Judges Now Deciding US Energy Policy

Petroleum Engineer or Federal Judge?

A previous post World Energy Policies A Minefield  reported on mistaken climate policies and their threat to our energy system.  Adding to the danger are actions by courts meddling in energy affairs on behalf of anti-fossil fuels activists.  Nicholas Kusnetz writes at alarmist website Inside Climate News U.S. Suspends More Oil and Gas Leases Over What Could Be a Widespread Problem. Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

Fossil Fuel leases totaling hundreds of thousands of acres have been suspended as courts rule against the BLM for ignoring climate impact. 

The federal Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Utah office in September voluntarily suspended 130 oil and gas leases after advocacy groups sued, arguing that BLM hadn’t adequately assessed the greenhouse gas emissions associated with drilling and extraction on those leases as required by law.

Nearly a quarter of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions come from fossil fuels developed on federal lands, according to a government report. Credit: Bureau of Land Management.

The move was unusual because BLM suspended the leases on its own, without waiting for a court to rule.

Some environmental advocates say it could indicate a larger problem for the bureau.

“It is potentially a BLM-wide issue,” said Jayni Hein, natural resources director at the Institute for Policy Integrity at NYU School of Law, which has been involved in similar litigation in other states. “It could have the effect of suspending even more leases across the West, and not just for oil and gas, for coal as well.”

Officials in Utah had already pulled back several other lease sales earlier this year. In effect, BLM appears to be trying to get ahead of potential court rulings, advocates say.

A series of court rulings have established that BLM must conduct a thorough analysis of the climate impacts of drilling before it allows development in order to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

In the latest ruling, a federal district court in Washington, D.C., in March ordered the bureau to redo its environmental analysis for a slate of leases in Wyoming to better assess climate impacts. In response, BLM suspended the Wyoming leases, as well as leases in Utah and Colorado that were included in the lawsuit but not directly addressed by the ruling.

The new Utah suspensions cover a different set of leases, including many sold last year. In letters sent in September to energy companies that had bought the leases, BLM said it was suspending them “based on the parallels” between the lawsuit over them and the case that resulted in the March ruling in Washington, D.C.

All told, nearly 1 million acres may now be suspended across the West, said Rebecca Fischer, an attorney with WildEarth Guardians, which filed the lawsuit in the Washington, D.C., circuit, including more than 460,000 acres covered by that lawsuit and some 300,000 acres that Utah’s BLM office has suspended since the March ruling.

Environmental advocates say the Trump administration is unlikely to cancel the leases. In Wyoming, BLM issued a new analysis soon after the Washington, D.C., court’s decision in March, arguing that there were no significant climate impacts. Fischer’s group has challenged that new assessment, saying that it too fails to meet the legal requirements. The court has yet to rule on the latest challenge.

Fischer said the lawsuits are part of a larger strategy by advocacy groups to try to block fossil fuel development that they say is incompatible with the need to rapidly cut greenhouse gas emissions to slow climate change. They say the bureau has the authority to deny leases based on their climate impacts, and those climate impacts would become apparent if it conducted a thorough analysis.

“That is our ultimate goal,” she said. “That we can start to keep these oil and gas leases in the ground and start to transition away from dirty fossil fuels.”

FootnoteAttorney General William Barr addressed the intrusion of judges upon Presidential authority as part of his recent speech on the Constitution’s approach to executive power. (here). Some pertinent excerpts in italics with my bolds.

In recent years, both the Legislative and Judicial branches have been responsible for encroaching on the Presidency’s constitutional authority. . .Let me turn now to what I believe has been the prime source of the erosion of separation-of-power principles generally, and Executive Branch authority specifically. I am speaking of the Judicial Branch. 

Apart from their overzealous role in interbranch disputes, the courts have increasingly engaged directly in usurping Presidential decision-making authority for themselves. One way courts have effectively done this is by expanding both the scope and the intensity of judicial review.

In recent years, we have lost sight of the fact that many critical decisions in life are not amenable to the model of judicial decision-making. They cannot be reduced to tidy evidentiary standards and specific quantums of proof in an adversarial process. They require what we used to call prudential judgment. They are decisions that frequently have to be made promptly, on incomplete and uncertain information and necessarily involve weighing a wide range of competing risks and making predictions about the future. Such decisions frequently call into play the “precautionary principle.” This is the principle that when a decision maker is accountable for discharging a certain obligation – such as protecting the public’s safety – it is better, when assessing imperfect information, to be wrong and safe, than wrong and sorry.

It was once well recognized that such matters were largely unreviewable and that the courts should not be substituting their judgments for the prudential judgments reached by the accountable Executive officials. This outlook now seems to have gone by the boards. Courts are now willing, under the banner of judicial review, to substitute their judgment for the President’s on matters that only a few decades ago would have been unimaginable – such as matters involving national security or foreign affairs.

What is true of police officers and gerrymanderers is equally true of the President and senior Executive officials. With very few exceptions, neither the Constitution, nor the Administrative Procedure Act or any other relevant statute, calls for judicial review of executive motive. They apply only to executive action. Attempts by courts to act like amateur psychiatrists attempting to discern an Executive official’s “real motive” — often after ordering invasive discovery into the Executive Branch’s privileged decision-making process — have no more foundation in the law than a subpoena to a court to try to determine a judge’s real motive for issuing its decision. And courts’ indulgence of such claims, even if they are ultimately rejected, represents a serious intrusion on the President’s constitutional prerogatives.

The impact of these judicial intrusions on Executive responsibility have been hugely magnified by another judicial innovation – the nationwide injunction. First used in 1963, and sparely since then until recently, these court orders enjoin enforcement of a policy not just against the parties to a case, but against everyone. Since President Trump took office, district courts have issued over 40 nationwide injunctions against the government. By comparison, during President Obama’s first two years, district courts issued a total of two nationwide injunctions against the government. Both were vacated by the Ninth Circuit.

IT is no exaggeration to say that virtually every major policy of the Trump Administration has been subjected to immediate freezing by the lower courts. No other President has been subjected to such sustained efforts to debilitate his policy agenda.

Dems Drive US to the Brink

At the New Criterion James Piereson explains in his article Breaking the wrong ground. Using impeachment as an election strategy is only the latest breaking of political norms that kept the US functional in the past

With the impeachment charade in mind, it is useful to review the various political and constitutional “norms” that have been blasted away in recent decades, mostly due to hyper-partisan conduct by Democrats, with encouragement and cover from the mainstream media.

First: It now appears that a president will never again be able to appoint a justice to the Supreme Court or judges to lower level federal courts, unless he or she has a partisan majority in the Senate.

That is a new development, brought into being by no-holds-barred campaigns against Robert Bork, Clarence Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh, and many nominees for judgeships on lower federal courts. Democrats routinely vote in unison against Republican nominees; that is not reciprocally true, or at least has not been true until recently. For example, Justice Scalia (appointed by President Reagan) was confirmed by a vote of 98 to 0 in 1986, while Justices Ginsburg and Breyer, nominated by President Clinton in 1993 and 1994, were confirmed by votes of 97 to 3 and 87 to 9 (respectively). Those kinds of consensual votes for justices and judges are unlikely to happen again anytime soon—and are in fact beyond the realm of possibility in the current environment. Democrats signaled last year prior to the 2018 elections that they would block all judicial confirmations if they won a majority of seats in the Senate. Republicans, as it happened, maintained the majority, and have proceeded to confirm justices and judges, with little or no support from Democratic members. We are bound to reach a point when the number of justices on the Supreme Court actually shrinks, because agreement cannot be reached to appoint new justices when incumbents retire or die.

