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By Robert Rapier on Jul 16, 2012 with 69 responses

Environmentalism is a Profitable Business

Global Experiment With the Climate

I want to preface this column by saying that I am very concerned about climate change. The rapid growth of atmospheric carbon dioxide shows no sign of abating, and I have concerns over what this will ultimately mean for the climate. The fact is that we are conducting a global experiment with the atmosphere, and predictions of severe consequences as a result should be taken with the utmost seriousness.

Having said that, I think it is important to maintain a healthy scientific discourse on the matter. “The science is settled” is just not a statement that I am comfortable with, and I am uncomfortable labeling those who question climate change with something that evokes comparisons with Holocaust denial.

Without a doubt, some of the attacks against climate science are ignorance-based. But some of those challenges and questions are by sincere people — sometimes scientists — who doubt the science in the same way that there have always been skeptics in science. In most cases the small band of skeptics is wrong, but sometimes they overturn entrenched paradigms. Those skeptics should be engaged on the basis of science, and not politics or personal animosity. (Hint: If your willingness to accept the conclusions of a report is based on whether it agrees with your position, then your position isn’t based on science nor is it objective — regardless of which side you are on).

So, in a nutshell I accept that accumulating carbon dioxide has the potential to change the climate — and may very well be doing so now — but I believe skeptics should be engaged scientifically rather than shouted down. On the flip side, I believe skeptics must engage on the basis of the science and not engage in ad hominem attacks.

Not all skeptics are idiots. But not all proponents are well-informed, as I show in today’s column.

Organized Environmentalists are Often Naive

I have always considered myself an environmentalist, in that 1). I care about the environment; 2). I want to protect and preserve our wildlife; 3). I try to promote sustainability; and 4). I try to minimize my impact on the environment in my personal life. I recycle, drive a fuel efficient car, grow a portion of my family’s food, walk or bike when I can, etc.

However, the “environmental movement” has often come to represent something I do not wish to associate myself with, because it often appears to me to be synonymous with willful ignorance. Certainly, many (if not all) who would characterize themselves as being a part of this movement are sincere and caring people who believe their actions are just, warranted, and effective. But far too often their actions are based upon misinformation.

An example of just how misinformed this group is can be seen in the recent “Twitter storm” against fossil fuel subsidies. The Guardian described the campaign: Activists hail success of Twitter storm against fossil fuel subsidies

Climate and anti-poverty activists have launched a 24-hour “Twitter storm” against the hundreds of billions of dollars of government subsidies paid each year to the petroleum and coal industry, despite the global economic downturn and the rise in emissions. The blitz, which has been supported by Stephen Fry, Robert Redford, actor Mark Ruffalo, politicians and environmentalists, took the hash tag #endfossilfuelsubsidies up to number two in the ranking of globally trending topics and number one in the US.

“This world has a few problems where a trillion dollars might come in handy – and we’d have a few less problems if we weren’t paying the fossil fuel industry to wreck the climate,” said founder Bill McKibben. “This is the public policy no-brainer of all time.”

As I will show here, there is great irony in the fact that anti-poverty activists were actively involved, and a great deal of misinformation along the lines of McKibben’s claim that we are “paying the fossil fuel industry to wreck the climate.” Incidentally, McKibben is the friend of a good friend of mine. My friend – who walks the talk because he lives the life of an environmentalist – described McKibben to me as a caring and sincere human being, but said that he is “in error”, that “environmentalists don’t understand energy,” and that “I suspect they are naive, well-intended idealists.” So please don’t misconstrue this as a personal attack on McKibben. I just believe he is wrong.

Fossil Fuel Subsidy Numbers: Full of Misinformation

The source that McKibben and company relied upon for the claim that $750 billion or $1 trillion of fossil fuel subsidies is being paid out each year is Oil Change International. (I know this because I asked). The site claims $775 billion in global annual fossil fuel subsidies — a number that was repeated often during the Twitter storm — and they said the number was “quite possibly higher.” Naturally advocates went with the “quite possibly higher” number, which is the source of the $1 trillion claim.

Here is the irony. Of the total of $775 billion, $630 billion was for “Consumption Subsidies in Developing Countries” and another $45 billion was for “Consumption Subsidies in Developed Countries.” In contrast to McKibben’s claim that these are handouts to the fossil fuel industry, they are overwhelmingly handouts to poor people so they can afford fuel. Examples of these subsidies are Venezuela’s policy of keeping gasoline prices very low for consumers, and the Low Income Heating Assistance Program (LIHEAP) in the U.S. that liberals have staunchly defended. Thus, you have anti-poverty activists and liberals arguing to eliminate programs they actually staunchly support because they are ignorant of what these subsidies actually entail.

Of course some will argue (and indeed have argued with me) that these aren’t really fossil fuel subsidies, and that isn’t what they are against. The problem is that LIHEAP, for instance, is mentioned by name as a fossil fuel subsidy and the amount spent on that program is included in the total. Thus, 87% of the total subsidies being cited are directed at making energy more affordable for consumers. A fossil fuel subsidy? Sure, and one that results in increased fossil fuel consumption. A “massive giveaway to Big Oil” which is how the issue has been framed? No, and by constantly framing the issue as such people are being grossly misinformed.

Thus, climate change advocates are shooting at the wrong target. They are making a lot of noise for sure. They are raising a lot of money (more on that below). But is their campaign going to have any impact on policies in Venezuela or Nigeria to stop subsidizing fuel for their citizens? Of course not. Thus, campaigns like this are totally impotent at getting the desired results because they have spent their money and their time in the wrong area.

The Environmental Movement is a For-Profit Industry

I am not so cynical to believe that this is all about money, but I do question how money influences some of the environmental organizations. I recently spent some time looking through the financials of a prominent environmental “non-profit.” They have $250 million in assets, annual donations of more than $100 million, and a dozen employees listed as receiving more than $200,000 a year in compensation. I think it is safe to say that environmentalism is indeed a lucrative business for some.

