You must really be the alter ego of Carl Wurster…

          • “Fact: Solar and battery prices have been declining exponentially for over 60 years.”

            Exponentially against what? Well, it’s not against years–it’s against total industry production. And what boosted production in a manner that accelerated those cost reductions? Direct government intervention.

            You’re confusing “free” markets with “efficient” or “optimal” markets. They are far from the same, as even Adam Smith acknowledged. The discipline studying markets, just as that studying the human body and our physical environment, have advanced substantially over the last quarter millennium. Market failures have been defined as conditions that cause diversions from efficient or optimal market outcomes (with optimality usually defined as Pareto optimality.) Some market failures are horrendous, such as the overconsumption of public resources to which assigning private separable rights is not available. Note that the entire structure of “free” markets depend entirely on government intervention through the division and enforcement of property rights. One only needs to look at the demise of free markets in parts of Eastern Europe after the fall of the Iron Curtain to see how those markets do not arise spontaneously without direct government intervention.

          • “Exponentially against what?”

            Wow. Ask mommy to help you use Google and find a dictionary on line.

            An exponentially declining price curve for a “product” (or in this case class of products” means that for the same capability the price drops by half over a regular period of X. For batteries, X is about 6.5 years. For Solar Panels, X has been about 3-3.5 years. It will take you an afternoon with Google and Excel to plot it out, and you have to be careful to go by validated specs (i.e. ignore the marketing claims, find real world reviews showing proven performance). For batteries, the measurement you must compare year over year is the number of watt hours the battery can store over it’s typical lifetime divided by the purchase cost. The biggest gains have come in the number of charge cycles possible, beginning with about 50-300 for lead acid batteries in the 60s. For solar panels, it is the expected number of watt hours of electricity generated over its lifetime divided by the purchase cost.

            “Market failures have been defined as conditions that cause diversions from efficient or optimal market outcomes …”

            The thing that generally diverts markets from optimal outcomes (in terms of people being free to buy whatever they want and price signals altering demand) is government intervention – either protections or obstacles to market participation. Probably a notable exception to this is addictive drugs – and for those, we have laws prohibiting sale and distribution which is generally (but not universally) considered a good thing.

            “Some market failures are horrendous, such as the overconsumption of public resources…”

            Socialism always fails.

            “Note that the entire structure of “free” markets depend entirely on government intervention through the division and enforcement of property rights.”

            No, I do not note that. Property rights may exist entirely without a government (anarchy, enforced through local use of force); men establish governments to prevent theft, fraud, coercion, and deception as well as to provide a common means of identifying and adjudicating property disputes. That is NOT “intervention,” it is recourse.

            “One only needs to look at the demise of free markets in parts of Eastern Europe after the fall of the Iron Curtain to see how those markets do not arise spontaneously without direct government intervention.”

            More political nonsense. The free market flourished in Eastern Europe – they just didn’t report that to the corrupt government, who would steal them blind. Call it a black market if you will, but a free market by definition is simply the conditions under which two or more parties may engage in trade for mutual benefit – and that certainly existed, if in secret.

          • You have naively misunderstood how technology costs change. Those costs don’t spontaneously decline just because of the passage of time. They decline because of learning from producing more product. Here’s a reference to learning-by-doing to explain that to you. https://www.eprg.group.cam.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/eprg0703.pdf
            Here’s a graphical depiction of how increased solar panel production has driven down costs expotentially:
            http://solarheateurope.eu/publications/market-statistics/solar-heat-markets-in-europe/learning-curves-of-pv-and-solar-thermal-systems-in-germany/

            Please provide a complete list of all market failures and identify which ones are caused by government intervention. If you cannot provide such a list, then your generalized assertion is unproven and my counterstatement that most are caused by various individual and institutional arrangements and physical limitations is equally valid.

            How is using the atmosphere as a waste deposit that causes air pollution “socialism”? This the most salient example of the use of a public resource that is a market failure. No government intervention or action that caused that pollution to happen.

            Perhaps your right. Government is necessary for non violent enforcement of property rights. And civilization is about mitigating the tendency toward violence. So, yes if we want to end civilization then we won’t need government. Recourse is a form of intervention and action. Parsing semantics does not rebut my point.