Second, it further appears that a president cannot even confirm a cabinet unless he or she has a partisan majority in the Senate.

Democrats established this precedent by voting in unison against President Trump’s cabinet nominees, with the exception of Secretary of Defense Mattis, who won a near-unanimous vote. Democrats in the Senate voted almost unanimously against Jeff Sessions (Attorney General), Mike Pompeo (Director of Central Intelligence), Rex Tillerson (Secretary of State), Betsy DeVos (Education), Steven Mnuchin (Treasury), Mike Mulvaney (Office of Management and Budget), and Scott Pruitt (Environmental Protection Agency). William Barr was subsequently confirmed as Attorney General in 2019 by a vote of 54 to 45, with but four Democrats voting in his favor. If Republicans did not have a majority, they would not have been able to confirm any of President Trump’s nominations (with the exception of Gen. Mattis).

What do Democrats think is going to happen when they elect a president, but fail to carry a majority in the Senate? Republicans will undoubtedly behave in that situation just as Democrats have acted in relation to President Trump: they will veto his cabinet nominations, or delay them indefinitely to keep the incumbent president from forming a working government. That, after all, is what Democrats hoped to do to President Trump—and they are still doing it. Turnabout is fair play, and in politics is often necessary to deter adversaries from “upping the ante” by adopting more extreme tactics of attack. Looking ahead, there is little chance, for example, that Republicans will vote in the future to confirm a Democratic nominee for Attorney General, just as Democrats tried to block Sessions and Barr (and John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales before them). By contrast, Eric Holder, President Obama’s nominee for Attorney General, and a highly partisan figure, was confirmed by a comfortable bi-partisan vote.

It is unlikely that Republicans will be quite so generous in regard to future nominations for Attorney General, in view of the manner in which Democrats treated Sessions and Barr. That will be the case also in regard to other sensitive policymaking positions—such as the head of the epa or director of the cia.

In this way the United States is moving toward a bastardized form of parliamentary government, in that the President must have a majority in the Senate to conduct the business of government and the other party is no longer the opposition party (putting forth alternative policies) but is rather the “obstructionist” party.

Third, it also appears that there is no longer any realistic way to curb government spending without risking a government shutdown.

Neither party wishes to face this, especially Republicans, who have been routinely blamed for shutdowns by Democrats and the mainstream media. It may be possible to constrain federal spending with a unified government, but that would require sixty votes in the Senate, which neither party is likely to win anytime soon. Thus, as a consequence of party warfare, the spending will continue, the debt and deficits will accumulate, until there is a crisis of some kind involving inflation, interest rates, the depreciation of the dollar, or some such event that will require decisive action in response, albeit in an environment of distrust and dissensus that will make any such response difficult to carry out. In this way hyper-partisan government equals irresponsible government.

Fourth, in international affairs, it is going to be difficult in the future for the United States to mount the kinds of costly interventions carried out in Afghanistan and Iraq.

A fair amount of bi-partisan consensus is required to launch such operations, much less to continue them under difficult circumstances. The United States once built a rough bi-partisan consensus on its international role in the early years of the Cold War. It is probably fortunate that the Soviet Union collapsed when it did, because political agreement in the United States over the Cold War was bound to collapse sooner or later. Today, however, any intervention launched by one party will be immediately opposed by the other; and when things become difficult in a theater of conflict, the opposition party will exploit it for electoral gain. Any future president, aware of such political risks, will understand that it would be foolhardy to embark on any such international venture. Through this process the United States will gradually withdraw from the prominent international role it played during the Cold War and subsequent decades. The wider world will come to understand this—they will understand that President Trump is not an aberration but a harbinger of things to come—and will begin to make independent arrangements to protect their security. That might be a good thing; on the other hand, it will probably make for a more unstable world.

Fifth, and finally, Democrats have now turned impeachment into a partisan electoral strategy which, if successful, will establish a precedent for future investigations to come.

This is the kind of stratagem that is bound to come back to haunt Democrats whenever they elect a president and do not have a majority in the House of Representatives. What is to stop Republicans from impeaching an incumbent Democrat on a partisan vote in the hope that it will strengthen the hand of the Republican candidate in a forthcoming election? This is, in effect, what Democrats are proposing to do today. Democrats assume Republicans would never do such a thing. They are wrong. Impeachment, far from being rare, is about to become a commonplace event as an instrument of campaign strategy and partisan warfare. Every president going forward, when facing a hostile Congress, will face the threat of impeachment, since Democrats are proving today that it is not difficult to concoct a case if there is a determination to find one. In that situation, Americans might as well forget about Washington as a place where important problems are addressed on behalf of the public.

There are, of course, other “norms” Democrats wish to cast aside.

Some have said, for example, that they want to pack the Supreme Court or impeach Justice Kavanaugh or get rid of the Electoral College along with the equal representation of states in the U.S. Senate (guaranteed by the Constitution, a minor impediment in their view). There are others who say we should trim back the First Amendment to provide protection only for Democrats and progressives—all other speech being defined out of order as “hate” speech. Presidential candidates have said they want to abolish the country’s southern border while eliminating agencies charged with enforcing immigrations laws. They have said that unauthorized immigrants should receive free health care courtesy of the American taxpayer.

They would ban fossil fuels, mandate electric cars, and reorganize the U.S. economy on a “cave man” theory—to wit, the idea that a complex economy, in which every member carries in his or her pocket a sophisticated electrical appliance and communicates and receives information via other such appliances, can run on the basis of wind and solar power.

They have said, via their conduct, that it is no longer necessary for Americans to accept the results of elections, and that they can be contested long after they are over and an official verdict certified. They accuse President Trump of breaking norms, but this truly is norm-breaking on a breathtaking scale.

The U.S. political system is heading at breakneck speed toward some kind of crisis in which partisan warfare overwhelms the capacity of the president and congress to address national problems, as they once used to do in an era of greater national consensus. Judicial and cabinet appointments, the budget, international interests, and now impeachment have been turned into occasions for party warfare. It appears that today the two parties represent different countries, rather than different coalitions of Americans, and thus must negotiate with one another as heads of state negotiate with adversary nations. The constitutional system, with its separation of powers and layers of government, requires a fair amount of consensus to operate, because minorities are given levers by which they can block policies from being enacted or implemented. With that consensus now gone, that order is step by step coming undone. It is anyone’s guess where and how it will end.

To Be a Man, Or Not to Be (Fight Degendering)

This article is an update on the continuing assault by gender ideologues on young males’ masculinity.  Spencer Klavan writes at the American Mind Be a Man. Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

Gender theorists know what they are doing when they target children. We should know what we’re doing when we fight back.

