Thursday, April 23, 2009

The SideTrack's Annual "Who's Who" of Sutherland's "Earth" Week Event (Day Two)

Day two of Sutherland's "Earth" week, and our spotlights on the speakers they've brought in. (Yesterday's guests here, and read the institute's own descriptions here). Unable to attend myself, I've spoken with several there yesterday, and confirmed, indeed, that an argument was made that C02 in high concentrations was a good thing we should all be happy for. No amount of head shaking or eyebrow raising does John Christy's looney-ness justice. But moving on.

Today we have Frank Conte of Beacon Hill Institute, and John Charles Jr, CEO of Cascade Policy Institute.

Frank Conte, Beacon Hill Institute

Not much bad to say about Frank himself. He's the director of communications, and the frequency with which he's sent out BHI releases, I assume he's doing a bang-up job. The institute itself, however, leaves much to be desired when it comes to their climate change claims (when they even admit it's happening). The latest “The Economic Analysis of the Western Climate Initiative’s Regional Cap-and-Trade Program,” (forwarded to me by Sutherland as well) is basically an extension of the Western Business Roundtable's industry PR campaign labeled as "study," aimed at undermining the Western Climate Initiative, and falsifying information about cap-and-trade. Their claim, in short: WCI's cap-and-trade initiative will destroy our economy. Two problems I found in the "study." One: they are studying South Carolina and New York to predict what will happen in the Rocky Mountain region. Odd. And Two: They aren't talking about cap-and-trade at all, but an outright state energy tax... which, um, isn't what WCI's cap-and-trade program is recommending. They of course hide this little nugget carefully in the appendix of the publication:

For the 100% permit auction assumption, we modeled the price increases an increase to the state fuel tax, in the case of households and the transportation sector, or a state fee, in the cases of the commercial and industrial sectors. We chose state fees and taxes because they best mirror how the cap-and-trade system that would (1) drive up electricity and fuel prices and (2) provide a stream of revenue to the participating states. For the 25% permit auction assumption we modeled the 25% of the price increase as a tax and 75% of the increase as an increase in the price index for the applicable sector.
So, cap-and-trade is bad for western states, and we can prove it, using models not at all similar to cap-and-trade, and a hypothetical from two states not even near the western region. TaDa! Proof. Or something.

John Charles, Jr, CEO Cascade Policy Institute

My first experience with Cascade Policy Institute came from my penchant for CATO Institute (who help fund the institute) daily podcasts. Cascade was referenced a lot, usually in topics relating to free markets and unfettered deregulation (something even CATO has backed off on since the financial market collapse). Pretty standrad stuff. The words "liberty" and "non-Partisan" are used often in their releases, and they would really like to see a market based solution to just about everything (from Health Care to addressing Climate Change). To their credit, they don't (a new phrase I've coined) "pull a Christy" and tell us warming a good thing. They also think it might not really be happening. Their webpage reads like a greatest hits of every free market screed you've ever heard. School vouchers are the shiz-nit. Cap-and-Trade causes cancer. Etc. They would have us believe the same markets that brought us "too big to fail" and "I'm sorry, we don't cover that procedure" would be the best solution to something as serious as climate change.

Sutherland made it easy for me this year. I'm expected more from them, to be honest. Where's the edge? Where's the originality? A weatherman, a guy who thinks C02 is the new Coke (okay, that's pretty original), another rep from another think tank using Republican Playground Math to prop up "policy," and another libertarian love-fest, telling us all problems would go away if that pesky federal government would just let states pollute as necessary? That's the best you can throw at us Dirty F#@king Hippies? C'mon!

Undeterred, I still have tomorrow's "documentary" filmmaker to digest. Stay tuned.

11 comments:

  1. Hey Jason,

    Are you familiar with the Revelle/Gore relationship? I'd be interested to hear what thoughts you have on this:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bbz9ZB8RPME

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  2. I just have one thought on the Beacon Hill study. It's true that the WCI is not proposing a carbon tax, it is proposing a cap-and-trade system. Under its plan, states would have a carbon budget allowance and would either give away or auction permits to companies in affected industries. Thus, states that choose to auction off permits, and I'm guessing most will auction off at least a percentage of them, will receive revenue from companies buying permits, i.e. a carbon tax on companies. Taxed companies will pass on their increased production costs to consumers (e.g. higher electricity rates), which effectively means that the WCI's program is a pass-through tax to all citizens who use electricity or any other process of product that is capped or is affected by the prices of any of these things.

