Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 28, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

McCAIN'S PRIORITIES...."Will McCain Abandon Cap and Trade?" asks Matt Yglesias. The short answer, of course, is yes. The slightly longer answer is that I think the question is ill formed. Cap-and-trade is one those enormous, mega-complex, special-interest magnets that's almost impossible to pass no matter how committed you are to it. Getting it through Congress will take an enormous amount of political capital, and I wouldn't even bet on Barack Obama making it a high enough priority to push it through.

As for John McCain, it wouldn't even be in his top ten. Technically speaking, then, he might never officially "abandon" it, but practically speaking, there's never been the slightest chance that even his watered-down version of cap-and-trade would ever see the light of day. He just doesn't care enough about it.

Kevin Drum 4:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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I've noticed McCain wearing a baseball cap a lot lately and going off on pointless tirades. Do you suppose he thinks it s really "cap and tirade"?? He is really senile, you know....The old fool.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on July 28, 2008 at 4:56 PM | PERMALINK

Will Cap'n Trade abandon ship?

Posted by: thersites on July 28, 2008 at 5:12 PM | PERMALINK

Of course McCain will abandon cap and trade.

McCain will do nothing about global warming -- except to make it worse by handing over public lands to his cronies and financial backers in the fossil fuel corporations so they can extract more fossil fuels; deploying the US military all over the world to ensure that US oil corporations can profit from extracting and burning every last drop of oil on the planet; promoting mountaintop-removal strip-mining of coal, tar sands and oil shale; and squandering billions of taxpayer dollars on toxic and dangerous nuclear power plants that will do nothing to reduce CO2 emissions.

During the Cold War there were people who proclaimed that a global thermonuclear war with the USSR and China would be "winnable". What they meant by "winnable" was that although every major city in the USA would be a glassy crater and most of the country would be a radioactive wasteland, a small number of wealthy, powerful people would survive in cavernous underground shelters.

That's the attitude that John McCain and his ilk have towards global warming: it's winnable.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on July 28, 2008 at 5:14 PM | PERMALINK

If the brain-dead old coot John McCain somehow gets into the White House, at least we can look forward to “the incredible shrinking president”, as pieces of McCain keep being whittled away.

From the article - “McCain had surgery in 2000 to remove melanoma on his left temple. In addition to that tumor, doctors excised early-stage melanomas from McCain's left shoulder in 1993, from his left arm in 2000 and from his nose in 2002.”

By the end of his first term, John McCain might just be an ear floating a jar of formaldehyde!

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on July 28, 2008 at 5:30 PM | PERMALINK

Cap-and-trade is probably the wrong answer anyway.

Per James Hansen, a carbon tax, a down-the-line carbon tax all the way to individual appliances, is the right answer.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on July 28, 2008 at 5:34 PM | PERMALINK

SocraticGadfly wrote: "Per James Hansen, a carbon tax, a down-the-line carbon tax all the way to individual appliances, is the right answer."

I agree with James Hansen that a straightforward carbon tax is a better approach than cap-and-trade.

John McCain is not going to back either one. He is campaigning to be the Tool In Chief of the fossil fuel and nuclear industries, and his "energy policies" will be those that ensure their continued profits at the expense of everyone else.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on July 28, 2008 at 5:49 PM | PERMALINK

If no one likes or believes in capntrade, then why are we pushing it?

"McCain will do nothing about global warming -- except to make it worse by handing over public..,."

Obama will hand over funds to his constituents. Pelosi the same, Tonm Delay would pas out the funds to his friends if he could, so would Ted Kennedy, etc.

The whole point of capntrade for all sides was to hand out the funds to their buddies.

I think Kevin and our misleading economists have gotten caught with their hand in the cookie jar and they are not likely to risk fraud charges by pursuing capntrade, or any other global warming tax.

Posted by: Matt on July 28, 2008 at 6:07 PM | PERMALINK

The surgeons did some cap and trade on McCain's face today.

Posted by: on July 28, 2008 at 6:34 PM | PERMALINK

You don't seem to understand how the government works. It's up to the Democrat controlled House and
Senate to pass cap and trade and then send it to the President to be signed. Maybe the dems don't care.

Posted by: TruthPolitik on July 28, 2008 at 7:30 PM | PERMALINK

The whole point of capntrade for all sides...

Is to fool people into thinking politicians, of either party, will pass the costs of global warming to the major corporate polluters, when they will really be passing the costs to everyone else.

