Wednesday Open Thread and News Dump

We've talked about a gas tax quite a few times here at TOD, but Menzie Chinn over at Econbrowser has a interesting post discussing the NYT article from yesterday on that nasty pariah/demand destroyer/R&D&I savior that no politician ever wants to talk about. There's also a great set of posts over at EB by Michael Ventura entitled "Things to Come"...very provacative.  But feel free to bring up other things down there in the open thread as well...
Here in OZ we have the Import Parity Pricing tax.  It was brought in many years ago.  Even when petrol here went to AUD$1.30 per litre there was no thought of reducing it.

It could be one of the reasons why cars are generally smaller here that in the US.  Our large cars are only a medium US car.  We still have Suburbans and the like however there is not a lot of them.  We also seem to have a lot more of the Nissan Micras and Honda Jazzs(Fit) class cars.  Some of this could be due to the higher petrol price here.

Today, Daphne Wysham, of Sustainable Energy and Environment Network (SEEN) interviewed Dr. James Hansen of NASA and Tom Devine, a lawyer for whistleblowers on Earthbeat radio.

One memorable quote is Hansen saying climate is non-linear and a 3-6 degree F rise will equilibriate in a 80 foot sea level rise and no one knows whether this would take millenia, centuries, or 'within a century'.  

Much of the interview was about muzzling of scientists by government officials.

Over here in Europe, if one keeps one's ear to the ground, it seems we're beginning to reivaluate our data on "global meltdown" prospects. The timescale is the next 100 years. I'll just paraphrase the hot gossip, if that's allowed on site like TOD? Basically, it would appear we've substantially underestimated the negative effects of the main greenhouse gasses on the environment and especially the polar regions. Our lastest measurements in Greenland ect. couplede with more sophisticated computer models, are showing rises in average temperatures way above in the 2 to 4 degree range we've been operating witn. Now we're dealing with possible rises in the 2 to 11 degrees range by the end of this century. Perhaps averaging out at around 6, that's about three times the current worst case as far as I can see. These numbers haven't been published yet, or received much publicity, but they soon will be. Clearly these figures are going to be Very controversial and subject to a Lot of debate, because, if true, they have dramatic consequences for our civilization, global meltdown rates, the gulfstream and sea levels. Sorry for the drama, and speed, and sorry for the lack of links and all the rest, but I've got lots of other stuff to write at the moment.
Head for the hills! Alternatively, let us try to avoid the fallacy of lack of proportion:
  1. There is way more ice near the south pole than near the north pole. The volume of this southern ice seems not to be changing much. (Check recent articles in "Science.")
  2. The 800 pound gorilla that nobody wants to talk about on this website (I hope NOT due to political correctness) is clouds. As climate warms up, probably more clouds will form. As certain types of clouds increase, earth's albedo may increase considerably. If this increase in happens, then more sunlight would be reflected than is now the case. Result--global cooling tendency. Because nobody is even close to modeling what happens to cloud cover, nobody honest has any solid idea of what the net result will be.
  3. I make no assertions, no forecasts. I do say that fear sells, and the fearmongers know this. Personally, I keep a boat at hand and provisioned, just in case it rains for forty days and forty nights once again. BTW, there is some evidence that the many cultural "myths" of a great flood are based on a reality, and although the story of Noah is not literally true, it may be metaphorically true.
  4. The weight of the evidence suggests that we are in for a major change in climate in the near future (say 100 years). What exactly the nature of this change will be is impossible to say. I do agree with Stuart that in increase in the severity of storms is likely.
There was a BBC2 science program horizon called "Global Dimming". This dealt with dramatic reduction in sunlight and cooling over the past century. The fact that global temperatures have increased by 0.6C shows how powerful Global Dimming and Global Warming has been. Now pollution scrubbers are being installed in power stations, we will see what masking Global Dimming has done to Global Warming.

The link to the transcript is: -

For those that are interested in Global Warming, I would strongly urge to read the above link. It convinced me to take Global Warming seriously.