    Now, I'm no expert on dynamic econometric models, but I assume that using tax assumptions in the model might produce an effect similar to using a cap-and-trade assumption. It may not be spot on, though, I don't know; after all, it is just a projection using a model...kind of like all of the climate models projecting the disastrous effects of increased GHGs in the atmosphere.

    All models aside, using simple common sense, do you believe that any cap-and-trade system would do anything other than harm the economy? Perhaps you could argue that the benefits of the program would outweigh the economic costs, which I highly doubt, but do you think cap-and-trade would actually help the economy or have a negligible effect on it?

    The economy is not everything, but I do think we need to be aware of how such policies, some bordering on Draconian, would affect the economy.

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  3. JHP, the Beacon Hill study was based entirely on a straight energy tax. Saying "all models aside" when your speaker stakes his credibility on a model they chose to use is a bit too convenient and not at all intellectually honest. WCI still allows the prices to be set by the market ( http://www.westernclimateinitiative.org/ewebeditpro/items/O104F19872.PDF ). And there is an argument that rewarding work rather than pollution would be a good thing for the economy. So yes, using simple common sense, I believe cap-and-trade will not bring about the downfall of the western states' economies. You can type "which I highly doubt" as often as you like, but the realities don't change. http://wonkroom.thinkprogress.org/2009/03/18/utility-cap/

    And Draconian policy was better represented by your second speaker today.

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  4. And thanks for the Al Gore link. I'll watch. A little advice though: only deniers desperate to deny believe that Al Gore is/was/will always be the spokesperson for the climate change awareness movement. It was around much longer than An Inconvenient Truth, you think tank folks just didn't know about it until you had Al to demonize. :)

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  5. I hit the Sutherland thing today. It was about as you predict here. Western Business Roundtable and Beacon Hill are the best examples of when an ideological affiliation taken too far strips an organization of all credibility. I'm not certain climate change is man made, or that it isn't, and that is why I attended, but I left feeling like I'd been molested by a used car salesman. I wish both sides of this issue would realize that we the voters are not stupid, and we can handle raw data, on processed by their filter of preconceived ideas. There might be very reasonable criticisms to be made against the Climate Initiative, but these people aren't making them.

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  6. "rewarding work rather than pollution"...please explain how cap-and-trade (carbon tax) would do this. Sounds more to me like rewarding work, as long as it's not too much work.

    "I believe cap-and-trade will not bring about the downfall of the western states' economies." This is a gross hyperbolic mischaracterization of my question to you. I said nothing about "downfall," and neither did the BHI. My question is this: would the WCI proposal not harm the economy? Most good public policy decisions are made after considering all the costs and benefits.

    Desperate to deny Al Gore? No, desperate to get the truth out. Besides, if Al Gore falls, the whole global warming movement likely does too, so I can see why people try to prove him wrong.

    By the way, why is it called "climate change" now instead of "global warming"? Just curious.

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  7. @JHP

    cap and trade rewards the companies who can run with less emition, hence greener companies, and those that work towards it see the rewards.

    yes, good policy decisions are made after considering all costs and benefits. unfortunatly you're (and i learned this one from paul in the comments on day one's post) biased or blinded by ideology, so you can't consider the benefits of having less emitions. so you only see the balance sheet costs and benefits, not the benefits of say, less instances of lung problems of those living around a coal power plant.

    desperate to get one side of the argument out, perhaps, but even your overly zealous defense of the stances of those that spoke at earth week (even the ones that contradicted the other ones) doesn't make it the truth.

    and that climate change vs global warming thing, that's a marketing win from the right (see death tax). you guys are good at winning the naming rights to these topics, too bad that doesn't give you facts to back them up with.

    we can call it puppy kicking instead of climate change if you'd like, but you'd still be shilling for the fact challenged oil/coal industry funded ever more losing side of the debate. of course you won't really get in the debate until you start having one, hence these posts, start talking to the other side, and you might get somewhere, until then the only thing you might achieve is getting some exxon money.

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  8. Speaking of facts: exactly how much and from whom does this oil/coal money come from??

