19 May 2010

Borenstein and Revkin on New NAS Reports

Writing for AP, Seth Borenstein says that the US National Academy of Sciences has embarked o0n a new course of open advocacy and decided to overtly recommend a cap-and-trade program or a carbon tax, which he associates with specific legislation being considered in Congress:

Ditching its past cautious tone, the nation's top scientists urged the government Wednesday to take drastic action to raise the cost of using coal and oil to slow global warming.

The National Academy of Sciences specifically called for a carbon tax on fossil fuels or a cap-and-trade system for curbing greenhouse gas emissions, calling global warming an urgent threat.

The academy, which advises the government on scientific matters, said the nation needs to cut the pollution that causes global warming by about 57 percent to 83 percent by 2050. That's close to President Barack Obama's goal. . .

In the past, the academy has called climate change a problem, but it has never recommended a specific policy. The impetus for its bolder stance now was a set of questions posed by Congress on climate change and how to deal with it.

The cap-and-trade idea, which is supported by the Obama administration, has been proposed for several years in Congress but never passed the Senate. It would set overall limits on carbon dioxide pollution, but would allow companies to pollute more by paying for it and buying pollution credits from cleaner companies.

Last year, the House approved a cap-and-trade bill, but it stalled in the Senate as health care legislation took center stage. A new version, that doesn't use the cap-and-trade phrase but has similar characteristics, was introduced last week.

In what probably qualifies as the boneheaded comment of the day, the panel co-chair says that it is science that is telling us to act, not anyone's opinions (emphasis added):

"We really need to get started right away. It's not opinion, it's what the science tells you," said academy panel vice chairman Robert Fri, who was acting Environmental Protection Agency chief under President Richard Nixon. "The country needs both a prompt and a sustained commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions."

By contrast Andy Revkin sees not much new in terms of advocacy in the report, or in its discussion of policy options:
The Academies, the country’s preeminent scientific advisory body, have issued strings of reports on global warming over the decades. In 1991, the language was already strong and urgent, noting that the risks were sufficient to justify action even with substantial unanswered questions: “Despite the great uncertainties, greenhouse warming is a potential threat sufficient to justify action now.”
Revkin also finds no clear linkage with Obama Administration policies or those currently being debated in Congress:

The report on “Limiting the Magnitude of Future Climate Change” lays out what would be required to drive an energy revolution in the United States — greatly cutting output of greenhouse gases while sustaining economic well being. It’s a familiar mix of finding ways to add a price to pollution, moving forward with standards and policies that fulfill the huge potential for cutting energy waste and also invigorating the innovation pipeline by greatly boosting investment — public and private — in research and development and the other steps required to generate insights and turn them into new and widely disseminated technologies.

It does not expressly endorse a “cap and trade” approach as opposed to a carbon tax but does recommend creating an overall “budget” for greenhouse gas emissions over a stretch of decades that can lead to a clear, directly measurable goal.
Who has got this right Borenstein or Revkin? Obviously, somebody is spinning madly.