 In August of 2018, the American Psychological Association issued its first-ever “Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men,” of which the first directive is that psychologists should “strive to recognize that masculinities are constructed based on social, cultural, and contextual norms.” In other words, treatment of boys and men should begin from the premise that manhood is culturally contingent and therefore alterable. The goal of therapeutic practice then becomes “to help boys and men over their lifetimes navigate restrictive definitions of masculinity and create their own concepts of what it means to be male.”

Graduate programs in psychology cannot gain accreditation or train students for licensing without the APA’s official imprimatur. It stands to reason that schools will feel strongly encouraged, at the very least, to conform their instruction with what the Association dictates. Not that institutions of higher learning typically need such encouragement: at Stony Brook University in New York, for example, the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities is dedicated to deconstructing “traditional” manhood. Their website offers resources such as an article on “academic efforts to decode men.” It is to these resources that one is directed via hyperlink if one attempts to access any discussion thread about manhood which has been deemed toxic by the major chat website, Reddit.

Professional ideologues, then, are making their best efforts to train biological males out of their natural impulses toward strength, endurance, physical courage, and emotional self-control.

Boys who find themselves lacking in these characteristics—as every young man does at some point in his development—typically experience a sense of inadequacy. Traditionally, caring adults have tried to alleviate that inadequacy by helping boys grow into themselves—by helping them attain the masculinity that is their birthright but not yet their achievement. The new diagnostic recommendation, however, is to treat all such feelings of self-reproach as needless impositions from an outmoded worldview in need of radical deconstruction.

What conservatives typically emphasize in response is that biological sex does matter, that men’s yearnings to be manly are indeed authentic and spontaneous. This is entirely true. But it misses something, something that Aristodemus knew: there is also a part of gender which is learned and taught. We experience certain natural ambitions, but then we build societies and traditions which honor and channel those ambitions. Most boys are born with an interest in fighting and competing, but no boy is born knowing how to play football or hold a gun. We school one another, generation to generation, in the ways of manhood.

Therefore if you train impressionable boys to disassociate themselves from their sex, they will indeed lose the sense of grounding and orientation that comes with proper instruction—they will indeed become “feminized” like the children of Cumae. That is why the efforts to degender our society are often focused on children. Public schools now teach gender theory using cartoon characters as diagrams. Little girls wearing male clothing were cheered on national television in October of this year at the Democrats’ “Equality Town Hall.” In the same month a seven-year-old boy was very nearly subjected by court order (subsequently amended) to hormonal alteration by a mother who encourages him to consider himself female. If it sounds alarmist to say that “gender theorists are coming for your children,” good. They are coming, and it is alarming.

The answer to this is not only to insist that “male” and “female” are real, natural categories: it is also to acknowledge that one natural component of those categories is aspiration. There is nothing harmful in exhorting a boy to “be a man.” If he is not yet—and no boy is—he will be told by activists and perhaps his teachers that he does not need to be. But the longings of his heart will tell him that he should, that he can. It is the business of gender theory to extinguish those longings. It should be our business to defend them at all costs.

Update: Climate Hail Mary by Broke Cities

Previous post is reprinted later on.  This update is an article at Issues and Insights last week by Horace Cooper The Shameless Hypocrisy Of Cities Suing For Climate Change ‘Damages’.   Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

North and South American natives once spoke of the mythical El Dorado, a sacred city made entirely of gold. History records that conquistadors embarked on expeditions throughout the Americas in pursuit of El Dorado and legendary riches. Ultimately their quests yielded nothing but misery and loss.

Conquistador Francisco Vázquez de Coronado went through Arizona seeking in vain untold golden treasures to make them all rich.

A modern-day parallel exists among several municipal governments and Rhode Island, which have set out on an equally unrealistic quest for a modern-day “jackpot justice” – a scheme to reap billions from several energy companies.

Using an already discredited “public nuisance” legal claim, Rhode Island and several cities have filed lawsuits that blame all of Earth’s climate change on a few profitable energy companies. The suits allege that, by producing oil, these energy companies have contributed to climate change, which, they argue, may cause damage to their communities in the future. Their cases, incidentally, fail to mention the large amounts of fossil fuels used by these same cities for public transportation, municipal airports, city buildings, and public improvement projects.

sierra-2018-11-internationalcarboncourt-wb

Litigants point to a July ruling in which an activist Rhode Island judge overturned a previous decision to move Rhode Island’s climate change case to federal court. Having watched federal courts dismiss many of these claims outright, the plaintiffs believe they have a better chance of success in lower, state courts. Baltimore was also successful in blocking a motion to move its lawsuit to federal court.

Still, climate litigants would be wise to keep the champagne firmly corked as these recent rulings in Rhode Island and Baltimore will likely be overturned. In North Dakota earlier this year, a similar nuisance case against Purdue Pharma was dismissed by a judge who found the plaintiffs failed to meet the required burden of proof. Moreover, the courts reviewing the Oklahoma case are likely to take a more skeptical view of the nuisance tactic, which has generally fared poorly on appeal. For example, a nuisance suit against lead paint manufacturers initially succeeded, only to fail on appeal in 2009, ironically before the Rhode Island Supreme Court.

A major driver of legal precedent denying the use of nuisance ordinances comes from an Obama-era Supreme Court ruling. In the 8-0 American Electric Power v. Connecticut decision in 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations cannot be sued for greenhouse gas emissions because the Clean Air Act specifically tasks the Environmental Protection Agency and Congress with the proper regulatory authority. Put another way, only the executive and legislative branches – not the judicial branch – may regulate and impose climate change policy. That precedent was properly cited last year when New York City’s climate lawsuit was bounced out of court. Also last year, a federal judge dismissed Oakland and San Francisco’s lawsuit for being outside the court’s authority.

In addition to the utter lack of legal substantiation, these lawsuits reveal how these municipalities are speaking out of both sides of their mouths. In one setting they downplay risks of climate change and in other settings they pretend the risks have never been higher.

Consider San Francisco’s 2017 municipal bond offering which reassuringly told potential investors, “The City is unable to predict whether sea-level rise or other impacts of climate change or flooding from a major storm will occur, when they may occur, and if any such events occur, whether they will have a material adverse effect on the business operations or financial condition of the City and the local economy.” Yet in its multi-billion-dollar climate lawsuit, the city went full-on Chicken Little, warning, “Global warming-induced sea level rise is already causing flooding of low-lying areas of San Francisco.”

The example isn’t isolated. Marin County, California’s lawsuit alarmingly asserted that there’s a 99-percent risk of an epic climate-change-related flood by 2050. But a municipal bond offering to potential investors failed to warn of any potential climate change dangers claimed within its lawsuit. San Mateo County’s prospectus advising bond investors that it’s “unable to predict whether sea-level rise or other impacts of climate change or flooding from a major storm will occur” didn’t stop it from forecasting a 93-percent chance cataclysmic flood by 2050 in its lawsuit against oil companies. The examples go on.