            Your definition of “free markets”–black markets that no one really wants because they stifle long term investment since the only way to enforce property rights to violence and there’s no government intervention/recourse as an alternative to violence–might have “flourished” but in fact the well being of the general populace in those countries was static or declined because black markets can’t sustain the broader population. Criminals are the only ones who excel in those setting. Weak governments allow for corruption where these markets fail to deliver. Its the well regulated markets that truly flourish.

          • “You have naively misunderstood how technology costs change.”

            One of us clearly has. Hint: It wasn’t me.

            There is no such thing as a “market failure,” merely outcomes YOU don’t like.

            The rest of your post wasn’t in English – perhaps your batteries ran down?

          • I thought you said earlier that violence was allowable to protect property rights so government wasn’t necessary? So now violence to exploit a market failure and create a monopoly isn’t allowable? Isn’t what you described a government intervention to avert a market failure? Which is it?

            And BTW, the railroads were awarded land for free to build railroads, they were NOT awarded monopolies in the nineteenth century (and there was no rate regulation then.) Standard Oil’s monopoly (and others like US Steel) were not built on violence as you assert. They used violence to control their workforce, but they did not use violence against their other rivals. They just bought them out as any good monopolist would.

            Your assert their are no market failures. Do you understand the Pareto optimality criterion? If that isn’t your definition of a well functioning market, what is that definition? If its simply that markets are better than anything else, that’s not an arguable supportable assertion and you’ve haven’t advanced an argument of any value. You’ve just asserted an opinion that is only valid for you and not useful for anyone else to determine how to assess market functionality.

            I’m sorry that you don’t understand the Engilish language. Or is that your just the usual good Internet troll who once backed into a corner tries to change the subject.

            You haven’t shown us why I don’t understand how technologic innovation works. I’ve provided references that support my statements. Somehow we’re supposed to just accept your word as superior to everyone else simply because who you are? Or if it’s so obvious you should be able to explain it very simply so that we can clearly understand it. If you can’t undertake these apparently simple tasks, then we are to presume that in fact you don’t have any support for your assertions and all you’re doing is mimicking what you’ve heard from others with little understanding of what has been said.

          • ““You have naively misunderstood how technology costs change.”
            One of us clearly has. Hint: It wasn’t me.”

            I have hundreds of studies behind my explanation. Please provide the published research analyses that support your assertion about HOW technology costs change, not just a simple time trend that has no underlying explanation.

          • “I have hundreds of studies behind my explanation.”

            I’m sure you do. And I’m just as certain that if we examine them one by one we will find that THOSE studies are from people with personal incentive to conclude that government must intervene. I’m sure most of them are well meaning people. They simply aren’t right. And, for every one of them who says “X” is the best answer, there are many more who will tell us, “Y” or “Z” is the best answer.

            Take your carbon credits, for example. They accomplish nothing whatsoever apart from creating a new re distributive industry which subsists on taxing everyone even more. They don’t clean the air, and in fact the money is rarely if ever used for anything even remotely related to the energy industry. They are simply scams meant to make some people feel good and to grow a particular political power base.

            If we were 100 years on our current trajectory to the point where renewables would actually be cheaper than traditional power sources, I would actually agree that intervention is needed. Maybe even something drastic like global birth control, since the amount of pollution is a direct result of the number of people. But we aren’t – and that is the whole point. We are now so close to the time where renewables will undercut fossil fuels on price that there is literally no time left for government intervention to make a meaningful difference in the outcome. And, a maximum of 0.2C difference in peak global temperature is simply not a meaningful difference.
            https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/mar/12/wind-and-solar-plants-will-soon-be-cheaper-than-coal-in-all-big-markets-around-world-analysis-finds
            https://www.climatechangenews.com/2018/07/03/bnef-battery-backed-solar-power-undercut-coal-china-2028/

            Your team are simply ungracious winners crying “wolf!,” when in fact the wolf is just a wolf’s skin adorning the living room floor.