Climate change advocates would argue that this sort of funding is necessary because they are up against the deep pockets of Big Oil. I am sure they would deny that money influences their objectivity just as it influences the objectivity of the banking industry, the pharmaceutical industry, or the oil industry. I do not reject this notion, because I get press releases every day from environmental organizations that are misleading, factually incorrect, and grossly misinformed.

Waging Battle Away From the Wrong Target

Yet despite all of the funding and activity of the advocates, carbon dioxide emissions are not only increasing, in the past few years they have accelerated. Why haven’t the advocates managed to make a major impact? Because most climate change advocates in the U.S. are fighting a tiny local skirmish, while the real war rages elsewhere. The following graphic from my recent article Global Carbon Dioxide Emissions — Facts and Figures tells the story:

From that graphic, one can see that U.S. emissions 1). Are a small fraction of Asia Pacific’s; and 2). Have declined in recent years. In fact, since 2006 the U.S. is the world leader in reducing carbon dioxide emissions. But the biggest reasons for the decline in carbon emissions have nothing to do with the environmental movement. People have cut back on fossil fuel consumption due to high oil prices and a recession. Low natural gas prices have resulted in a large shift for power producers from coal to natural gas. Not only did environmentalists have nothing to do with any of this, they have actively fought against the growth of natural gas.

Further, if one were to limit the emissions to only emissions from U.S. consumption of oil (which I will do in a follow-up), you can immediately see that a lot of money is being spent in an area that will have little to no impact on the overall problem. It’s as if you are trying to cure obesity by launching a major campaign to ensure that everyone clips their toenails. Sure, it will help you lose a tiny fraction of an ounce, but is that really where you want to focus your efforts? Does that really address the root problem?

The Danger of Misinformation

I believe some of these organizations do more harm than good by misleading people, because misinformation causes people to spend their money and expend their time in the wrong places. Meanwhile, a new year brings a new record for global carbon dioxide emissions.

The truth is that current and future emissions are being driven by developing countries, and developing countries are the overwhelming source of fossil fuel subsidies cited in the recent Twitterstorm. The narrative being spun by the environmental movement tells a story that is disconnected from the facts.

Environmentalism is big business, so there is a large incentive to spin misleading narratives that stir people’s emotions if that helps with the fundraising. Perhaps most of these organizations are started with the purest of intentions, but I suspect somewhere along the line the people in charge recognized a profitable opportunity. So if they can keep people angry enough about fossil fuel subsidies to companies like ExxonMobil, the donations come pouring in.

I am not suggesting that there is nothing at all to be done in the U.S., but I am suggesting that a disproportionate amount of money is being spent on an increasingly marginal part of the problem. So it should come as no surprise that while their misleading narratives are effective at raising money, these organizations have been wholly ineffective at impacting the real problem.

  1. By Duracomm on July 16, 2012 at 8:52 am

    McKibben represents the pathetic combination of ignorance and arrogance that are the identifying traits of far too many environmental activists.

    Naive, well intentioned, ignorant idealists  like McKibben have caused vast amounts of human suffering, and misery.   They need to be called out for their ignorance and this article is a good start.

    • By 945call on July 18, 2012 at 10:32 am

      A recent scientific study indicates that the earth has been cooling when viewed over a 2000 year period.  While it hasn’t been proven that CO2 is causing atmospheric warming and that there is the real possiblity that Solar activity may actually be doing it, CO2 and Solar warming may be exactly what we need to avaoid a new Ice Age.


  2. By Jerry Unruh on July 16, 2012 at 10:21 am

    Hi Robert:

    I must say I am quite disappointed in this entry.  If you find that the skeptics have legitimate arguments that show that climate change isn’t happening, then discuss those scientific arguments and show  us why they invalidate climate change.  Instead you fall on to the rather phony issue of money.  What if a handful of people in the environmental movement make $200 thousand/year.  The CEO of Exxon Mobile was reported to have total compensation of about $25 million in 2011.  As a chemist my total compensation was about $125 thousand before I retire 12 years ago and I wasn’t in the management structure.  What would my salary be today I had remained in that position?  I don’t see a salary of $200 thousand out of line for someone running an a large organization whatever its business and it is certainly low compared to the heads of most large corporations.

    There is no doubt in my mind that Asia is driving CO2 emissions,  Nevertheless, if the U.S. doesn’t lead, the rest of the world will not follow.  But to reiterate, I wish you would spell out the issues where you think the skeptics are correct and show us why.  Perhaps you should read the ocean acidification articles in the most recent issue of Science

    • By Robert Rapier on July 16, 2012 at 2:51 pm

      If you find that the skeptics have legitimate arguments that show that climate change isn’t happening, then discuss those scientific arguments and show  us why they invalidate climate change.

      The problem as I have seen it is that issues can’t be discussed in a civil manner. I see someone like Roger Pielke — who is definitely qualified to have the discussion — being shouted down and having his character assassinated by rabid partisans like Joe Romm. You of all people know that’s not how science is done. So it isn’t particular issues that I am talking about here; it is the process. But if you want a particular issue, one would be whether models are accurately predicting impacts. As you know it is a very complex issue, and thus important to keep studying it. 

      Instead you fall on to the rather phony issue of money.  What if a handful of people in the environmental movement make $200 thousand/year.

      There were a dozen at the single organization I looked at. So what am I to make of gross misinformation like the recent Twitter storm? That it is based merely on ignorance? No, I think money impacts some of these people in the same way money impacts those they criticize. If not, they we are talking about some seriously ignorant people in some cases. 

      There is no doubt in my mind that Asia is driving CO2 emissions,  Nevertheless, if the U.S. doesn’t lead, the rest of the world will not follow.

      To me, this is like an obese person losing a few pounds and then telling a starving person that this is the way to get by on less food. How is the U.S. supposed to lead when our oil consumption (for instance) is 10 times higher than theirs on a per capita basis? Cut our consumption in half? OK, then we are only 5 times higher than them. Does that help? 

      My point is that the focus is all wrong, and I can’t discount the influence of money here. Some of these people are spinning a narrative that is disconnected from the facts. Why? Some of them are earning a nice living spinning these narratives. And the more misinformation and hyperbole they pump out, the less inclined I am to believe the other things they say.