Aside from the shameless hypocrisy of mayors wooing potential investors while claiming pending climate disaster in court, the motivation behind these lawsuits is clear. Many cities filing lawsuits against energy companies are financial train wrecks, seeking billions to offset their mismanagement. Huge legal awards – enough to make their fiscal troubles vanish – have a powerful allure.

The prospect of jackpot justice has fogged their judgment just as surely as the conquistadors who vainly searched for El Dorado.

If anything, the mayors of Oakland, New York, San Diego, and others are seeking pots of Fool’s Gold. These greedy politicians should stop abusing the legal system, wasting taxpayer dollars, and put a halt to their fantasy gold-digging.

Previous Post:  Climate Hail Mary by Inept Cities

Some cities in desperate financial straits due to their own mismanagement are hoping to bail out by suing oil companies. Several are in California where the current governor blames droughts, fires and mudslides on climate change. So Governor Brown is a role model for all politicians how to scapegoat nature instead of taking responsibility for their own failings as leaders. As I have long said, COP stands not only for UN Conference of Parties, but also for the ultimate political COP-Out. (Note: A “Hail Mary” is a desperate football pass into the end zone as the game ends.)

A recent editorial in the Washington Times exposes the ruse Big talk at City Hall isn’t likely to replace oil, natural gas and coal Excerpts below with my bolds.

The civic shakedown of the oil and gas producers continues, and the frenzy has spread to California. Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York started it in January when he said he would seek billions of dollars in reparations from five major companies, including Exxon, BP and Chevron.

“It’s time for Big Oil to take responsibility for the devastation they have wrought,” he said, “and to start paying for the damage they have done.” He blames the devastation from the 2012 Superstorm Sandy on climate change, “a tragedy that was wrought by the actions of the fossil-fuel companies.” The Sierra Club and other radical environmental groups couldn’t have said it better. These greens have long sought to shut down the oil and coal-mining companies.

San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles now threaten similar lawsuits to extort money from the reliable producers of cheap energy. These cities claim that the forest fires and mudslides that devastated Southern California were caused by greenhouse gas emissions. Coal companies are now joining the mayor’s conspiracy. Forest fires in the West? Hurricanes in the East? Heaven forfend. Surely that never happened before.

Many big cities have been living beyond their means for years, running up billion dollar pension liabilities. Someone has to pay the tab for the fiscal hangover, and extortion may be the way to require others to pay the bills. What better target than Big Oil? Attempting extortion has got so out of hand that Richmond, Calif., one of whose largest employers is a large oil refinery, is eager to join the extortion racket.

Even if every American energy company shut down entirely — which may be the hidden agenda here — the enormous increase in carbon emissions from China and India alone would swamp the effects of American fossil-fuel production and consumption. If global warming was actually causing forest fires and hurricanes, Mayor de Blasio should be suing China, not British Petroleum.

Even more fraudulent is that New York City, Oakland, San Francisco and other plaintiffs have been burning fossil fuels for decades to provide power for their cities. Exxon only drills the oil. It’s the cities of New York, San Francisco and Oakland that burn it and send the carbon into the atmosphere. And what about the police cars, trucks, buses, ambulances and thousands of other city-owned vehicles? They use the fuels that Exxon and Chevron produce, and even the batteries in electric vehicles that must be frequently recharged use recharging stations powered mostly by fossil fuels. In the first six months of 2017 more than 70 percent of all the electricity produced in the United States came from coal and natural gas.

Fossil fuel starvation diets are available to all. But the mayors know very well that without cheap and abundant oil, coal and natural gas, their cities and the commerce that springs from there would come to a grinding halt. The schools, factories, shelters, shopping centers, restaurants, apartment buildings and skyscrapers would shut down without the energy from the oil and gas produced by the companies the mayors are suing. The cities wouldn’t survive for a day. Big talk, like oil, gas and coal, is cheap. It’s too bad that all that hot air at City Hall can’t be harnessed to produce electricity. If it could, there’s enough of it to put oil, gas and coal companies out of business.

 

Harnessing hot air for a useful purpose.

See also Is Global Warming A Public Nuisance?

High Stakes Impeachment Poker

Charles Lipson is a respected U. of Chicago political scientist who writes disapassionately and insightfully about the zero sum impeachment game under way in Washingston DC. He provides multiple perspectives in his article published at Real Clear Politics: The Democrats’ High-Risk Gamble on Impeachment. Excerpts in italics with my bolds and images.

Democrats and Deep State Are All In

The Democrats’ activist base considers Donald Trump fundamentally unfit to hold office. Their impeachment drive is really about this damning judgment, not about any specific act such as withholding Ukrainian aid or wanting to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller. They say Trump is erratic, narcissistic, self-serving, and unforgivably gauche. He cozies up to dictators and would like to become one himself. Every day, he tramples the presidency’s historic norms. Surely the voters who put him there made a catastrophic error, or, rather, the antiquated Electoral College did. In short, Trump is not just a bad president — the worst in modern history — he is an illegitimate and dangerous one, at home and abroad.

Their harsh view is no masquerade. It is sincere, deeply held, and shared by most elected Democrats. Many, perhaps most, career civil servants agree and consider the president only nominally their boss. That’s why they consider it their constitutional duty to hold him in check. That’s why former heads of the CIA openly praised the “Deep State,” why former FBI Director James Comey wanted his agents to monitor the president in the White House itself. If that means targeting Trump and his key aides for disguised FBI interviews or leaking classified phone calls, so be it. The fight over the Deep State is partly about this profound distrust of Trump (and his distrust of them) and partly about the president’s rising opposition to a century of progressive legislation, executive orders, and court decisions, which grant extensive power to government bureaucrats.

This revulsion is the backdrop to the Democrats’ impeachment effort and the earlier appointment of a special counsel. The crucial point is this: Democrats see the actions they have investigated for three years less as specific crimes and more as steadily accumulating evidence of Trump’s unfitness for office and his repeated violation of his oath, as they understand it. “Democrats of all stripes look at Donald Trump’s business and personal history and see a man who serially does not follow laws and therefore should not be president,” said one well-informed Democrat. For his party, “Ukraine is a big deal because it confirms this view.”

Pelosi Is Playing Several Angles

Although House Speaker Nancy Pelosi shares those sentiments, she is too shrewd, too experienced to be carried away by her party’s most rabid voices. She is also too vulnerable to ignore them. The loudest voices come from deep-blue districts, but she needs to win purple ones, too, to keep her majority. That’s why impeachment has twin goals: to appease the party’s activist base (in Congress and the primaries) and to win the general election by damaging Trump and his Republican allies.

There are other possible goals. One is to sink moderate Senate Republicans in close 2020 races, which could flip control if Democrats win in Maine, Colorado, Arizona, and North Carolina and hold onto other seats. Another is keeping Joe Biden’s rivals, particularly Sen. Elizabeth Warren, frozen in Washington for a Senate trial during the early primaries. National Democrats, led by Pelosi, are deeply worried that Warren, if she is the nominee, will not only lose the presidency but cost them heavily down the ballot. A third is to distract from Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s upcoming report on possible surveillance abuse by senior Obama appointees.

Still, Pelosi’s highest priorities are retaining her position as speaker and, if possible, retaking the White House. Only then would winning the Senate give the Democrats true governing power.