Don I agree. A few remarks:
  • South pole ice is breaking up. This may be a natural process which continuously occurs. However indications are the Antarctic ice sheet is not rebuilding by new precipation at the same speed.
  • It is a fact that we are very bad at predicting the weather  even on a daily timeframe. Let alone climate change in the short, medium, or medium-long term. There are just to many factors, like your clouds, involved. If somewhere in the world a large volcano explodes we may see temperatures drop by 0.5 C.-1.0 C. for a few years, just to name another factor.
  • Climate was, is , and always will be a dynamic system, never on equilibrium, but always bouncing around it from one end to the other.
  • Noting the above, PLEASE SOMEONE TELL ME TO WHAT EXTEND SEALEVELS WILL RISE. I live in Holland you see......Ah, no one can tell me? D*mn!
What kind of boat do you have? How have you provisioned it? How many of your family members will it accommodate? How are your fishing skills?
It is a fact that we are very bad at predicting the weather  even on a daily timeframe. Let alone climate change in the short, medium, or medium-long term

I'm not sure if the quality of the day-to-day weather prediction has anything to do with Global Warming.

To quote a (Dutch) comedian from Almelo:

"Who cares that the sealevels rise a few cm in 100 years? It is changing 1 meter every 6 hours!"

The 800 pound gorilla that nobody wants to talk about on this website (I hope NOT due to political correctness) is clouds. As climate warms up, probably more clouds ...

Don, this forum is one of the least concerned with political correctness of any I have run across. The architects of TOD have stuck to more-or-less verifiable facts to such a degree that I usually just lurk, having nothing substantive to add.

However, this thread covered the work of a NASA researcher which presents a pretty good measure of what we're in for. In particular, when discussing this diagram the group's consensus, I believe, is that we currently need a Krakatau or Pinatubo about every 5 years or so just to make up for the warming effect of GHGs. It was also generally agreed that there would probably be a significant NIMBY problem with using thermonuclear weapons to simulate this effect.

BTW, in a climate model the clouds have different effects depending on their altitude. Tropospheric clouds contribute to warming, while high stratospheric clouds tend to cool. It all depends on where the infrared gets scattered. So there ya go.

Here you go:,,1719606,00.html

"The three previous reports assumed that a doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would increase average global temperature by between 1.5 and 4.5C. Since then, computer models have foreseen increases as high as 11C...."

António Vitorino: "The era of Cheap Oil is over"

Last Monday António Vitorino started his weekly politic analysis TV show by saying: "The era of Cheap Oil is over".

He went on saying "I can't predict oil prices 20 years from now, but for the next 5 - 10 years prices won't go down".

Vitorino used these words to introduce his analysis on the Nuclear Energy debate aroused by soaring Oil prices.

António Vitorino was the European Commissionaire for Justice in Romano Prodi's executive. He was one of the strongest names to replace Prodi, but was put aside after another strong victory by the Christian Democrats for the European Parliament.

I'll leave here the show's webpage just for reference,  since there's no English version:

P.S.: Could anyone be so kind and post this at I've been trying for hours and always get an error.

This website has become more than I can digest in a day. My garden and my yard are suffering, and my fishing time is being limited. Please make all comments worth the space they contain. We here are all quite capable of finding web sites, so if possible please only the web addresses.
I have the same problem. Any activity that crowds out fishing time is excessive and out-of-proportion. (Except for sailing and aerobic sex;-)

The trick is to learn to ignore the posts from the worthless posters; you'll soon learn how to do that. And (wish I could follow this rule myself) never, ever, never flame the stupidity put forth by the posters who should not have ventured here.

