Biden Plan “Lurches Into” the “Quagmire” of Government Picking Tech Winners and Losers

(p. A23) The Biden administration has put forward the biggest, boldest, most expensive expansion of government in at least a half-century.

. . .

The Biden plan doesn’t just tiptoe around the quagmire of the government picking winners and losers, or what has been termed “industrial policy” — it lurches into it. Hundreds of billions of dollars will be invested by government agencies, whose record of success with direct involvement in the commercial world is, at best, mixed.

A recent case in point: the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which, at $787 billion, was much, much smaller than the more than $4 trillion sum of the two Biden plans put forward thus far. While the 2009 stimulus did put much-needed dollars into the economy without fraud or abuse (as Mr. Biden likes to remind us), it didn’t achieve another of its goals: a swifter transition to clean energy.

As a 2015 Congressional Research Service report reviewing stimulus projects further noted, “Solyndra declared bankruptcy in late 2011 and defaulted on its $535 million loan, Abound Solar received about $70 million of its $400 million loan before shuttering its solar panel operation and filing for bankruptcy in 2012, and SoloPower never met the requirements to initiate its $197 million loan guarantee.”

None of this should be too surprising. Going all the way back to the creation of the Synthetic Fuels Corporation in 1980, which I covered as a New York Times correspondent, the federal government’s recurring efforts at directing energy transitions have mostly struggled.

. . .

No one should want the Biden plan to fall short. But given its vast sweep — I conservatively counted more than five dozen initiatives — the administration should increase its chances of success by leaning more heavily on private models for help and using tax incentives to a greater extent for efficiency.

For the full commentary, see:

Steven Rattner. “Handle Big Government With Care.” The New York Times (Tuesday, April 13, 2021): A23.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 9, 2021, and has the title “Biden’s Big Government Should Be Handled With Care.”)

Cuomo-Endorsed Closure of Indian Point Nuclear Reactors Increases New York’s Use of Fossil Fuels

(p. B6) For most of his long political career, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo railed against the dangers of having a nuclear power plant operating just 25 miles away from New York City, saying its proximity to such a densely populated metropolis defied “basic sanity.’’

But now, the plant is preparing to shut down, and New York is grappling with the adverse effect the closing will have on another of Mr. Cuomo’s ambitious goals: sharply reducing the state’s reliance on fossil fuels.

So far, most of the electricity produced by the nuclear plant, known as Indian Point, has been replaced by power generated by plants that burn natural gas and emit more pollution. And that trade-off will become more pronounced once Indian Point’s last reactor shuts down on April 30 [2021].

“It’s topsy-turvy,” said Isuru Seneviratne, a clean-energy investor who is a member of the steering committee of Nuclear New York, which has lobbied to keep Indian Point running. The pronuclear group calculated that each of Indian Point’s reactors had been producing more power than all of the wind turbines and solar panels in the state combined.

For the full story, see:

Patrick McGeehan. “Nuclear Plant’s Shutdown Means More Fossil Fuel in New York.” The New York Times (Tuesday, April 13, 2021): A15.

(Note: bracketed year added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated April 13, 2021, and has the title “Indian Point Is Shutting Down. That Means More Fossil Fuel.”)

“Solar Geoengineering” Is “a Test of Our Technological Ingenuity”

(p. C6) . . . humans have been so successful at changing the environment that we have become the dominant influence on the natural world. According to Elizabeth Kolbert’s new book, “Under a White Sky,” how we proceed is, in one sense, full of possibility, a test of our technological ingenuity and derring-do, . . .

. . .

Kolbert is a writer for The New Yorker, where parts of this book originally appeared. Her narrative voice is steady and restrained — the better, it sometimes seems, to allow an unadorned reality to show through, its contours unimpeded by frantic alarmism or baroque turns of phrase. The people she meets are trying to reverse the course of man-made environmental disaster, whether that might involve electrifying a river, shooting diamond dust into the stratosphere or genetically modifying a species to extinction. She says that the “strongest argument” in favor of some of the most fantastical sounding measures tends to be a sober realism: “What’s the alternative?”