Enormous Downside Risk

The downside of this impeachment gamble is painfully obvious. Without substantially more evidence against Trump, Democrats cannot win overwhelming public support and, without that, they won’t come close to the two-thirds vote in the Senate needed to remove the president. If the upper chamber doesn’t convict, voters are bound to ask why Democrats have spent the past four years on this fruitless quest and neglected their other duties. What legislative accomplishments can they highlight for voters next November? Hardly any. Only a big sign saying “The Resistance.”

How well is this gamble going? Still too early to tell. Recent polls show about half the country now favors impeachment and removal, but, significantly, the president’s numbers are about 10 percentage points better in vital swing states. Rank-and-file Republicans and their officeholders are still solidly behind the president. The big unknown is what effect public hearings and a Senate trial will have.

To remove a president, the Democrats need strong bipartisan support, both among voters and in Congress. They don’t have it. One big problem is that so many Democrats and their media allies have cried “wolf” before. Indeed, they have cried it continually since Trump was elected. The second problem is House Democrats have conducted the inquiry behind closed doors and withheld the transcripts for weeks (only now, under pressure, are they beginning to release them). They’ve made up the rules as they go, refusing to let Republicans call witnesses, refusing to let the president’s lawyers ask questions or even observe the process. Why? No good answers have been provided, nor for why the investigation is being held in a secure room by the Intelligence Committee. Hiding it in the basement is a sad metaphor for what should be a public process. After all, the materials are not classified, and the Judiciary Committee has handled every previous impeachment. The more partisan the process, the less bipartisan and legitimate the outcome.

Republicans See A Rigged Witch Hunt in Process

To Republicans, the impeachment drive looks less like a somber, quasi-judicial proceeding and more like something concocted by Dean Wormer to expel John Belushi’s “Bluto” Blutarsky and Delta House from Faber College. The House rules are ad hoc inventions. The secret hearings, scheduled by Chairman Adam Schiff, can continue as long as he wants, calling only his witnesses. He will then write a report, saying the evidence was appalling and unrefuted, and hand everything over to the Judiciary Committee to conduct public hearings. If Chairman Jerrold Nadler’s previous hearings are any guide, they will quickly descend into an ugly street brawl.

It’s not hard for Republicans to attack this whole process as fundamentally unfair. They say, rightly, that it violates the most basic tenets of Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence:

    • Accusations must be specific and backed by clear evidence;
    • All evidence and accusations must be presented in open court;
    • Rules of procedure must be fixed and unbiased, not arbitrary and ad hoc;
    • The accused is presumed innocent and must be given full rights to see all the evidence, confront the accusers, and rebut all charges, including cross-examining witnesses, challenging documents, and presenting exculpatory evidence.

None of these rules has applied to this impeachment inquiry, at least not yet.

Although impeachment is a political act, it is still governed by the constitutional requirement limiting it to “high crimes and misdemeanors,” such as treason and bribery. The Framers specifically rejected a proposal to include “malfeasance in office,” fearing it would open the process to vague charges and transform our system of divided powers into a unified parliamentary system, controlled by Congress.

White House Has to Play Both Short and Long Game

The White House cannot expect to win this battle solely by condemning it as unfair. It must ultimately frame a persuasive, substantive rebuttal to the charges leaking out of Schiff’s committee. That means convincing the public the president is innocent or, as Bill Clinton did, convincing them the charges are not serious enough to overturn an election. Trump can also say the election is so near that we should let voters decide for themselves.

For the moment, however, the White House is wise to concentrate on the unfair process. The public can assess whether those leading the inquiry are even-handed or hell-bent to remove the president. Are they giving him and his supporters a fair chance to present their side? Americans understand these basic rules. We treasure them as bulwarks of our democratic freedom. The House majority breaks them at its peril.

See also post Conrad Black: Trump is Holding the Cards

Peak Oil Denier Takes A Victory Lap

View of Oil Well Pumpjack (Horsehead) at Sunset Oil Industry GETTY

Michael Lynch writes at Forbes The Peak Oil Denier Takes A Victory Lap. Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

Monday’s New York Times includes a story titled “Flood of Oil Is Coming, Complicating Efforts to Fight Global Warming,” which (presumably unintentionally) mimics the title of my 2016 book, “The Peak Oil Scare and the Coming Oil Flood.” Which provides a good reason to look back at the debate and some of the arguments countering my own.

Although I have spent decades writing about oil supply and the tendency of forecasters to be too pessimistic (see references at end of column), for many it was my 2009 New York Times op-ed, which the paper titled “Peak Oil is a Waste of Energy,” that brought attention to my heretical views. And unleashed a heap of opprobrium. Of course, the usual suspects weighed in, such as writers on peak oil websites, such as theoildrum.com, resilience.org, resourceinsights.com, and peakoilmatters.com. It is safe to say they disagreed strongly, often in language unprintable here.

Hubbert 1956 prediction vs US Oil Production.

But beyond the circle of peak oil advocates, many others felt compelled to comment. For various reasons, peak oil became a darling of liberals, with two pieces on The Huffington Post including an offered wager (later withdrawn), essentially unskeptically quoting various sources that disagreed with me. Paul Krugman referred to the high oil prices of 2008 as a “nonbubble” and attributable to “the growing difficulty of finding oil and the rapid growth of emerging economies like China.” Josh Harkinson of Mother Jones relied on peak oil advocates for their critcism of my work, including a misrepresentation of a 1996 oil supply forecast, where I had proved prescient but the peak oilers claimed the forecast was of crude oil rather than petroleum liquids, thereby underestimating 2010 production by about 10 million barrels a day.

Other media published criticism of my op-ed, such as businessinsider.com, which posted an article by a peak oil advocate, that referred to my op-ed as a “screed” and “virtually fact-free,” while including mistakes such as “his belief that the world will somehow achieve a recovery rate of 35%,” without knowing that 35% is the present recovery rate. The New Republic’s Jesse Zwick noted various facts that he believed disproved my thesis, such as that “output at many fields is declining, while global demand is rising fast, outstripping the pace of new discoveries.” Of course, output at most fields is always declining and, as my op-ed noted, estimated discoveries hadn’t kept pace with demand only because the initial estimates are very conservative.

Interestingly, both The New York Times and The Economist published on-line comments questioning my arguments, albeit much more mildly than other critics. Jad Mouawad noted the then-high prices and admitted that oil’s goodbye might be long, while an anonymous commenter on The Economist’s webpage admitted , “I have my doubts.”

What is often amazing is that the arguments made against me were generally either false or irrelevant.

Several mentioned that oil fields are declining, which has been true throughout the history of the industry. A number of others cited the alarming (to them) fact that “Steep falls in oil production means the world now needed to replace an amount of oil output equivalent to Saudi Arabia’s production every two years, Merrill Lynch said in a research report.” They didn’t seem to be aware that Jimmy Carter, in 1977, said, “…just to stay even we need the production of a new Texas every year, an Alaskan North Slope every nine months, or a new Saudi Arabia every three years. Obviously, this cannot continue.” (Obviously, it did.)
While the responsible media like the New York Times and The Economist admitted to uncertainty–which given the complexity of the issue, was sensible—others cited the “irrefutable fact that oil resources are finite and declining” apparently unaware that oil is renewable, generated from organic material by geophysical processes, albeit very slowly.

