ENERGY POLICY AND ENVIRONMENTAL STEWARDSHIP: RISK MANAGEMENT NOT RISK AVOIDANCE
I was invited to speak at the 2015 Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum held annually at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. This year's debate is on climate change and environmental policy. My task was to present a paper that would then be responded to by two other invited speakers, Calvin Beisner of the Cornwall Alliance and Bill McKibben of 350.org (representing two opposing positions on the climate issue). It being a seminary I organized my thoughts around the parable of the faithful and unfaithful stewards from the gospels. My paper can be downloaded here. The parable of the stewards (also known as the parable of the talents) is a warning against our tendency to exaggerate the downside risks inherent in putting our resources and talents to work, even when we know they have the potential to yield great benefits and rewards for others. I explain why I see this playing out around the climate change issue.
April 8, 2015
GREER-HEARD POINT/COUNTERPOINT FORUM ON CLIMATE CHANGE, NEW ORLEANS
Newspaper Columns, Commentary and Other
GREEN ENERGY AND THE GLOBAL ADJUSTMENT MECHANISM
I coauthored a report with Tom Adams looking at the soaring path of electricity prices in Ontario since 2005. We examined the role of the so-called Global Adjustment (GA), a regulation-driven component of electricity prices that funds side-deals and price contracts with selected generators, including wind and solar operators. A combination of institutional analysis and an econometric model of the growth of the GA shows that wind and solar capacity expansion is a major driver of increases in the GA, with effects much greater than the value of direct payments to suppliers, due to the way renewables interact with the rest of the power system. We also make recommendations about how to mitigate the cost increases. Our report is available here from the Fraser Institute. R code and data for the econometric model are available here.
ASSESSING THE PROSPECTS FOR A BINDING, EFFECTIVE, GLOBAL CLIMATE TREATY
I was an invited speaker at the 2014 Global Business Forum in Banff, Alberta, September 18-19. I was asked to be on a panel discussing climate and energy policies. The format allowed me about 10 minutes to present my perspective on these issues to an audience of CEOs, business leaders, a few academics and other VIPs from Canada and around the world. I decided to eschew powerpoint and simply give a short speech, which is available here.
ME & THEOLOGY:
The Cornwall Alliance issued a Stewardship Statement in 2000 to which I was a signatory. They also prepared a document in 2006 for communication among religious groups, concerning the need to continue to prioritize development and poverty relief in the face of pressure for climate policies, to which I contributed economic input. Their 2009 statement on global warming has recently been brought to my attention a number of times on the basis of some loaded theological language and the appearance of a priori scientific assertions that ought properly to be matters of empirical determination. Though the signatories are not listed online I am apparently on the list. Reading the 2009 statement now I see a number of places where there is language I would not myself use, so I have indicated to the Cornwall Alliance (Sept 2014) that I am not now an endorser of that statement, and the list should be updated to reflect this.
As for what I actually think, on May 29 2012 I participated in a workshop at Huron College, University of Western Ontario, on exploring the theological and cultural assumptions for faith groups participating in the climate debate. My presentation was called "The Intrinsic Value of Nature and the Proper Stewardship of the Climate" and is available here.
A BRIEF RETROSPECTIVE ON THE HOCKEY STICK:
In Spring 2014 I was invited to contribute a chapter to a forthcoming volume by the Institute for Policy Analysis in Australia on the subject of climate change. I was specifically asked if I would discuss the hockey stick episode, and it seemed an appropriate time to survey the story once again. Here is the result.
They wanted it fairly short, which meant it took much longer to write than if they'd asked for a long piece. Often I'd just be finishing the introduction and realize I'd hit the word limit. So naturally it doesn't provide an exhaustive treatment, but the reference list gives the reader plenty of additional leads. The book version is due out this fall and I hope you will consider supporting the project.
Journal Articles and Discussion Papers
TRADE LIBERALIZATION AND POLLUTION HAVENS
Bin Hu and I published a study looking at whether the distribution of consumption-generated pollution changes in a different way than production-generated pollution between rich and poor countries under trade liberalization. Previous work has focused on production-generated ("smokestack") emissions rather than consumption-generated ("tailpipe") emissions, and finds pollution intensity tends to rise in rich countries relative to poor countries after trade liberalization. We present a theoretical model in which the opposite pattern is predicted for tailpipe emissions, and we find empirical support for this in an international panel of data on carbon monoxide emissions.
POLICY IMPLICATIONS OF THE PAUSE IN GLOBAL WARMING
I have published a report for the Fraser Institute looking at the economic policy implications of the lack of global warming. Had the situation been reversed, namely had there been much more warming than models projected over the past 20 years, there would likely be loud calls for a policy response, namely a ramping up of current plans and targets. The same reasoning applies under the opposite circumstances, namely that there was much less warming than models projected. Fundamentally the problem is that the policy models are trained to match climate models, not climate data, and this needs to change.
My report argues for building a more robust connection between empirical findings on climate processes and the economic models that generate climate policy plans.
A STATISTICALLY-ROBUST DEFINITION OF THE LENGTH OF THE GLOBAL WARMING PAUSE
I have published a paper proposing a definition of the length of the pause that is robust to autocorrelation and cherry-picking endpoints.
MODEL-OBSERVATION COMPARISON 1958-2012 IN THE TROPICAL TROPOSPHERE
Tim Vogelsang and I have published a paper in Environmetrics called
In it we compare the temperature trends in climate models over the 1958-2012 interval in the tropical troposphere to those observed in weather balloon data. The models tend not only to over-predict observed warming, but also to represent it differently. Models exhibit a relatively smooth upward trend, whereas observations show almost all the warming took place in a single jump in the late 1970s and the trend either side is practically and statistically zero. Since the tropical troposphere is where models predict the maximum response to GHG forcing should be observed, the absence of a significant trend there over a 55-year interval is a serious inconsistency. Data and code are here. A discussion at Climate Audit is here.
I am very pleased to announce the launch of yourenvironment.ca, a new project of mine. The idea is very simple: to present the complete environmental record of every community across Canada. The site currently shows air emissions by source (back to 1985), air contaminant levels (back to 1974) and monthly average high temperatures (back to 1900) for hundreds of places across the country. Water pollution data are coming this summer.
The layout is self-explanatory and it's very easy to use. The data are all from government agencies, but most of it has not hitherto been disseminated in a usable form to the public. All my sources are, or will soon be, linked and the data I use will all be easily-downloadable.
So the next time you find yourself in a conversation with someone who (i) is convinced that Canada does nothing to protect the environment, or (ii) thinks winters around here used to be a lot colder/longer/snowier; or it never used to be this warm/cold in April/October/ etc, or (iii) worries/guffaws about the alleged/obvious ecological disaster all around us, and you wonder what, if any, of this is true, look at yourenvironment.ca and find out.