    Just another example of lobing an accusation to try top change the subject without any basis in facts or back-up!

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  9. JHP, it's called "climate change" now because too many doofuses (one of which was speaking at your event this week) keep confusing weather with climate. So it would snow in May, and some moron would go on TeeVee saying "see, no warming!" Are you new to politics? Sutherland has never chosen a name to better sell a policy? Riiiiight. Get your faux indignation up off the floor and return to the debate.

    It's frankly hilarious to hear you say you want the truth out there. What is truthful about giving a forum to a speaker who is maligning cap-and-trade by using a pure energy tax model, and saying it will hurt the western economy by using two eastern states? That, actually, is not truthful, but willing misdirection.

    See my complaints here are not intent on propping up WCI or man-made climate change at all, but rather calling bullshit when I see it. It happens on both sides. I've seen some "stretching" from climate change policy advocates, and I see it from deniers. Your speakers are stretching the truth, bending the facts, and you and Paul are out here now telling us you're only trying to do some "truth spreading" and "debate having." You are hoping for no such thing.

    If you'd like, I can email you three models that WCI would actually be good for consumer costs that do NOT rely on a straight energy tax, but rather the actual WCI model itself (call me silly, but it seems better to actually use the initiative you're attacking to build your attack model, rather than one that is... um, something else). It proves nothing. Just as your speaker proves nothing.

    What is wrong with this debate is the dishonesty, and misrepresentation. Voters cannot get a straight line from anyone. And Sutherland is only adding to the stupidity of the narrative with this batch of speakers.

    If you want to have an honest debate, by all means do so! If you want to even stack it a bit, by getting one or two more "con" speakers to balance the "pro" speakers, by all means, it's your forum. But getting your knickers in such a twist over someone simply using Google to pull out a little background on the speakers chosen is sort of the opposite of wanting to promote truth.

    I cannot say with certainty that WCI would be good for western economy. I also cannot say with certainty that it would be harmful. I'm hesitant to listen you Sutherland on the issue now, going forward, seeing who you've chosen to represent the issue in two consecutive "earth" weeks.

    And to top all of this off, Paul (in another thread) is tossing out the "blinded by ideology" screed as a straw man defense of the event. Are you both going to sit there, in all seriousness, and tell me you have attempted to promote all aspects of this issue, and present attendees with a well rounded picture so that they can then make an informed decision? Or have your rather (blinded by your own ideology) cherry picked a list of speakers to promote forgone conclusions, regardless of how far "out there" they have to go to do it. (Seriously, plants like c02, so concentrated c02 is good? I cannot stress how unbelievably stupid that is, and you guys thought this guy needed a larger forum to spew that to? Really?)

    Blinded by ideology, indeed.

    How about this... I will prove to you WCI will be good for the economy as soon as you prove to me it will be bad, using a model that is actually built upon WCI itself, not an entirely unrelated model.

    Until then, I'm going to just say erring on the side of caution in times of uncertainty, especially when the matter involves the ecosystems of the planet we require for continued species survival is just a little more common sense than making a judgment call based on what the guy who thinks increased concentrations of C02 is a good thing because "plants dig it" said. Because that man is an idiot, obviously blinded by ideology.

    These events have reduced Sutherland's credibility on this issue to the level of an Inconvenient Truth DVD, and now you want others to prove to you something is true, when you couldn't prove it was false without scraping (literally) the bottom of the intellectual barrel?

    Get real, man.

    Sutherland's problem here (and something that is taking a chunk out of think tanks across the nation, truth be told) is that information is more readily available, and you're dealing with adults capable of maneuvering a simple search engine. The world of "Big Name Think Tank" sponsors "Big Name Speaker" is gone. And that is good for voters. It's disappointing to see Sutherland fight that by hosting such a predictable event, and it's even more tragic to see you out here defending it as a promotion of truth. No, it was a promotion of what you wanted to promote. And that is your right as an institution, I applaud you for the continued attempt and tenacity.

    But don't tell me it's anything more noble than that, and don't whine when someone calls you on the BS if all you can offer is more BS.

    We've got enough out here as it is.

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  10. Thank you for sharing your thoughts so openly and candidly, Jason. I hope you have an enjoyable weekend.

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  11. Hugs and kisses, JHP. You too.

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