The biggest and most urgent of the impending cataclysms involves climate change. Mitigation efforts — reducing emissions — won’t do anything to alleviate the greenhouse gases that are already trapping heat on our planet. The title of Kolbert’s book comes from one possible side-effect of “solar geoengineering” (or “solar radiation management,” in what’s supposed to be the less scary parlance). Spraying light-reflective particles into the atmosphere will make blue skies look white.

For the full review, see:

Szalai, Jennifer. “BOOKS OF THE TIMES: Exploring All Measures to Save the Environment.” The New York Times (Thursday, February 11, 2021): C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 10, 2021, and has the title “BOOKS OF THE TIMES: Electrified Rivers and Other Attempts to Save the Environment.”)

The book under review is:

Kolbert, Elizabeth. Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future. New York: Crown, 2021.

Ancient “Cousin” to Homo Erectus Adapted to “a Chaotic Climate Shift”

(p. D4) Around two million years ago, this area in South Africa is believed to have undergone a chaotic climate shift. The regional environment transformed from wetter and more lush conditions to drier and more arid ones. In order for a species like P. robustus to survive in such terrain, it probably would have needed to be able to chew on tough plants. But the specimen found in the cave at Drimolen didn’t seem to fit with what some scientists had previously stated about the human cousin.

They labeled the skull DNH 155 and determined that it belonged to a male.

. . .

In addition to being smaller than male P. robustus who lived at Swartkrans, DNH 155’s cranium indicated its chewing muscles were not as strong as theirs. Mr. Martin said the differences suggest DNH 155 and the other P. robustus found at Drimolen were smaller not because they were all female, but rather because they were earlier forms of the species belonging to a different population that hadn’t yet been subjected to the environmental pressures that would favor larger sizes and stronger jaw muscles.

“It basically hasn’t become this massive chewing and grinding machine that it becomes later,” Mr. Martin said.

The change would have been the result of microevolution, or an evolutionary change occurring within a species. Such a morphological change, the scientists said, was likely the result of P. robustus adapting to that changing climate, with members of the species who were able to get enough nutrition from a change in their food supply surviving, and passing their traits to offspring.

For the full story, see:

Nicholas St. Fleur. “How to Adapt: A Skull’s Story.” The New York Times (Tuesday, November 17, 2020): D4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 9, 2020, and has the title “How a Human Cousin Adapted to a Changing Climate.”)

Ranchers Will Protect and Invest in Brazilian Forest Land That They Own

(p. A1) POMBAL, Brazil—For the past 15 years, Carlos Pacheco has raised cattle in what was once virgin forest. When pastures went bad, he would simply cut deeper into the Amazon, one of millions of farmers who have helped strip away about a fifth of the world’s greatest rainforest.

Because he expanded into land he doesn’t own, he can’t use it as collateral for a loan to buy equipment and fertilizer, nor can he tap the expertise of a government agronomist. The upshot is that he uses more land to raise each cow than do legal farmers in the breadbasket of southern Brazil.

It may sound counterintuitive, but Brazilian authorities think giving Mr. Pacheco a deed to the land he farms might curtail deforestation. The idea is it could help him become a more efficient farmer, able to produce more on less land, and also make him hesitate to just walk away from depleted pastures and carve new ones. In short, it might discourage him and squatters like him from cutting ever deeper into the jungle.

“If this doesn’t happen, we will continue to deforest,” said the 49-year-old rancher, the leader of a tightknit group of several hundred settlers on the forest frontier.

The administration of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro wants to see if he is right. In February [2020], it plans to start handing out deeds to some 300,000 Amazon squatters, with a plan that might help but has raised a howl of disapproval for re-(p. A12)warding bad behavior.

. . .

Over the decades, 73-year-old cattleman João Bueno cut into the forest in Pará state to build a network of ranches totaling 45,000 acres, with 28,000 head of cattle.

He has a special document that allows him to produce and sell cattle to a slaughterhouse, but it isn’t a title, so it doesn’t allow him to use the land as loan collateral. Mr. Bueno said tapping credit would permit him to modernize his operation with fertilizer and techniques common elsewhere, raising three times as many head of cattle on the same acreage.

“Land without documentation is nobody’s land, so people take advantage of it to clear forest for pastures,” Mr. Bueno said.