Certainty in such cases should always generate skepticism.

Which highlights the degree to which the peak oil debate was dominated by non-experts, who read that people they assumed to be expert had predicted an imminent peak in oil production and accepted it as true because they wanted it to be, without being aware of the long history of pessimism about future oil production. But the arguments will always have great appeal to those who dislike consumerism, those worried about the environment, and even those in the industry who like the idea that future prices must certainly be higher.

To see that such mistaken views have real-world consequences one only need know that in the 1970s, many governments encouraged the burning of coal for power instead of natural gas, falsely believing that gas was scarce, while more recently, others have argued that peak oil would limit our greenhouse gas emissions. And it’s debates like these, where so many are so certain without expertise or knowledge of the subject, and agitate for often-costly policies to cope with their assumed crisis, that makes the public skeptical of warnings about our imminent doom.

 

Why People Are So Unreasonable These Days

For some reason, many intellectuals who identify as philosophical skeptics embrace large chunks of climate dogma without critical examination. Steven Pinker is part of the progressive clan, and shares their blind spot, but speaks wisely in a recent article about the precarious balance between reason and intolerance these days. Some excerpts in italics with my bolds show his keen grasp of many aspects of the problems in contemporary discourse, even while he nods superficially to the climate consensus.  His article at Skeptic.com is Why We Are Not Living in a Post-Truth Era:  An (Unnecessary) Defense of Reason and a (Necessary) Defense of Universities’ Role in Advancing it.

Humans Are Rational Beings

In the first part Pinker does a good job clearing away several arguments that humans are not primarily rational anyway.  For example, he summarizes:

So if anyone tries to excuse irrationality and dogma by pointing a finger at our evolutionary origins, I say: Don’t blame the hunter-gatherers. Rational inference, skepticism, and debate are in our nature every bit as much as freezing in response to a rustle in the grass.

Why were truth and rationality selected for? The answer is that reality is a powerful selection pressure. As the science fiction author Philip K. Dick put it, “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”  Either there is an armadillo in the burrow or there isn’t. Those who were so hidebound by stereotype or habit that they could not deduce out where it was or how to kill it went hungry.

Irrationality Contends Against Reason

Pinker provides insight into the modern struggle to be reasonable in the face of irrationality.

So if we do have the capacity to be rational, why are we so often irrational? There are several reasons. The most obvious was pointed out by Herbert Simon, one of the founders of both cognitive psychology and artificial intelligence: rationality must be bounded. A perfect reasoner would require all the time in the world, and unlimited memory. So we often satisfice, trading accuracy for efficiency.

Also, though reality is always a powerful selection pressure, we did not evolve with the truth-augmenting technologies that have been invented in recent millennia and centuries, such as writing, quantitative datasets, scientific methodology, and specialized expertise.

And annoyingly, facts and logic can compromise our self-presentation as effective and benevolent, a powerful human motive. We all try to come across as infallible, omniscient, and saintly. Rationality can be a nuisance in this campaign, because inconvenient truths will inevitably come to light that suggest we are mere mortals. The dismissal of facts and logic is often damage control against threats to our self-presentation.

Beliefs also can be signals of loyalty to a coalition. As Tooby has pointed out, the more improbable the belief, the more credible the signal. It’s hard to affirm your solidarity with the tribe by declaring that rocks fall down instead of up, because anyone can say that rocks fall down instead of up. But if you say that God is three persons in one, or that Hillary Clinton ran a child sex ring out of a Washington pizzeria, you’ve shown that you’re willing to take risks for the team.

Group loyalty is an underestimated source of irrationality in the public sphere, especially when it comes to politicized scientific issues like evolution and climate change. Dan Kahan has shown that, contrary to what most scientists believe, a denial of the facts of human evolution or anthropogenic climate change is not a symptom of scientific illiteracy. The deniers know as much science as the accepters. They contrast instead on political orientation: the farther to the right, the more denial.

Kahan notes that there is a perverse rationality to this “expressive cognition.” Unless you are one of a small number of deciders and influencers, your opinion on climate change will have no effect on the climate. But it could have an enormous effect on how you’re accepted your social circle—whether you’re seen as someone who at best just doesn’t get it and who at worst is a traitor. For someone in a modern university to deny human-made climate change, or for someone in a rural Southern or Midwestern community to affirm it, would be social death. So, it’s perversely rational for people to affirm the validating beliefs of their social circle. The problem is that what’s rational for the individual may not be rational for the nation or the planet. Kahan calls it the “Tragedy of the Belief Commons..”

Another paradox of rationality is pluralistic ignorance, or the “spiral of silence,” in which everyone believes that everyone else believes something but no one actually believes it. A classic example is drinking in college fraternities: a 1998 Princeton study found that the male students mistakenly believed that their fellow students thought it was cool to drink a lot, and during their time on campus gravitated toward endorsing this false norm themselves.18 The same thing happens in college women’s attitudes toward casual sex.

How can pluralistic ignorance happen? How does a false belief keep itself levitated in midair? Michael Macy and his colleagues show that a key factor is enforcement. Not only does the belief never get challenged, but group members believe they must punish or condemn those who don’t hold it—out of the equally mistaken belief that they themselves may be denounced for failing to denounce. Denunciation is a signal of solidarity with the group, which can lead to a cascade of pre-emptive, self-reinforcing denunciation, and sometimes to “extraordinary popular delusions and the madness of crowds” like witch hunts and other bubbles and manias. Sometimes the bubble can be punctured by a public exclamation that the emperor is naked, but it takes an innocent boy or a brave truth-teller.

[Comment: Pinker describes the tribal dynamics around social and political issues.  But Pinker does not himself engage the scientific complexities and uncertainties regarding global warming/climate change.  He reduces the issue down to politics, and thinks that people take sides based on their social circles. He implies that even when scientifically literate people are unconvinced of climate alarms, it’s on political grounds.  When Pinker says most scientists believe in the facts of climate change, he is siding with his leftist colleagues in academia, demonstrating that accepting social proof cuts both ways.

So many alarmist platitudes have been denied in reality.  Arctic ice persists instead of disappearing; Polar bears thrive instead of going extinct;  Storms were worse in the past when CO2 was lower; and so on.  See 11 Empty Climate Claims.  It’s the other side of the point made earlier:  Reality is also that which happens, despite your expecting otherwise.