      • By Engineer-Poet on July 18, 2012 at 1:02 am

        this is like an obese person losing a few pounds and then telling a starving person that this is the way to get by on less food. How is the U.S. supposed to lead when our oil consumption (for instance) is 10 times higher than theirs on a per capita basis?

        Because their system gets along on 10% of our per-capita oil consumption; they don’t have to change anything to achieve reductions, and we do.  But we are doing it, and the least they can do is to avoid increases.

        The other thing we can do is to send their nationals home and stop buying the services they’re selling.  There are a lot of un- and marginally-employed Americans who would love the call-center jobs currently outsourced to S. Asia, and asking them to stop increasing their carbon emissions lest we put our own people on telecommuting jobs to replace them is likely to be an effective threat.  Doubly so if the telecommuters can get delivery of groceries instead of having to drive a personal vehicle to shop.

        • By Robert Rapier on July 19, 2012 at 3:58 pm

          Because their system gets along on 10% of our per-capita oil consumption; they don’t have to change anything to achieve reductions, and we do.

          Ah, but the deal is that their systems are changing — and that is what is driving the global increase in carbon emissions. You might say that someone in India “gets by” on 10% of our carbon emissions, but they are not satisfied with that life. So we have to tell them “You can’t have what we have.” Therein lies the problem.


          • By Engineer-Poet on July 19, 2012 at 11:15 pm

            They’re changing in all kinds of ways.  Some of them reduce carbon emissions.

            For instance, one of the changes beyond the reach of the grid is the replacement of kerosene lamps with small PV panels, batteries and LED lights; the payback time is under a year.  PV plus battery can also run small radios, charge cell phones, and power a host of other modern conveniences.

            Suppose that India pushed toward PV-charged electric bicycles instead of automobiles?  They’d be cheaper to operate, function beyond the range of the grid, and supply power for the radios, cell phones and lights as well.  They’d also be a better fit for old cities and small villages.

            I suspect that most of the coal burned in India and China is for the same purpose as it is in the USA:  generating electricity.  Most or all of that coal is potentially replaceable with uranium (or thorium).  Asia could enjoy a massive expansion of electric generation without the local and global impacts it’s creating now, if the specific type of generator was changed.  The key is to engineer a unit that’s effectively proliferation-proof and idiot-proof.  It looks to me as if a molten-salt reactor driving an open-cycle hot-air turbine would be as close to “put it down and let it generate power for 20 years” as anything could get; it wouldn’t even need cooling water, so it could be sited anywhere and operate without regard to conditions such as droughts.

            • By Robert Rapier on July 20, 2012 at 5:08 pm

              They’re changing in all kinds of ways.  Some of them reduce carbon emissions.

              I have no doubt that there are things they could do, but since they are coming up from such a low per capita level of energy consumption, just a little increase in their per capita fossil fuel consumption makes a big impact. And I see no practical way to avoid that small increase. 

              China is doing an “all of the above” strategy. Some will point to their renewable investments, but they are also investing heavily in coal. As a result, their emissions continue to increase rapidly.


            • By Engineer-Poet on July 21, 2012 at 1:42 am

              China is doing an “all of the above” strategy.

              Which begs the question, what if that strategy changed?  It’s at least partially a matter of policy, not forces of nature.  Could the direction be reversed at an acceptable cost… or even with moral virtue accruing?  Remember, Maoist China pursued the Great Leap Forward at an enormous human cost.  What if it wasn’t a cost, but a deferred gain?

      • By GreenEngineer on July 18, 2012 at 1:46 pm


        The problem as I have seen it is that issues can’t be discussed in a civil manner. I see someone like Roger Pielke — who is definitely qualified to have the discussion — being shouted down and having his character assassinated by rabid partisans like Joe Romm.


        Your point is taken, and I’ll happily grant your larger point that the scientific process has been deeply screwed up by its politicization.

        That said, there seem to now be VERY few qualified scientists who really doubt anthropogenic climate change.  There’s Pielke Jr, there’s Lindzen at MIT, and literally a handful of others.  (I’m specifically not counting scientists like Pielke Sr., who accept that anthropogenic climate change is real, but argue that too much emphasis is being placed on CO2 as opposed to other climate forcings.)

        To take another example, review the list of 16 “scientists” who signed the letter to the Wall Street Journal (  The usual suspects appear, but the rest of the list is pretty thin.  There are physicists, meteorologists (who are NOT climatologists), astronauts, and an aerospace engineer.  While these people may be more qualified than the average layperson to discuss the subject, they are hardly experts relative to the people who study this stuff professionally.  And I can tell you (from personal experience) that Rutan at least is a libertarian ideologue – hardly an objective source.


        Do you really think it’s reasonable to give anything like equal time or equal credibility to this view that is held by an extremely minor fraction of the practitioners?  That would be like insisting that every article on AIDS also interview one of the very small group of scientists who do not believe that HIV causes AIDS, or that every article about vaccines bring up the largely-debunked vaccines-cause-autism trope.

        Yes, these are views held by some scientists.  A few of these scientists are even qualified practitioners of their specialty.  And, who knows, they might even be right.  But so far they have failed to provide convincing evidence to overturn the majority view, and so they are (rightly, in my mind) consigned to obscurity until or unless they come up with something really compelling.  But almost all their evidence and arguments fall apart under scrutiny from practitioners holding the majority view – just as with climate science.


        • By Robert Rapier on July 18, 2012 at 4:15 pm

          Do you really think it’s reasonable to give anything like equal time or equal credibility to this view that is held by an extremely minor fraction of the practitioners?

          No, that’s not my point at all. I just want to see civility in the debate. If Pielke Jr. makes an argument, I would like to see civil replies of why he is wrong. Far too often I see serious hostility, which does not belong in scientific discussions. It corrupts the way science is done by attempting to intimidate those who might hold a minority view. 


          • By Engineer-Poet on July 18, 2012 at 5:06 pm

            I just want to see civility in the debate.

