Predicting the impending collapse of climate hysteria is a lot like predicting the impending collapse of Venezuela or North Korea. Yes, it is so transparently crazy that it can't possibly go on for too much longer. On the other hand, it is backed by an enormous propaganda apparatus, by near unanimity in the media and academia kept intact by ruthless orthodoxy enforcement, and, at least up until recently, by complete control over vast government funding. You can see cracks developing in the structure here and there, and clearly, as with Venezuela and North Korea, the entire edifice will definitely collapse eventually; but maybe it will take years or even decades before the final implosion.
Today brings two rather significant new cracks. First, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has announced that EPA will repeal the so-called Clean Power Plan. EPA's release can be found here. The CPP, a regulation promulgated by the Obama EPA in October 2015, was the centerpiece of the prior administration's program to achieve emissions reductions of so-called "greenhouse gases" as prescribed by the Paris climate accord. Back in February 2016 I called EPA's issuance of the CPP "the biggest-in-history see-how-far-we-can-push-the-envelope-and-get-away-with-it power grab." The goal was supposedly to reduce CO2 emissions from power plants by some 30 plus percent by 2030. To achieve that goal, the CPP basically set emissions limits that could not be met so long as coal-burning plants were part of the electricity system, thereby forcing all the coal plants to close. Likely, oil plants, and even those fired by natural gas, would have also come on the chopping block as the strictures tightened with the approach of the 2030 deadline. Associated with the CPP were many tens of billions of dollars of costs, all destined to make their way into your electricity bill.
In February 2016, in response to litigation brought by the majority of states and many other parties, the Supreme Court stayed enforcement of the CPP. Subsequently the litigation made its way before the en banc DC Circuit, which however has been holding the matter in abeyance while it waits to see what the Trump administration will do. Looks like that litigation will now be moot -- undoubtedly soon to be replaced by new litigation to be brought by the other states and environmental groups seeking to compel the government to regulate and restrict the GHGs.
EPA's release does not really get into the question of whether CO2 from power plants is any kind of environmental problem, or whether restricting CO2 emissions is or is not a good idea. Instead, its main thrust is that the section of the Clean Air Act mainly relied on by the Obama EPA, namely Section 111, does not in fact give EPA sufficient legal authority to support the CPP. According to the new administration EPA's legal analysis, Section 111 only authorizes EPA to regulate emissions from individual sources of pollutants, rather than completely transforming an entire electricity system. This was actually a principal argument advanced by the litigants in the case challenging the CPP. And it is a good argument. In any event, the CPP is going to be withdrawn.
Withdrawing the "biggest-in-history" government regulatory power grab -- that's a pretty big development on the climate front for one day. But I have another one, also from today, that may be even bigger. Tony Abbott, former Prime Minister of Australia, made a speech today at the Global Warming Policy Foundation in London. Here is a link to the speech. With this speech, Australia takes another big step among the governments of the world toward joining the ranks of the climate apostates.
I certainly will not claim to be any kind of an expert on the politics of Australia, but I'll share what I can learn from easily available sources. Abbott -- a member of the "Liberal" Party (we would call them "conservatives") -- was Prime Minister from 2013 - 2015. He has been succeeded by Malcolm Turnbull, from the same party. Prior to Abbott, the Prime Minister (briefly in 2013) was Kevin Rudd of the Labor Party, and before him, Julia Gillard (2010 - 2013), also of the Labor Party. The Labor Party of Australia strongly supports policies to "save the planet" through mandatory restrictions on GHG emissions. The Liberal Party has been somewhat conflicted in its positions on this issue. Abbott famously stated in October 2009 that the science of climate change was "absolute crap." That did not prevent him from becoming PM in 2013, but on becoming PM he substantially toned down his position on the issue. Within a couple of years, he lost the job to his colleague Turnbull, who could not be called a climate skeptic, and has moved forward with a so-called "clean energy target" to reduce Australia's emissions.
Meanwhile, Abbott remains a major force in the Liberal Party. And the "clean energy target" thing has not gone well in Australia. While remaining a major producer of coal and natural gas (increasingly for export only), Australia has been closing down coal plants and seeking to replace that energy with solar and wind facilities that basically don't work when you need them. South Australia -- ground zero for massive expansion of wind power -- has had several major blackouts. With that background, here are some excerpts from Abbott's speech today:
Hydro aside, renewable energy should properly be referred to as intermittent and unreliable power. When the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine, the power doesn’t flow. Wind and solar power are like sailing ships; cheaper than powered boats, to be sure, but we’ve stopped using sail for transport because it couldn’t be trusted to turn up on time. Because the weather is unpredictable, you never really know when renewable power is going to work. Its marginal cost is low but so is its reliability, so in the absence of industrial scale batteries, it always needs matching capacity from dependable coal, gas, hydro, or nuclear energy. This should always have been obvious. . . .
In the longer term, we need less theology and more common sense about emissions reduction. It matters but not more than everything else. As Clive James has suggested in a celebrated recent essay, we need to get back to evidence based policy rather than “policy based evidence”. Even if reducing emissions really is necessary to save the planet, our effort, however Herculean, is barely-better-than-futile; because Australia’s total annual emissions are exceeded by just the annual increase in China’s. . . .
Should Australia close down its steel industry; watch passively while its aluminium industry moves offshore to places less concerned about emissions; export coal, but not use it ourselves; and deliberately increase power prices for people who can’t install their own solar panels and batteries? Of course not, but these are the inevitable consequences of continuing current policies. That’s the reality no one has wanted to face for a long time: that we couldn’t reduce emissions without also hurting the economy; that’s the inconvenient truth that can now no longer be avoided.
I particularly like that part about Australia exporting coal but then not using it themselves. Is it really possible to be that dumb? But the push back has started.
The Sydney Morning Herald, reporting on Abbott's speech, suggests that the turn toward climate skepticism is driven by party backbenchers who think that energy prices are a far more significant concern than environmental purity. But whatever the driving force, it now appears likely that Australia will not be adopting a new "clean energy target".any time soon. Some semblance of rationality has returned. It has suddenly become acceptable in polite circles to care more about what working people pay for electricity than about multi-hundred-billion-dollar schemes to reduce global warming by 0.02 degrees over the next century. That actually is a momentous development. What country will be the next to join the ranks of the climate apostates? England? How about Germany?