          • First, my point that is supported by these studies has nothing to do with government intervention. I was discussing what drives technology cost declines, and those studies focus on PRIVATE industry behavior. Those studies show how increased PRIVATE production causes increased learning that reduces production costs. These studies show this to be the predominant impact (although not the sole effect because other studies also show an important role for R&D.) I’m challenging you to present your supporting evidence that this in fact does not happen and that there are other factors (that you have not really specified) that are the sole determinants of decreasing technology costs.

            As for carbon pricing, which is completely off subject from my discussion about technology costs, we already have strong evidence in support of emission pricing reducing pollution. The Acid Rain Program instituted in 1990 has dramatically reduced sulfur dioxide emissions (and coincidentally improved railroad efficiency). Here’s one source from the US EPA: https://www.epa.gov/acidrain/acid-rain-program-results

            Your unsupported personal opinion still does nothing to refute the points I’ve made that are backed by various studies.

          • “ Those studies show how increased PRIVATE production causes increased learning that reduces production costs.”
            “I’m challenging you to present your supporting evidence that this in fact does not happen and that there are other factors (that you have not really specified) that are the sole determinants of decreasing technology costs.”
            Since I never made such a claim, this is an utter straw man – and a dumb one, at that. My point throughout this and every other discussion on his forum concerning climate change is that no amount of government spending nor intervention can, at this point, make a meaningful difference in the final outcome for our climate. You continually attempt to dispute things I never said, revealing you as a pointless contrarian and ill-tempered and classless curmudgeon.
            Furthermore, nobody ever disputed that acid rain was actual pollution. Your comparison of the acid rain project, which reduced actual pollutants, to carbon taxes, which do NOT reduce actual pollutants, is utterly specious and disingenuous. Your use of a false analogy is clearly meant to conflate government’s legitimate role in prohibiting the spewing of toxic poisons with limiting emissions of life essential elements – the most disingenuous sort of lie. Can we make fossil fuel so expensive nobody will use it? Certainly – but doing so provides zero benefits while seriously hurting the poor.
            This is the thing about you climate alarmists – you cannot accept that the “problem” is already as good as over, and you feel irrationally compelled to take drastic measures at everyone’s expense which will do no good whatsoever. It reveals you as nothing more than political zealots – your cause is false, your methods crude and brutal.

          • Trying to shift around again.
            I said: “Those costs don’t spontaneously decline just because of the passage of time. They decline because of learning from producing more product.”
            You said:
            ““You have naively misunderstood how technology costs change.”
            One of us clearly has. Hint: It wasn’t me.”
            I can only interpret your response that you are rejecting the proposition that learning by doing is a (if not THE) prime driver of declining technology costs. Which means that you also reject the proposition “(t)hose studies show how increased PRIVATE production causes increased learning that reduces production costs.” I can’t see how we can possibly interpret your responses in another way.
            And so my ultimate point is that the drop in technology costs that you are banking on (and I don’t completely dispute, but energy is only 60% of global GHG emissions in any case: https://www.wri.org/blog/2020/02/greenhouse-gas-emissions-by-country-sector) has been driven to a large degree by government mandates on renewables (which began with the 1978 PURPA) and electric vehicles. Private producers did not increase production in response to undirected market forces–it was government intervention.
            As to the effects of prices on reducing emissions, I presume that you concede my point that in fact emissions did fall when they were priced. Whether GHG emissions are “toxic” or not does not matter to this construct–raising the question of whether you agree that GHG emissions are a danger or not isn’t relevant–the outcome is the same that emissions can be controlled with pricing mechanisms or defined property rights.

  6. The best way to vote out coal is to put a price on climate pollution at the source. A fee of $20 per ton of CO2 from fossil fuels will double the price of coal.

    The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (https://energyinnovationact.org/) starts at $15 the first year and rises by $10 each year after. This not only rapidly and efficiently reduces greenhouse gas emissions, but also related pollution. An independent study by Columbia University found that in ten years CO2 emissions will drop by 38% in the US, and mercury emissions from power generation will drop by 95%, from this policy.

    Learn who supports it and who benefits from it here: http://carboncashback.org/carbon-cash-back

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