            To get true civility you’ll have to get the FF industry to call off its PR-firm attack dogs.  The chances of this are roughly slim and none.

          • By GreenEngineer on July 18, 2012 at 10:31 pm

            Fair enough, but the terms of the debate beg the question of what constitutes civility.  I’d be happy to see a civil debate involving  any of the dozen or so (I think that might be a high estimate) qualified skeptical climate scientists.


            However, when the same set of marginally- or un-qualified people trot out the same set of arguments over and over (ignoring each refutation), that’s a different matter.  Those tactics are apparently effective in muddying the national dialog, but in terms of  having a substantive debate on the issues, those behaviors are simply trolling.  I’ve frankly lost patience with it, as have many people.  I’m not sure how much forbearance it is reasonable to expect from “the other side” in that case.  How many times is a climate scientist (or informed activist, for that matter) supposed to tolerate repetitions of exactly the same points without losing their temper?

            • By Ed Reid on July 19, 2012 at 8:32 am

              Have you just declared Richard Lindzen, Patrick Michaels, John Christy, Chris Landsea, Roger Pielke Sr., Roger Pielke Jr., Willie Soon, Sally Baliunas, Roy Spenser, et al “marginally-or un-qualified”? If so, was that declaration based on your superior qualifications in the climate sciences? Or, were you referring to Steve McIntyre and Ross McKittrick, whose expertise is in statistical analysis?

              “Enquiring minds want to know.”

              One wonders how often climate scientists can violate FOIA before one or more of them are thrown in jail and cut off from the federal trough.

          • By Marlowe Johnson on July 19, 2012 at 3:46 pm


            I appreciate that you don’t follow climate blogs as closely as some, but your plea for civility on internet blogs strikes me as terribly naive.

            Wrt Roger Pielke Jr., he has a well-deserved reputation as a self-promoting, contrarian, shit disturber. None of these things are character flaws mind you (in fact they come in handy when you’re trying to make a living selling books). Now whether Roger is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ or is being treated unfairly on a particular issue is largely in the eye of the beholder. But the idea that he is a one-sided victim of character assassination is, well, a bit rich. To see Roger play offense google “Michael Tobis Roger Pielke Jr” and for good measure add ‘Tol’

            • By Robert Rapier on July 19, 2012 at 3:55 pm

              I appreciate that you don’t follow climate blogs as closely as some, but your plea for civility on internet blogs strikes me as terribly naive.

              Hi Marlowe,

              The one I probably follow with the most regularity is Climate Progress. As someone who tries to understand all sides of an issue to the greatest practical extent, I read some of Pielke’s stuff, and then I try to find out how people responded to that.

              What I found were not measured responses based on data, but rather a great deal of hostility and frequent appeals to authority. This is a very complex topic, and the hostility makes it very difficult to get to the bottom of the positions and the rebuttals. The conversation sinks very quickly into the mud, which I find highly frustrating. 

              I will Google those terms you suggested. 


            • By GreenEngineer on July 19, 2012 at 7:21 pm

              This is actually directed to R^2, but I can’t reply to his post below.


              Robert, do you read RealClimate?  It’s written by actual climatologists, and it very much reflects the “consensus position” on climate change.  But it does so with a great deal of detailed, in-depth analysis (though the authors are not above getting snarky towards what they see as poorly-done or politically-motivated science).

            • By Robert Rapier on July 19, 2012 at 9:13 pm

              Robert, do you read RealClimate?  

              I have been on there before, but don’t read it regularly. I will check it out. 


    • By Ed on July 16, 2012 at 2:55 pm

      “If you find that the skeptics have legitimate arguments that show that climate change isn’t happening, then discuss those scientific arguments and show  us why they invalidate climate change.”

      Skeptics are not skeptical about the existence of climate change. They acknowledge that climate has changed in the past, is changing now and will very likely continue changing in the future. They are skeptical of the accuracy of the global surface temperature record, since the data used to construct the temperature record are largely unusable without adjustment, since they are collected from instruments which are not sited, installed and maintained in accordance with the guidelines established by the organizations taking the measurements.

      Skeptics do question the primacy and extent of causation of GHGs on the climate change which is currently occurring. GHG causation of climate change is a hypothesis; the percentage causation estimates are just that – estimates.

      Skeptics question the accuracy of the multiple climate models and the multiple projections of future climate they are used to produce. Their skepticism is based on the limited skill of the various models in hindcasting the instrumented past as well as in forecasting the future which has occurred since the models were developed.

      The real purpose of the global environmental movement has been stated quite clearly by Otmar Edenhofer of the UN:

      Climate change policy is about how “we redistribute de facto the world’s wealth…”

      • By Waldo Trout on July 17, 2012 at 3:24 pm

        i just think it’s incredibly chauvinistic to consider that the overall temperature of Earth – or the current sea levels – or the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere as deemed what anti-climate change advocates are aiming for – is in any way the Best temperature to have.  or the Best sea levels to strive for or retain.

        are we trying to “manage” the entire world’s ecosystems?  with the “success” we’ve had in other areas?  wildlife “management” as been a dismal failure over and over.  just image what we could do on a global scale.

        • By Ed Reid on July 17, 2012 at 3:42 pm

          “just image what we could do on a global scale.”

          The mind boggles!

        • By GreenEngineer on July 18, 2012 at 1:41 pm

          The “best” temperature and sea level are those which are (1) stable and (2) representative of typical for recent (i.e. human) history.  The CO2 and temperature targets are just metrics to suppor those goals.

          This isn’t about the environment, except indirectly.  It’s about maintaining circumstances that are conducive to human prosperity and health.  A stable and predictable climate is a huge asset in that regard. This is mostly obvious if you consider the opposite: an unstable, unpredictable climate system means that agricultural production and freshwater availability – among other things – will follow a boom-bust cycle (even moreso than they do in the best of times).  That this is bad for people should be obvious without further explanation.  Despite all our technology, we are still very much dependent on ecological processes for basic needs like food, fiber, and water.