For the full story, see:

Paulo Trevisani and Juan Forero. “Brazil’s Unusual Bid to Curb Deforestation.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, February 1, 2020): A1 & A12.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date January 31, 2020, and has the title “Squatters Cut Down the Rainforest. Brazil Wants to Give Them the Land.”)

Net-Zero Emissions Costs 16% of GDP Per Year; Climate Change at Most Costs 4% of GDP Per Year

(p. C1) For decades, climate activists have exhorted people in the wealthy West to change their personal behavior to cut carbon emissions. We have been told to drive less, to stop flying and, in general, to reduce consumption—all in the name of saving the planet from ever higher temperatures.

The Covid-19 pandemic has now achieved these goals, at least temporarily. With the enormous reduction in global economic activity, it has been as if people around the world suddenly decided to heed the activists and curtail their travel and consumption. Largely as a result of the crisis, the International Energy Agency recently concluded, “global CO2 emissions are expected to decline by 8% in 2020, or almost 2.6 [billion tons], to levels of 10 years ago.”

It’s an unprecedented and impressive drop in emissions—by far the biggest year-to-year reduction since World War II. Unfortunately, it will have almost no discernible impact on climate change. Glen Peters, the research director at the Center for International Climate Research in Norway, estimates that by 2100, this year’s enormous reduction will bring down global temperatures by less than one five-hundredth of a degree Fahrenheit.

. . .

(p. C4) Sadly, the vast majority of the actions that individuals can take in the service of reducing emissions—and certainly all of those that are achievable without entirely disrupting everyday life—make little practical difference. That’s true even if all of us do them.

. . .

Achieving global “net zero” emissions in three decades, as a growing number of activists and politicians advocate, would require the equivalent of a series of ongoing and ever-tightening lockdowns until 2050.

. . .

William Nordhaus of Yale, who in 2018 was awarded the first Nobel Prize for work in climate economics, has tabulated all of the estimates of climate-related economic damages from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and peer-reviewed studies to determine the total impact of different levels of global temperature increases. He found that, by 2050, the net negative impact of unmitigated climate change—that is, with current emissions trends unabated—is equivalent to losing about 1% of global GDP every year. By 2100 the loss will be about 4% of global GDP a year.

For comparison, what would it cost to reach net-zero by 2050, through cutting emissions and mandating new energy sources? So far, only one country, New Zealand, has commissioned an independent estimate. It turns out the optimistic cost is a whopping 16% of GDP each year by 2050. That projected figure exceeds what New Zealand spends today on social security, welfare, health, education, police, courts, defense, environment and every other part of government combined.

As this simple comparison suggests, suffering a 16% loss of GDP to reduce a problem estimated to cost 1% or even 4% of GDP is a bad way to help. That is especially true for the many parts of the world that are still in the early stages of economic development and desperately need growth to improve the lives of their impoverished populations.

For the full commentary, see:

Bjorn Lomborg. “Lockdowns Highlight The Climate Challenge.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, July 11, 2020): C1 & C4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the same date as the print version, and has the title “The Lockdown’s Lessons for Climate Activism.” Where there are slight differences in wording between the versions in the passages quoted, the online version appears above. The online version does not list an author. I cite James Barron, who is listed as the author in the print version.)

Lomborg’s commentary, quoted above, is related to his book:

Lomborg, Bjørn. False Alarm: How Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions, Hurts the Poor, and Fails to Fix the Planet. New York: Basic Books, 2020.

Environmentalism Is a “Substitute Religion” Offering “Purpose and Transcendence”

(p. A13) There is a recurring puzzle in the history of the environmental movement: Why do green activists keep promoting policies that are harmful not only to humans but also to the environment? Michael Shellenberger is determined to solve this problem, and he is singularly well qualified.

He understands activists because he has been one himself since high school, when he raised money for the Rainforest Action Network. Early in his adult career, he campaigned to protect redwood trees, promote renewable energy, stop global warming, and improve the lives of farmers and factory workers in the Third World. But the more he traveled, the more he questioned what Westerners’ activism was accomplishing for people or for nature.

He became a different kind of activist by helping start a movement called ecomodernism, the subject of “Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All.” He still wants to help the poor and preserve ecosystems, but through industrialization instead of “sustainable development.” He’s still worried about climate change, but he doesn’t consider it the most important problem today, much less a threat to humanity’s survival—and he sees that greens’ favorite solutions are making the problem worse.