Consider what Cal physics professor Richard Muller said:  There is a real danger in people with Ph.D.s joining a consensus that they haven’t vetted professionally. . . A really good question would be: “Have you studied climate change enough that you would put your scientific credentials on the line that most of what is said in An Inconvenient Truth is based on accurate scientific results? My guess is that a large majority of the climate scientists would answer no to that question, and the true percentage of scientists who support the statement I made in the opening paragraph of this comment, that true percentage would be under 30%. That is an unscientific guestimate, based on my experience in asking many scientists about the claims of Al Gore.  See Meet Richard Muller, Lukewarmist]

Ours Era Mixes High and Low Rationality

Rationality, to be sure, is not increasing everywhere. In some arenas it appears to sinking fast. The most conspicuous is electoral politics, which is almost perversely designed to inhibit our capacity for rationality. Voters act on issues that don’t affect them personally, and are under no pressure to inform themselves or defend their positions. Practical issues like energy and healthcare are bundled with symbolic hot buttons like euthanasia and the teaching of evolution. These bundles are then strapped to regional, ethnic, or religious coalitions, encouraging group-affirming expressive cognition. People vote as if rooting for sports teams, encouraged by the media, which treat politics as a horse race, encouraging zero-sum competition rather than clarification of character and policy.

And as a recent New York Times op-ed (in which I played a cameo) announced, “Social media is making us dumber.” Not long ago many intellectuals deplored the lack of democratic access to mass media. A few media corporations, in cahoots with the government, “manufactured consent” with their oligopoly over the means of production and dissemination of ideas. As we used to say, freedom of the press belongs to those who own one. Social media held out the promise of giving a voice to The People.

We should have been careful about what we wished for. The network dynamics of social media are still poorly understood, but they do not yet host the mechanisms of vetting and reviewing that are necessary for true beliefs to bubble up to prominence from the turbid pools of self-presentation, group solidarity, and pluralistic ignorance. And they have become launch pads for spirals of moralistic grandstanding and pre-emptive denunciation.

We are now living in an era of rationality inequality. At the high end we’ve never been more rational. But at the low end there are arenas that indulge the worst of human psychology. Much work remains to be done in refining the institutions that bring out the rational angels of our nature.

Universities Embracing Irrationality

And this brings me to the role of universities. Universities ought to be the premier institutions of rationality promotion. They have been granted many privileges and perquisites in exchange for fulfilling the mission of adding to the stock of human knowledge and transmitting it to future generations. State universities and colleges are underwritten by the public purse, as is a great deal of tuition and research support in private ones, together with their tax-exempt status. . . Universities have also been granted credentialing and gatekeeping privileges in business and the professions, where a degree is often an entry requirement despite the questionable value added to a student’s capabilities by four years at a university, according to exit audits

Yet despite these perquisites, universities have become notorious as monocultures of left-wing orthodoxy and the illiberal suppression of heterodox ideas (I won’t review the latest follies, but will mention just two words: Halloween costumes).31 As the civil libertarian Harvey Silverglate has put it, “You can say things in Harvard Square that you can’t say in Harvard Yard.”

Why do universities fall short of what one might think of as their essential mission, promoting openminded rationality? There are several hypotheses. In The Coddling of the American Mind, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt have suggested that (to oversimplify) helicopter Baby Boomer parents reared iGen snowflakes, who melt at the slightest uncomfortable thought. Another explanation points to an increase in homophily—people gravitating to people who are like them, especially liberals and their children in cities and dense suburbs—which bred a uniformity of opinion on university campuses. The sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning have described the rise of a Culture of Victimhood, in which prestige comes not from a resolve to retaliate against threats (a Culture of Honor) or an ability to control one’s emotions (a Culture of Dignity) but from a claim to have been victimized on the basis of race or gender, a grievance that is predictably ratified and redressed by the campus bureaucracy.  And since any of these dynamics can weave a network of pluralistic ignorance enforced by denunciation mobs, we can’t know how many intimidated students would privately disavow intellectual orthodoxy and the culture of victimhood but are afraid to say so out of a mistaken fear that everyone else avows it.

Some of this regression is a paradoxical byproduct of the fantastic progress we have made in equality. Vanishingly few people in universities actually hold racist, sexist, homophobic, or transphobic attitudes (though they may have different views on the nature of these categories or the causes of group differences). That means that accusations of racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia can be weaponized: since everyone reviles these bigotries, they can be used to demonize adversaries, which in turn spreads a terror of being demonized. The accusations are uniquely noxious because it is virtually impossible to defend oneself against them. “Some of my best friends are X” is risible, and testimony about one’s unprejudiced bona fides or a track record of advancing the careers of women and minorities is not much more exculpatory. This places temptation in people’s paths to denounce others for bigotry before they are denounced themselves: it is one of the few means of pre-emptive self-defense.

Should we care about what happens in the universities? It’s sometimes said that academic disputes are fierce because the stakes are so small. In fact, the stakes are significant. The obvious one is whether universities are carrying out their fiduciary duty to advance knowledge in return for their massive absorption of society’s resources and trust. Another is their creeping influence on the rest of society. As Andrew Sullivan wrote in 2018, “we all live on campus now.” Political correctness and social justice warfare have descended from the ivory tower and infiltrated tech, business, healthcare, and government.

Envy Social Justice

Still worse, intolerance on campus is corroding the credibility of university research on vital topics such as climate change and gun violence. Skeptics on the right can say, “Why should we be impressed if climate scientists are unanimous that human activity is threatening the planet? (Or on any other issue?) They work in universities, which everyone knows are echo chambers of PC dogma.”

So we must safeguard the truth and rationality promoting mission of universities precisely because we are not living in a post-truth era. Humans indeed are often irrational, but not always and everywhere. The rational angels of our nature can and must be encouraged by truth-promoting norms and institutions. Many are succeeding, despite what seems like a growth in reason inequality. Universities, as they become infected with political conformity and restrictions on expressible ideas, seem to be falling short in their mission, but it matters to society that they be held to account: so they can repay the perquisites granted to them, secure the credibility of their own research on vital issues, and inoculate students against extreme and simplistic views by allowing them to evaluate moderate and nuanced ones.

California Cop Out

As Chuck Devore explains at Forbes, Mother Nature has always burned California, but the state government is failing to manage the landscape while blaming the fires on Climate Change.  His article is With Or Without Climate Change, California Will Burn, The Only Question Is: How Much?  Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

California is blessed—and cursed—with a Mediterranean climate. The Golden State features long stretches of dry, low-humidity weather, with infrequent thunderstorms (except in its desert regions). Most of the state’s precipitation falls during the winter months. Before the first big late-year Pacific storm, California’s forests and coastal chaparral are often tinder-dry.

Richard Henry Dana Jr., in his book “Two Years Before the Mast” published in 1840, described the area around Los Angeles thus:

“The only thing which diminishes its beauty is, that the hills have no large trees upon them, they having been all burnt by a great fire which swept them off about a dozen years before, and they had not yet grown up again. The fire was described to me by an inhabitant, as having been a very terrible and magnificent sight. The air of the whole valley was so heated that the people were obliged to leave the town and take up their quarters for several days upon the beach.”

Today, of course, politicians blame climate change for the wildfires and the electrical blackouts aimed at preventing more fires, with Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday declaring that “It’s more than just climate change. It’s about the failure of capitalism to address climate change.”

There are two things to unpack here: the climate change claim and the failure of capitalism claim.

California is seeing larger wildfires. But this was predicted 13 years ago by the Western Governors’ Association in their Biomass Task Force Report:

“…over time the fire-prone forests that were not thinned, burn in uncharacteristically destructive wildfires… …In the long term, leaving forests overgrown and prone to unnaturally destructive wildfires means there will be significantly less biomass on the ground, and more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.”