    • By GreenEngineer on July 18, 2012 at 1:43 pm

      Trying to reply to Robert’s comment below, but the response keeps getting eaten when I try to post.  Comment moderation does not appear to be on, since other comments are appearing.  Any idea what’s going on?

      • By GreenEngineer on July 18, 2012 at 1:46 pm

        OK, now my reply posted.  Seems I had a malformed link or something.  Anyway, disregard the post above (and delete them if you wish).

    • By siquijorisland on July 19, 2012 at 7:38 am

      The 2012 international scientist meeting in Chicago see to validate the so call deniers.

        This is not the attitude of science and big money is being made by the climate change promoters.

      this is fact.

      Climate change is a hypothesis not a fact.

      Real science not temperature sensors located next to air conditioners or parking lots. elevated artificial reading.

      We all know about the IPPC  e-mails promoting no science.

      We know about the letter signed by major scientists send to the government saying no  reason for panic.

      We know this is a peak sunspot activity year.

      We need honesty, not scare, or scam just real science,  and the end to special interest group pressure

  3. By ben on July 16, 2012 at 11:36 am

    There’s no-win in balancing the competing interests of the two sides of the current global warming debate save for an honest attempt to get at the truth.

    From what I’ve seen/heard, Rapier is no cheerleader for either side. That posture ensures a decent measure of antipathy regardless of any fair-minded efforts to filter out the bias wherever it may be found. As a well-trained engineer who has spent a more than a few years rolling in the barrel, and who currently holds an allegiance to no institutional interests in or out of the energy industry, I find analysis out of the R-Squared blog as an attempt to state the facts, and offer conclusions accompanying those facts, without pretensions of having it “all figured out.” To the contray, R-Squared routinely offers a disclaimer; the jury is out on the ultimate implications of man-made contributions to the greenhouse effect. That tends to wrangle both sides of the debate. Like it or not, it reflects a discomforting truth. As further scientific data confirms/refutes the argumenst made on either side, I remain confident that this blog will tell it like it is regardless of whose ox may be gored.

    Some will argue that waiting another minute to yell “fire” is tantamount to passing the buck. Well, for those old enough to recall the eve of WWII, and the public’s genuine misgivings about US entry into the great campaign against fascism, there’s a familar ring to the indignation directed toward the “misinformed” side of the debate. One can only pray that a Pearl Harbor moment isn’t necessary to prod action aiming much more at root-causes than at the mere symptoms of modernity’s lack of sustainability.

    Thanks for ongoing efforts to get it right. Wear disaffection of idealogues as a badge of honor.


  4. By Bob Rohatensky on July 16, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    “In contract to McKibben’s claim” should be “contrast”. Pesky spellcheckers.


    • By Robert Rapier on July 16, 2012 at 2:54 pm

      I read that 5 times and didn’t catch it. Fixed now. Thanks.


  5. By Ronald Steenblik on July 16, 2012 at 3:02 pm

    I, too, share Robert’s frustration with the way that the numbers have been picked up. As one of the people who helped prepare the OECD report that arrived at the estimate of $45 billion in “Consumption Subsidies in Developed Countries” (actually, we don’t call it that), it is a struggle to try to correct misconceptions about it. As Robert points out, most of what is contained in the $45 billion a year figure relates to either direct-subsidy programs such as LIHEAP, reduced value-added tax on fuels (as in the UK), or fuel-tax exemptions for farms and fishing vessels.

    But what about the much larger, $630 billion for “Consumption Subsidies in Developing Countries” estimated by the IEA? Again, as Robert correctly points out, these pertain to the underpricing of oil and natural gas (mainly) in developing and emerging economies, such as Iran, Iraq, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela.

    Yet one hears incessantly that “subsidies to fossil fuels exceed those to renewable energy by a ratio of 5:1″. Indeed, this ratio was thrown out recently — several times — at a high-level conference I attended last week in England:

    This is a nonsensical ratio, especially when the person using it seems to imply that it is only a matter of political choice to shift all those subsidies to fossil fuels into supporting renewable energy. Apart from the question of whether ANY energy production or consumption should be subsidized beyond the R&D and demonstration stage, the ratio ignores the geopolitics of the ratio. The big subsidies to (the consumption of) fossil fuels are being provided by oil- and gas-exporting countries to their own consumers, while the subsidies to renewable energy are being orchestrated mainly by developed countries, many through higher prices to electricity rate payers (e.g., through portfolio standards and feed-in-tariffs). Perhaps some day Saudi Arabia will raise its domestic prices for fuel and use the rents from selling more oil onto the export market to invest massively in solar energy, but it is not a decision that the rest of the world can impose on them. 

  6. By Warren Stephens on July 16, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    This Bloomberg article identifies an oil industry “subsidy” in the tax law.  I don’t know how accurate it is.

    Chesapeake’s 1% Tax Rate Shows Cost of Drilling Subsidy


    • By Robert Rapier on July 16, 2012 at 3:55 pm

      This Bloomberg article identifies an oil industry “subsidy” in the tax law.

      I saw that article when it came out. If true as presented, then I would agree that this is definitely a problem.


      • By Ed on July 16, 2012 at 4:24 pm

        Please note, from the Bloomberg article, that these taxes are “postponed”. While such a postponement certainly provides some cash flow advantages to the taxpayer, the tax obligation does not go away.

        I realize that our current fascist government and its band of “useful idiots” believe  it is necessary to make the “big oil subsidies” appear as large as possible, to maximize the “demonization” of this “enemy industry”. “Transparency” demands no less. (sarc off)

        • By Ronald Steenblik on July 17, 2012 at 5:35 am

          Ed: the bodies that estimate tax expenditures (deviations from the benchmark tax system) — the Joint Committee on Taxation and the Congressional Budget Office – have been counting tax deferrals as tax expenditures for decades. Tax deferrals create an advantage to any taxpayer in the amount of the interest that he or she would earn on the tax payment between the date that it would have normally been due and the date at which it is finally paid. In the context of trade disputes, tax expenditures that are sufficiently specific are treated as a form of subsidy. See Subsidy Estimation: A Survey of Current Practice.