. . .

Mr. Shellenberger makes a persuasive case, lucidly blending research data and policy analysis with a history of the green movement and vignettes of people in poor countries suffering the consequences of “environmental colonialism.” He realizes, though, that rational arguments alone won’t convince devout environmentalists. “I was drawn toward the apocalyptic view of climate change twenty years ago,” he writes. “I can see now that my heightened anxiety about climate reflected underlying anxiety and unhappiness in my own life that had little to do with climate change or the state of the natural environment.”

For him and so many others, environmentalism offered emotional relief and spiritual satisfaction, giving them a sense of purpose and transcendence. It has become a substitute religion for those who have abandoned traditional faiths, as he explains in his concluding chapter, “False Gods for Lost Souls.” Its priests have been warning for half a century that humanity is about to be punished for its sins against nature, and no matter how often the doomsday forecasts fail, the faithful still thrill to each new one.

For the full review, see:

John Tierney. “BOOKSHELF; False Gods for Lost Souls.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, June 22, 2020): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 21, 2020, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Apocalypse Never’ Review: False Gods for Lost Souls.”)

The book under review is:

Shellenberger, Michael. Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All. New York: HarperCollins Books, 2020.

Global Warming Allows Study of Transhumance to Flourish

(p. D3) OSLO — Ice patches that melted from the slopes of a remote mountain pass in Norway have revealed artifacts that provide new insight into the livelihood of hunters, traders and travelers along a route thousands of years old, archaeologists said this month.

. . .

The discoveries, outlined in the scientific journal Antiquity, were made on the central mountain range in Norway’s Innlandet County by the Glacier Archaeology Program, one of many programs worldwide studying what glaciers and ice patches are laying bare as they shift and melt because of climate change.

. . .

These discoveries have illuminated scientists’ understanding of transhumance, which describes how, where and why people moved from one place to another for trade, food, marriage or customs — sometimes over icy mountain passes rather than through the easier terrain, but longer distances, of valleys.

In 1991, hikers accidentally discovered the remains of a man, later nicknamed Ötzi the Tyrolean Iceman, preserved in 5,300 years’ worth of ice and snow in the Italian Alps. This marked the start of a promising period of archaeology that has gained pace as climate warming has revealed more artifacts, said Dr. Stephanie Rogers, a research assistant professor at Auburn University’s department of geosciences.

. . .

Dr. Rogers, who has done research on glacier archaeology in the Alps, said the discovery of the Iceman “really flipped a switch.”

“What was that person doing up there?” she asked, adding that researchers realized that “if we found something in this place, we are going to find something in other places.”

The field of transhumance has gained momentum in the past 10 to 20 years as artifacts have been laid bare because of the warming climate melting ice patches and moving glaciers, Dr. Rogers said.

For the full story, see:

Henrik Pryser Libell and Christine Hauser. “Warming Climate Reveals an Ancient Trade Route.” The New York Times (Tuesday, April 28, 2020): D3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 16 [sic], 2020, and has the title “Warming Climate in Norway Reveals Relics of Ancient Viking Trade Route.”)

Fresh Water Great Lakes at Near-Record High Levels

Global warming activists sometimes claim that a harm of global warming is reduced fresh water supplies. As noted in the passage quoted below, the Great Lakes, the world’s greatest reserve of fresh water, are now at record or near-record levels.

(p. A3) Record and near-record water levels in all five Great Lakes are resulting in tens of millions of dollars in damage from Minnesota to New York as eroding shorelines and monster waves cause homes to plummet into the water, public piers and lakeside trails to crack and crumble, and parks and properties to flood.

The high levels come after several years of above-average rains and snowfall in the region. Last year was the wettest on record for the Great Lakes and the second wettest across the continental U.S., according to federal data. Forecasts from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers show the elevated lake levels persisting through at least July.

Lakes Huron and Michigan set record lows in early 2013—an unprecedented swing, said Drew Gronewold, an associate professor at the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability. He said the warming climate is exacerbating both precipitation and evaporation, the two main forces affecting lake levels. “My eyes are open right now that water levels may continue to swing like that,” he said, but the question needs more study to make better predictions about what might happen next.