The thing that bugs me about you and a few others is, you are always saying things here before I can say them. BOTOH it saves me a lot of time for reading. BTW I do my Fishing from a small pontoon boat with a 3 HP electric motor. 4 L/A batteries are good for about 4 hours @2 knots if I use ice in the beer cooler.
I have used electric trolling motors in place of gasoline powered ones for years. A single 55 lb. thrust trolling motor is a good auxilliary for a 23 ft. sailboat, and to prove a point I once towed four 20 ft. scow sailboats with such a motor at better than two knots.
If you are a slow reader, why whinge to us about it?
Here I come to suck all the joy out of your day.
Well, if you are a biodiesel enthusiast that likes cheap grease, I got bad news for you.
We will regulate biodiesel as soon as the first time someone uses peanut oil in his car, pauses at a stoplight, and some peanut allergic person takes one breath and dies in ten minutes.
No shit, it's that quick. Peanut allergy is fast and peanut allergic people can handle only very small amounts. Very, very, small amounts.
Being the government, they will have all kinds of forms, inspectors, quality controlls, mandatory mass spectrographs, classes to get licensed, fees, charges, revenue enhancements, etc.
Just thought of that yesterday. I wonder how to pass the word around and make a connection between a peanut allergy group and a biodiesel group so that they get the idea how serious peanut allergies are in the biodiesel group, and how fast biodiesel is growing in the peanut allergy group? If we avoid fatalities the government won't have an excuse to regulate. We can but try.
Google is your friend. People have already thought of it. Searched on peanut, allergy, and biodiesel, and there they were.
An interesting read...Don Coxe of Harris Nesbitt (investment bank) has been on board with PO theory since about April 2004. His newest Basic Points publication has some great commentary on how supply-side issues are largely driving commodity prices, something most Wall Street analysts and economists like to ignore. He's been skeptical about Saudi Arabia for a while, but in the latest Basic Points he claims they've peaked.

An attention-getting excerpt:

"Saudi Aramco has admitted that its net increase will be only half the top line, because of declining production from existing fields. This means the Saudis are predicting a 28% drop in production from existing fields. It also implies that Ghawar--the greatest oilfield the world has ever known, and, until recently the source of as much as 6% of total world output--has peaked. Apparently, the next two biggest oilfields have apparently also peaked--Cantarell in Mexico, where production is falling sharply, and Burgan in Kuwait. China's daQing oilfield, the backbone of its output, is said to have entered decline. (The Chinese say they are cutting back output to extend the life of the field. The field, we are to assume, just has a mild case of SPS--Sino-Petro-Senility, which, in a nation that venerates the aged, isn't something to worry about.)"

Latest Basic Points:

I must be on the depressive side of the cycle - lately it seems to me that the political and economic crisis I've been expecting are coming faster than I had hoped, and I don't feel like I'm sufficiently prepared .  Today's excellent posts have me more convinced than ever that PO is now, but I don't think we'll see the "direct" effects of that as soon as we'll see the political/economic symptoms.  There have been times in my life when I felt as if things had been too easy, and that I was lucky for having lived my life in a time of peace and prosperity (I'm 42), and perhaps lamented because it seemed a little "dull" and wondered how I would perform if really tested by difficult times.  But now I think we'll all get to show our stuff, and I think 2006 will be a pivotal year.  There are a lot of theories about how things work, with proponents on all sides of every situation.  I expect that I will learn a lot from watching how things unfold

Well, maybe some spring weather and some time working on some planned projects would help my frame of mind!

The most important skills (IMHO)?  Be informed; be agile and ready for change.

From 3/1/06 NYT:

"Divers Work the Gulf Floor to Undo What Hurricanes Did" amp;ei=5094&partner=homepage

One key quote:

"Few will openly say so, but oil companies are racing against the clock. In less than four months, the next hurricane season kicks off."

I'm not sure if this article is behind their paywall; free registration may be required.

Very interesting article.  (And it's not behind their paywall.)
Could someone smarter than me estimate peak in terms of oil available for export?  Can peak predictions for main producers  be fused with those countries domestic needs to give a figure for total oil available on the global market?  Is this a stat that is already in common use?
-Matt in DC suburbs.
This sounds like a job for Westexas...
In Japan, the road tax depends on the size of the engine (among others). If you buy a car with a small engine (less than 660 cc) then your road tax is significantly lower. (and so is your gas bill). This fiscal polycy seems to be working. Total market in Japan is about 5.5m cars.