          In short: don’t look for conspiracies to explain these tax-expenditure estimates. They have been around for a long time. It is only that now people other than tax experts are starting to discover them.


          • By Ed on July 17, 2012 at 8:20 am

            Interesting. Are taxpayer overpayments to government, prior to refund, treated as subsidies to government, since no interest is paid on those funds?

            • By Ronald Steenblik on July 17, 2012 at 12:16 pm

              I think a case could be made that they are. But I suppose that the government’s argument would be that the transaction cost of paying interest on over-payments would be unreasonably high, and taxpayers have an in-built self interest to minimize their over-payments.

  7. By Mark'Dman on July 16, 2012 at 8:48 pm

    Though having no great love of fossil fuels, I too cannot stomach the  inflation of fossil fuel subsidy misinformation.  In Australia, figures well north of $10 billion are routinely thrown out as our contribution to annual global fossil fuel subsidies.  However, on looking at the sources for these sorts of numbers e.g.

    it seems to me the lion’s share of the ‘subsidy’ is derived from totting up rebates on fuel taxes for primary producers and some other industry sectors – completely ignoring the fact that the fuel taxes exist in the first place.  In Australia, tax is effectively around 25-30% of the pump price.  This has to be taken into account as a ‘negative subsidy’, and the $10 billion+ range estimates (another example is below, but see the comments) fail to do so.

  8. By Benjamin Cole on July 17, 2012 at 1:38 am

    As usual, nice wrap up by RR.

    I am puzzled by the fact that the climate was hotter 1000 years ago.  Moreover, when man first came to North America, somewhere around 15,000 years ago, sea levels were 60 meters lower than today.

    Okay, so hysteria over sea levels rising 2 meters seems out of place.  Sea levels are up 60 meters in recent times, what’s another 2? Both deniers (who say sea levels won’t rise) and alarmists (who seem to not know rising sea levels, per se, are normal) seek off-key on this one. Sea levels may rise, and have been for centuries. 

    Lastly, I see easy solutions, if need be.  We know global cooling happens after a Krakatoa or Pinatubo (volcanoes).  Seems like we could cool the planet off rather easily, just by kicking dust up into the atmosphere.

    One more thought: For the last few hundred thousand years, the “problem” has been Ice Ages.  Really, if you had a choice between a warmer climate or an Ice Age (much of North America under huge sheets of ice), which would you choose?

    I am not a denier. CO2 may be warming the planet (though it is good for crops).  But are we sure that it is CO2 warming things up, or some other cause?

    Lastly, whether the planet is warmer for natural or man-made reasons, what should we do? 

    If I live in a Canada or Russia, or Montana, maybe I like warmer. Perhaps huge swaths of Russia become agrarian. 


  9. By Warren Stephens on July 17, 2012 at 11:28 am

    I liked the first ETI issue.  Good job. 

    I just got back from a vacation in the Maryland mountains (who knew they had mountains in Maryland? :-) .  Anyhow, along the interstate highways in West Virginia are billboard advertisements with phrases like “Obama No Economy Zone” on them.  I think that the coal restrictions by the EPA will have to change in the long run.  Once the price of nat gas rises again, it will be a double-barrel political issue aimed at the Democrats.

    Also, do you think you could comment on these guys:

    “Safe, low-cost hydrogen storage”

    • By Ed on July 17, 2012 at 11:56 am

      “I think that the coal restrictions by the EPA will have to change in the long run.”

      I hope the economy of West Virginia survives long enough.

  10. By Doggydogworld on July 17, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    Moving ancient CO2 from underground into the atmosphere is indeed an experiment, and an uncontrolled one at that. Matters of science are best settled via controlled experiments. Because we don’t have a second earth with stable CO2 levels to use as a control, nor do we have the ability to hold all other climate variables constant and isolate the effect of increasing CO2, our climate models can’t be verified experimentally. That doesn’t mean they’re 100% wrong or that climate modeling is impossible. It does mean we need to be very careful, because the classic scientific method which has advanced human knowledge so dramatically isn’t terribly applicable to climate science. It also means the climate debate tends to be politically charged.

    The real political question is whether we should stop the experiment. And if so, how?

    • By Engineer-Poet on July 22, 2012 at 12:08 am

      The real political question is whether we should stop the experiment. And if so, how?

      Of course we should, and nuclear power is the only option in the short term.  I suspect that something like molten-salt reactors could be very popular, because nobody likes the emissions from coal combustion and if just one major city in a country cleared its skies by generating its power with something like LeBlanc’s DMSRs, everyone would want the same.  Most coal goes to electric generation, so that would deal with a large fraction of carbon emissions right there.  Electrification of transport, industrial process heat, etc. would take a bit longer but we’d probably have the time once electric went carbon-free.

  11. By Ed DeMatteo on July 17, 2012 at 2:31 pm

    Sir: I am just a working guy with one vote and a discretionary budget for donating to nonprofits that I feel are performing a worthwhile service. I do not trust what I hear on either side of the AGW argument. While I know some of those who deny it do so for ideology or for money (i.e. lobbying, etc.), but so do some who promote it. You cannot convince me that some of the pro AGW evidence is produced under pressure of a predetermined outcome in order to a) get some of the billions in grant money available, and b) get published. I’m sorry, as I guy who just wants to know the truth, I see corruption on both sides.

  12. By aposematic on July 17, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    Now that’s a business that definitely could never have survived without the helping others hands with massive BIG GOVERNMENT grants and low interest loans that will never be paid back to the taxpayers. Maybe that’s what Obumbo had in mind in his you didn’t build it on your own speech.

  13. By Eco-skeptic on July 17, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    I appreciate Rob’s attempt to be reasonable.   Two comments:

    1.  As a global warming skeptic (it’s CO2 pollution yes, man caused global warming I don’t know), the major issue for me is the pro-global warming science community refusing to release tbeir models and data for open review and debate, and hiding behind ivory tower edicts and chants of “the science is settled”.   As an engineer with multiple degrees, I find much of the methods and data questionable.  Until there is open disclosure and debate of the “unsettled science” of global warming… climate change, my vote is “no”.