For a variety of reasons, government-mandated and subsidized wind and solar power won out in California over government-mandated biomass generators powered by wood waste from the timber industry. The timber industry largely left. And as a result, the fuel load in California’s northern forests has soared, and with it, the wildfire danger.

What isn’t harvested and cleaned up in a controlled, predictable manner is burned up in a chaotic manner—the only thing predictable about it is that it will certainly burn, sooner or later.

As for the failure of capitalism, California’s publicly regulated utilities are hardly examples of unfettered free markets. Rather, they do exactly what the regulators appointed by the elected officials tell them to do.
Those politicians and regulators have told the utilities to dramatically boost wind and solar power—and they have. In 2012, PG&E asked regulators for a $4.84 billion electric rate hike to pay for powerline maintenance and upgrades. Regulators, worried over electrical prices that were already close to the nation’s highest, rejected the request, and eventually approved less than half that amount.

One can’t help but to wonder—if this rate hike were approved in 2012, might it have prevented 2018’s deadly Camp Fire, which started almost a year ago and killed 85 people while destroying nearly 19,000 homes, businesses and other buildings? The fire was blamed on a nearly-100-year-old power line that should have been replaced 25 years ago.

Now, PG&E—in bankruptcy to shield itself from $30 billion in fire liabilities and under heavy criticism—is preventatively cutting the power on high-risk powerlines during periods of heavy winds.

These blackouts—the largest two hitting about 2 million people each time for a couple of days—have cost California businesses and consumers an estimated $5 billion in lost economic activity. As much as the requested rate hike might have cost had it been approved seven years ago.

As PG&E tries to catch up for years of neglect in trimming trees away from some 2,500 miles of high-priority powerlines, they’re running into another problem: They can’t find the experienced work crews. This is because employment in the timber industry is half of what it was 20 years ago due to decades of federal and state environmental policies that have cut the Western region timber harvest in half.

Whether or not climate change is making California’s deadly outbreak of fire worse, the solution is the same—California must significantly ramp up forest management, which, if done in concert with increased logging, will be less costly to the taxpayer. At the same time, it must aggressively increase the use of proscribed burns, both in the north and in Southern California’s coastal chaparral. President Trump said as much last year, to great hoots of derision from California’s politicians and environmentalists.

California has slowly taken steps in this direction, in the last year of Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown’s four terms in office and now Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s first year. But it is likely too little, too late. That has led PG&E CEO Bill Johnson to warn state regulators that blackouts could last another 10 years.

Ungrateful Millennials Richer than Rockefeller

Our leftist educational system has turned many of today’s young people into social justice warriors. Frequently they accuse older generations of trashing the planet for their own benefit and stealing the future from future generations.  As Greta says: “How dare They!”  Lost in all this ignorance and arrogance is any gratitude for the wealth of conveniences and options provided by their predecessors on a silver platter to these spoiled youth.

Matthew Kahn has a post up regarding economics for non-economists, which will appear here later on. He provokes discussion in his seminar by exposing students to a fine essay by economist Don Boudreaux You Are Richer than John D. Rockefeller Do read the linked article which is only excerpted below.

Boudreaux asks: How much money would it take for you to agree to live out your life a century ago? Would you do it for a million dollars? What about a billion dollars? When considering this question, he asks that you keep in mind that in 1916, no matter how rich you were, you would not be able to enjoy any of the following:
Radio (do you mind phonograph sound quality?)
Television
Timely transportation
Computers
Air-conditioning
Rock ’n roll
International food (forget Vietnamese Pho or falafels!)
Smart phones
A high likelihood of surviving infancy
Contact lenses
Modern birth control
Antibiotics
Accurate watches
Skype
Effective dental care
The Internet
…and many other things as well. If you’re a woman, or any kind of minority (whether racial, sexual, or religious), then you would also have to sacrifice various freedoms and live in a world of far worse intolerance.

Boudreaux concludes with this observation:

Honestly, I wouldn’t be remotely tempted to quit the 2016 me so that I could be a one-billion-dollar-richer me in 1916. This fact means that, by 1916 standards, I am today more than a billionaire. It means, at least given my preferences, I am today materially richer than was John D. Rockefeller in 1916. And if, as I think is true, my preferences here are not unusual, then nearly every middle-class American today is richer than was America’s richest man a mere 100 years ago.

Matthew Kahn’s post is Teaching Economics Ideas to Non-Economists  Text below with my bolds.

At USC this term, I am teaching a new class on “the limits to growth”. My course is a fair fight between Paul Ehrlich and Julian Simon. My class features 90% non-economics majors and many have never taken a course with an economist before. I sense that they side with Ehrlich. Their consensus is that we are on a path to destroy our planet and that only dramatic changes in politics and lifestyles can save us. It is possible that they are correct. As they make these points in our seminar class, I ask them; “if you know this, why doesn’t the suburban median voter know this?” They eventually sketch out ideas related to free riding and the Tragedy of the Commons.

I sense that a majority of my students are uncomfortable with the claim that free markets are the major source of improvements in all of our well being. We read this piece by Don Boudreaux and it set off quite a good debate.

My students are quite smart and they have figured out that economic models focus on individual choice. I choose to drop out of school. I choose to study rather than to party. I choose to take actions that raise my risk of pregnancy. I choose to walk in risky place at night. When bad things (such as poverty) happen to good people, how much of this outcome is due to their own choice versus bad luck (a health shock, graduating during a recession)? I have shown them James Heckman’s argument that we must expand early education for all because children do not choose their parents.

If outcomes are due to luck, then a risk averse society will engage in more taxation and redistribution than in a society that believes that life outcomes are directly related to costly effort (i.e Lebron James is a great basketball player due to his long hours of practice).

My students also believe that the American Dream of upward mobility is vanishing. But schools such as USC are providing more financial aid and opportunity for first generation students. My students believe that U.S public schools are under-performing in preparing young people for college but they oppose privatization and Milton Friedman style school vouchers. They must implicitly believe that parents are not to be “sophisticated shoppers” in choosing a school.

I sense that many of my students would have voted for Senator Bernie Sanders in 2016. I am learning from my experience teaching non-economists. I hope that my ideas and empirical claims are resonating with them. I sense that some of my students are surprised to be confronted with a University of Chicago trained economist. The market place for economics ideas needs to expand and enter the classrooms of humanities majors (the bulk of my students).

My students reject the perfect competition model. Many voice a dark vision that powerful elites control government and markets and pay such that the “little guy” has few choices and just suffers. I steer discussions back to human capital and skill formation and the possibility to engage in personal investments such that one commands a wage premium. I am learning.

The typical academic economist does not leave the “comfort zone” and teach non-majors.

Bravo Professor Kahn for taking on the task of challenging uninformed (misinformed) societal assumptions.  Your teaching method seems Socratic, and it was Aristotle who recognized that a good life depends upon both good choices and good fortune. And, just to close the circle, John D. Rockefeller became wealthy providing people with petroleum products, which all agreed were the greatest thing since sliced bread.