For the full story, see:

Erin Ailworth. “Rising Great Lakes Pose Peril.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, February 21, 2020): A3.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date February 20, 2020, and has the title “On Rising Great Lakes, Backyards Are Disappearing Overnight.”)

“Local Adaptations” Might Be a “Workable Solution” to Global Warming

(p. 5) Around the time of every new and full moon, the sea rushes soundlessly past the trash-strewn shores, up over the single road running along the spine of Batasan, population 1,400, and into people’s homes. The island, part of the Tubigon chain in the central Philippines, is waterlogged at least one-third of the year.

. . .

“People say this is because of the Arctic melting,” said Dennis Sucanto, a local resident whose job is to measure the water levels in Batasan each year. “I don’t understand but that’s what they say.”

. . .

“They wanted us to go to a hilly farming place,” said Rodrigo Cosicol, 66, shaking his head at the affront. “We are fishermen. We need fish.”

“We don’t fear the water anymore,” Mr. Cosicol added. “This is our way of living.”

This unwillingness of people on Batasan to abandon their homes — instead choosing to respond, inch by inch, to a new reality — may hold valuable lessons for residents of other vulnerable island states. Rather than uprooting an entire population, with the enormous trauma and cost that entails, the more workable solution might be local adaptations.

“The climate refugee message is more sensational but the more realistic narrative from the islanders themselves is adaptation rather than mass migration,” said Laurice Jamero, who has researched the Tubigon islands for five years and runs the climate and disaster risk assessment efforts at the Manila Observatory, a research institute.

And Batasan’s residents have adjusted. They have rolled up their hems. They have placed their houses on blocks of coral stone. They have tethered their goats to sheds on stilts. They have moved most plant life from floodable patches of land to portable pots.

There are other concessions. The Roman Catholic priest at the local church declared that parishioners no longer have to kneel for prayer when the tides are high.

“We will find a way to do things because this is our home,” said Annie Casquejo, a local health committee member who once worked off the island but has, like many others, returned to Batasan.

Nature’s constant threat has imprinted resilience on the Philippine DNA.

. . .

Children on Batasan who are lucky enough to own bikes have one option — up and down the main road, the only road.

The concrete strip runs for less than two-thirds of a mile, then peters out in a mangrove swamp near the home of Alma Rebucas, where thigh-high waters regularly infiltrate. She secures the family’s utensils lest they float away. Her dog and goats are swimmers. So is the cat.

Ms. Rebucas said she has no plans to move away.  . . .

She oversees a fishing business, plucking sea cucumbers, crabs and grouper from the shimmering sea. Life here is like a magic trick, Ms. Rebucas said, making something from nothing.

“We don’t need much land,” she said. “We have the whole sea.”

For the full story, see:

Hannah Beech. “PHILIPPINES DISPATCH; Life on an Island Being Devoured by the Rising Sea.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, February 23, 2020): 5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 22, 2020, and has the title “PHILIPPINES DISPATCH; Adapting to Rising Seas, Schools Move to the Rafters and Cats Swim.”)

If Jeff Bezos Really Wanted to Reverse Global Warming

(p. A15) Jeff Bezos’ $10 billion commitment to fight climate change, which he announced last week, brings to mind an episode of “South Park” that aired during the financial crisis. A succession of characters put their money into the market only to see it go instantly to zero before their eyes.

. . .

There’s one way Mr. Bezos might make a real splash and possibly even a difference. With his Blue Origin venture he adopted a “just do it” attitude toward spaceflight. Mr. Bezos could adopt the same “just do it” approach to testing the hypothesis that warming could be halted by using aircraft to distribute inert aerosols in the upper atmosphere to block a small amount of sunlight reaching the earth. A highly reputable climate warrior, New York University’s Gernot Wagner, estimates that around $2 billion a year would be enough to offset the warming seen so far. Other researchers have produced similar estimates.

For the full commentary, see:

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. “BUSINESS WORLD; How Bezos Can Influence Climate.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, February 26, 2020): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 25, 2020, and has the same title as the print version.)

Gernot Wagner’s aerosol injection research has been published in:

Smith, Wake, and Gernot Wagner. “Stratospheric Aerosol Injection Tactics and Costs in the First 15 Years of Deployment.” Environmental Research Letters 13, no. 12 (Nov. 23, 2018): 1-23.