    2.  You gave a pass to the eco-faithful who show no tolerance to any other lifestyle.  I respect if you want to use a bike, a Prius, or whatever.   I can appreciate if you want to lead a low impact or sustainable life by example.  Maybe I’ll follow.  When you start to dictate and regulate my lifestyle without my approval or even a “by your leave”,  then expect me to resist.  You’re interfering in my life.  Your feelings and search for some meaning in your life are not enough to justify it.

    • By AK on July 17, 2012 at 10:42 pm

      Eco-Skeptic, as a fellow skeptic or realist I am curious about your opening statement in which you say you consider (presumably an increase of) CO2 in the atmosphere to be “pollution” but at the same time you don’t believe man-made CO2 contributes to global warming.  Given that the only scientifically justifiable reason to consider CO2 (a clear, odourless gas beneficial to green plants) to be any kind of “pollution” would be because of its warming effect, on what grounds do you consider CO2 “pollution” if you don’t believe it plays a part in dangerous warming of the atmosphere?

      We have to be vigilant and not adopt any of the deliberately misleading vocabulary of the alarmist side:  In Australia our current government has just brought in a “Carbon Tax” even though what is taxed is not “carbon” but “carbon dioxide”.  Prior to that they tried to push through a “Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme”.  Weasel words to create the impression that we are fighting some kind of black soot pollution, and I bet a lot of people just swallow it without thinking.

      Thank you to Robert for a refreshingly sane and thoughtful blog and discussion board!

  14. By jose on July 17, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    Environmentalism is just a stupid anti-human, anti-progess cult for the idle rich. These eco-freaks want to keep the rest of us poor, while they bathe in their self-righteous eco-purity.

    One way you can tell it’s a cult is how obsessed they are with ideas of purity and paranoia about food.

    I’ve yet to meet an eco-activist that I’d consider a decent human being.

  15. By NotPropagandized on July 17, 2012 at 3:34 pm

    Environmentalists are often NOT environmentalists, but instead ideologues determined to hijack environmentalism to accomplish socialism and communism goals.  To deny that is sticking one’s head in the sand.  Interestingly, private environmental efforts are vastly more successful than governmental environmental efforts inasmuch as private efforts have sincere motivation and government efforts are polluted with hidden agendas (pun intended).  There are a plethora of private environmental, conservation and preservation projects that show real accomplishment from both conservative and liberal actors.  If government would emulate the private motivations, then we’d all be in much better shape and not victimized by socialist ideology.

    • By mkurbo on July 17, 2012 at 4:32 pm

      Exactly !   The only thing green in the “green” agenda is the money being cultivated for use in promoting a socialist ideology. 

  16. By roc on July 17, 2012 at 4:22 pm

    This post is a rare breath of fresh air.  Frankly, most environmental activists seem only mildly conversant with science, and completely ignorant of economics, business, politics, and human history. Like those subjects are beneath them. I won’t go as far as Jose up there, but yes, that’s how they come across.

  17. By Robert Rapier on July 17, 2012 at 4:27 pm

    Frankly, most environmental activists seem only mildly conversant with science, and completely ignorant of economics, business, politics, and human history.

    I read a recent opinion in The Guardian that concluded that many activists are caught up in the narrative of the world they have constructed. Facts that do not fit have a difficult time penetrating that narrative. 

    I also find that many of the experts they offer up to discuss energy or environmental issues aren’t really qualified to discuss the topics. Attorneys and journalists seem to be popular choices for their experts.



    • By Warren Stephens on July 19, 2012 at 10:09 am

      If my name weren’t attached to these posts then I would be tempted to tell some inside poop about two very well known environmental groups.  One of them turned down an offer to “sell out”, but the other one “sold out” to a fossil fuel company for a while.

  18. By Randy Pickard on July 17, 2012 at 5:52 pm

    A key question is how sensitive is the atmosphere to increased levels of CO2. It seems to me that climate change deniers are foolish not to be more concerned about the increase in CO2 from under 320 parts per million in the 1950′s  to 397 ppm today.  Personally, I fear that the increase in extreme weather is due to the climate dice having been loaded. My fingers are crossed that the deniers are correct and that the climate is not very sensitive to increases in CO2 in the atmosphere  

    • By AK on July 17, 2012 at 11:11 pm

      Randy, kindly refrain from calling skeptics or realists, “deniers”.  We do not “deny” anything and that word has unpleasant (at best) or libellous (at worst) connotations with Holocaust deniers.  Having said that, realists are “not concerned” about the minute increase in CO2 from 320ppm to 397ppm for the simple reason that it is so infinitely small.

      Atmosphereic concentrations of CO2 in the Early Carboniferous Period (abt 300 million years ago) were approximately  1500 ppm , and it got there entirely without man’s interference, I might add.  It declined without our help, too, by the way, because earth is a system of “dynamic equilibrium” and has undergone vast changes and cataclysmic events – ant it’s still here!

      Compared to former geologic times, our present atmosphere is actually relatively CO2-impoverished.

      • By Engineer-Poet on July 22, 2012 at 9:36 pm

        Atmosphereic concentrations of CO2 in the Early Carboniferous Period (abt 300 million years ago) were approximately  1500 ppm , and it got there entirely without man’s interference, I might add.

        The Sun was also about 3% dimmer back then (it brightens at about 1% per 100 million years).  That’s about 40 W/m^2 less insolation over the disc, or 10 W/m^2 over the entire Earth, which you’d need around 1500 ppm of CO2 to de-glaciate; today’s additional forcing from GHGs is about 3.5 W/m^2, which is also about the same as it took to go from the depths of the recent glacial periods to the current interglacial.

        FWIW, if you can’t put figures like “1500 ppm” into their proper context, you are a denier; a skeptic doesn’t cherry-pick isolated facts and toss the ones that don’t fit their dogma.