Domestic sales of minivehicles -- cars with engines no larger than 660cc -- hit a record 1.924 million units in 2005.

The other thing I saw in the papers was that China has surpassed Japan in Windpower. It's a short news snippet, but it has a few numbers in it that might be interesting.

Small quote:

China topped Japan in generating wind power in 2005, with China's capacity increasing 65 percent from the previous year to 1,260 megawatts, the Global Wind Energy Council said in a recent report.
I notice that you have been with us from the beginning, yet bless us with your presence very infrequently. I hope you would post more often especially about Japan. This information is extremely important and needs more exposure.
Two Interesting articles in Technology Review. A "Photo Essay: Dirty Oil" and "The Methanol Economy"
Thank you. Pictures are worth 1000 words apiece.
All the Tar sand cornucopians should look at the Tech Review slide show

"It takes roughly two metric tons of this sticky sand to produce one barrel of crude oil."

The News & Observer in Raleigh reported this week that the Cowhers had purchased a $2.5 million, newly-built home in an upscale neighborhood in North Raleigh. The house is 7,400 square feet and includes 1.55 acres, a swimming pool and a four-car garage.

The house is for Pittsburgh Steelers' Coach Bill Cowher and his wife and three daughters.  Cowher seems like a decent guy, but 7,400 SF is huge!  

I've designed three very large custom homes (two decades ago) the largest of which was 5,500 SF.  The couple had adopted four or five Viet orphans, and ran a pottery kiln in the walk-out basement, but still it was a behemoth of a house.

Raleigh?  What's a Pittsburgh guy like Cowher doing in Raleigh?

And 7,400 SF is nothing.  People are building mansions with 20,000 square feet and more.  Rooms they never use, never even furnish.

It reminds of all those huge mansions built around the turn of the last century. Most of them are now either gone or are historic sites, used as museums.  Or have been made into multifamily homes.  Their owners could no longer afford to maintain them.

He and his wife met at college there, and her family is from there.  I'm guessing they'll retire there.

I think large houses made sense with large staffs of servants, but not otherwise.

If I ever get rich I could imagine building such livable areas but I would build them as several sensible sized houses so that those that inherits them or me if times turn bad can use them withouth going broke.

Or why not build a large mansion with multiple bathrooms with a floor plan allowing an easy subdivision into apartments and preinstalled plumbing in the floors for new kitchens?

If you got it, use it, in a sensible way.

Re: the gas tax, a commonly expressed opinion is that whatever the level of the tax, the proceeds should be "earmarked" for highway construction and maintenance.

I want to turn that around and ask, how much general tax revenue is diverted to supporting the infrastructure that makes it possible to actually get anywhere by car in the first place?

I have this book, The Elephant in the Bedroom: Automobile Dependence & Denial: Impacts on the Economy and Environment by Hart and Spivak. It states (p. 44): "For every dollar motorists pay to local governments, the governments spend eight dollars to provide them with these essential services." (The services are: "Traffic signals, traffic engineering services, police and fire protection for motorists, traffic control, auto theft control, street lighting, street repair and maintenance, flood control, parking facilities, paramedics, courts, hospitals, air pollution control and related services.")

I have no idea how accurate that 1 to 8 ratio is. (The book doesn't cite any sources to justify the numbers.)

So any ideas about what the real ratio is? (With evidence?) Are motorists subsidized, and if so by how much?

It seems to me that if there are major subsidies to motorists, that should be the main argument for raising the gas tax. Let drivers just pay the costs of their driving. Why do they need government handouts?

That analysis is silly. Don't buy the book, or even take it out at the library, but read the book and think about how spun it is.
Auto theft control is a subsidy, but solar panel theft control is not? What makes you think the rest of the book is any better?
I'll get back to this one day in a thread that's not dead.

Anyway, you're just unhelpfully changing the subject.

The question is this: how much do governments spend on services whose entire purpose is to benefit motorists, and how much tax revenue to they take in from motoring-related activities?

If it turns out that spending exceeds revenue, then people who drive a little are subsidizing those who drive a lot.