    • By Navin R Johnson on July 18, 2012 at 11:22 pm

      What extreme weather are you concerned about?  You mean the number of strong tornados that appear to if anything be decreasing over the last century.  How about landfall hurricanes? We seem to be in a lul there.  Drought? are we worse than the 30′s yet? No.

      The weather is the same as it ever was, highly variable.

  19. By mac on July 17, 2012 at 7:28 pm

    Where were the environmentalists 12 to 13,000 years ago ?

    During the last ice age ?

    I suspect that our very same (modern) environmentalists would be screaming that we need more CO2 , methane and other greenhouse gases, so that the ice sheets will melt and we can have a temperate lifestyle.

    Let’s get out of this Ice Age !!!

    That’s what the environmentalists of 12.000 years ago would be saying.

    Obviously, Mankid did not create thae last ice age, nor did building some fires around the campsite and encouraging their cows to fart methane into the atmosphere so that humanity escape the Ice Age.

    Obviously,  Mankind did not create the last ice age, neither did the activities of man deliver the earth from from its ice-bound form.  Period.

    • By Talli Somekh on July 19, 2012 at 10:45 pm

      There were 7 billion people on earth 12,000 years ago? Well then I’m no longer worried!

      Thanks for the convincing insights.


  20. By Jim Takchess on July 19, 2012 at 5:54 am

    Article on Butanol which has been a topic of this column through the years

  21. By mac on July 20, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    There were 7 billion people on earth 12,000 years ago? Well then I’m no longer worried!

    Thanks for the convincing insights.



    Well, mankind’s activities did not thrust us into the last ice age,  or deliver us from it.

    Obviously, there is much more involved in climate change than than CO2 production from mankind..

  22. By Art on July 20, 2012 at 5:39 pm

    One of the central questions in the climate discussion is whether mankind can alter  environment at global scale.   experiments at global scale are rare but a recent publication in nature shows some evidence that mankind may be able with relative small amounts of iron a large effect on CO2 uptake can be induced.  In the nature article “deep carbon export from a southern ocean diatom bloom” the authors describe how a relative small amount of iron  induces a massive algal bloom.  The experiment has been thoroughly analyzed as it tookm8 years to come to conclusions

    To me climatechange is a fact and the ability of mankind to change the global climate (or to stop a hurricane ) is a feasible option.  We can forge iron, change  nitrogen gas into fertilizer, exterminate complete species, create new species…….

    One example for atmospheric chemistry is the discovery of the role of cfk’s in global ozone depletion and the ban of cfk’s resulting in a slow down of the decay of the ozone layer.  Paul crutzen received the nobel prize for his role in this research.  

    Changing environment on a global scale, yes we can…..

  23. By Robert Rapier on July 20, 2012 at 5:49 pm

    We can forge iron, change  nitrogen gas into fertilizer, exterminate complete species, create new species…….

    As I started to read your post, I thought “Well we have shown that we can completely exterminate species, so humans can definitely have a large impact on the environment.” Funny to see your thoughts went to the same place.


  24. By Russ Finley on July 21, 2012 at 12:59 pm


    We should be careful about stereotyping groups of people under a word that has no precise definition.


     Here are two wonderful recent articles by a leading “environmental” writer who has received thousands of hateful comments and a few death threats from “environmentalists” for his stance on biofuels and more recently on nuclear:




  25. By Russ Finley on July 22, 2012 at 3:04 pm


    From Nuclear Town Hall:


     Ironically, McKibben is one of those rare environmentalists who is willing to admit that nuclear must play a part in preventing global warming. Interviewed last July at the SolarFest in Tinmouth, Vermont, where he was the keynote speaker, McKibben said he knew nuclear was essential to reducing carbon emissions but didn’t like to say so in public. “It would split this movement in half,” he said, gesturing to the youthful crowd, many of whom had camped on a hillside farm for three days.


    He was right. Half the gathering was there to celebrate solar energy while the other half was campaigning to close down Vermont Yankee, the state’s principal source of power.


  26. By Raindog on July 30, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    The environmentalists may be misinformed, but I think this post misses a key point.

    If these countries did not subsidize energy so that more people could afford it, what would happen?  My guess is that consumption would go down.   If consumption went down, the price would probably go down. If the price went down, corporate profits would probably go down too.  It may not be all that simple, but these subsidies probably are keeping consumption higher and that is certainly adding to the GHG problem.

    So McKibben, who is misinformed on some issues, is sort of right. There is no incentive to conserve when the price is held artificially low through govt subsidies.  And more oil is being burned than probably would be if the subsidies did not exist. And some of that subsidy money does indirectly end up in industries pockets.

    The irony, as you point out, is that it is almost all people on the left who initiated and continue to support  these subsidies so there is a real disconnect there.


    • By Robert Rapier on July 30, 2012 at 10:56 pm

      So McKibben, who is misinformed on some issues, is sort of right.

      He is right that there are subsidies, but he is pointing fingers and generating rage at the wrong targets. Meanwhile, Chavez is somewhere laughing at the irony.


      • By Raindog on August 1, 2012 at 3:27 pm

        I agree.   A critical part of the story is being left out.  As you said, they are making it sound like checks are being written from govt coffers that are being directly cashed by oil companies and that isn’t the case.They just leave out the part about most of that money going to help poor people.

        But maybe a good thing for people who really care about climate change to fight for would be an end to govt subsidies of all fossil fuels for whatever reason including subsidies to the poor.   The free market might actually do a better job of helping us conserve and reduce emissions if the govt stayed out of this.  I can’t believe I actually just said that but it’s probably true in this case.


        • By Ed Reid on August 1, 2012 at 6:40 pm

          I would argue that it is true in  every case. I cannot imagine a situation in which some bureaucrat is smarter than all of the participants in a market.

  27. By tennie davis on August 2, 2012 at 4:23 am

    Amen to that Raindog! (and Ed)

    If I’m poor and big socialist govt is helping me pay my heating bill, what is the incentive for me to caulk the cracks in my old house, or add much needed insulation? NONE!, the welfare system rewards me for being stupid and lazy!

    Of course I’ll keep voting for the party of handouts, cuz I know where my bread is buttered.

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