Posted by: Brojo on July 28, 2008 at 7:41 PM | PERMALINK

And now here's McCain economic adviser Steve Forbes more-or-less promising that McCain would, in practice, abandon cap and trade on carbon emissions:

Steve Forbes...isn't that the flatulence tax guy?

Posted by: Luther on July 28, 2008 at 7:57 PM | PERMALINK

http://apnews.myway.com/article/20080726/D925G0B00.html
CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) - The 28 branches of 1st National Bank of Nevada and First Heritage Bank, operating in Nevada, Arizona and California, were closed Friday by federal regulators.

The banks, owned by Scottsdale, Ariz.-based First National Bank Holding Co., were scheduled to reopen on Monday as Mutual of Omaha Bank branches, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said.

Well, I wonder what McCain has to say about this?

Posted by: on July 28, 2008 at 8:14 PM | PERMALINK

What Kevin Drum said, only he's not quite cynical enough. Cap and trade is very complicated, it would require a lot of tradeoffs, and it won't happen. Look for Obama to get a modest carbon tax enacted, with lots of loopholes for special interests like agriculture, domestically produced whozits, etc., and set at a low enough level that it reduces American emissions about as much as the EU has reduced theirs. (I.e., for the irony-challenged, American emissions will increase.)

Posted by: y81 on July 28, 2008 at 10:00 PM | PERMALINK

Hey Kevin, I'm out here in the 913. That's my area code, not my local Interstate. What do you think of that, bud?

Posted by: FS on July 28, 2008 at 10:53 PM | PERMALINK

Cap-and-trade is one those enormous, mega-complex, special-interest magnets that's almost impossible to pass no matter how committed you are to it.

Maybe Gore's seemingly impossible 10-year goal has it right. Even as far fetched as it might seem, it's easier to explain, and may be easier to sell to the electorate, especially with its implicit energy security and independence component.

Posted by: has407 on July 28, 2008 at 11:09 PM | PERMALINK

Why look further than the bloated military budget for the needed funds?

Shift the money from expensive and unnecessary weapons, such as the proposed $1 billion for "improvements" in the Abrams Tank engine, to solar thermal-to-electrical generating plants like Solar One Nevada which produces enough electricity for 15,000 homes. Your efficient, all-electric car can be powered pollution free by the sun.

Posted by: deejaayss on July 28, 2008 at 11:38 PM | PERMALINK

Done "right", cap and trade can be a huge corporate subsidy. I don't see why Congress can't pass it.

Posted by: rmd on July 28, 2008 at 11:46 PM | PERMALINK

Hansen's area of expertise is climate science, not economics and politics (though he's undoubtedly learned a lot about both over the years).

In other words, he's one of the world's expert on the problem; he's a well-informed non-expert on the solutions.

As I understand it, there is a wide range of opinion between economists as to whether cap-and-trade, carbon taxes, or somewhere in between is better, both from a national and an international perspective. The short answer appears to be that there's not a huge amount of difference. Cap-and-trade has the advantage of not containing the word "tax" and puts the emissions reductions front-and-centre in the public mind, carbon taxes are simpler.

Posted by: Robert Merkel on July 29, 2008 at 12:05 AM | PERMALINK

And as I stated in the comments over there, if you guys think that a cap and trade is a good idea, then you should be delighted that McCain is opposed because it will present the American people with a clear choice on a major issue.

But since we all know that a cap and trade scheme for carbon emissions will not be popular, McCain's opposition will cause Obama to avoid the issue like the plauge.

Posted by: Chicounsel on July 29, 2008 at 1:03 AM | PERMALINK

Chicounsel: But since we all know that a cap and trade scheme for carbon emissions will not be popular, McCain's opposition will cause Obama to avoid the issue like the plauge.

Yeah, like Iraq. While I'm not convinced Obama will be able to take it on successfully, you need to do a helluva lot better than simply projecting McCain ignorance and insecurity on the issue. Go fish.

Posted by: has407 on July 29, 2008 at 1:18 AM | PERMALINK

...there's never been the slightest chance that even his watered-down version of cap-and-trade would ever see the light of day. He just doesn't care enough about it.

Good.

Posted by: Brian on July 29, 2008 at 6:21 AM | PERMALINK

has407 wrote: "Maybe Gore's seemingly impossible 10-year goal has it right. Even as far fetched as it might seem ..."

Gore's 10-year goal is neither "impossible" nor "far-fetched". The commercially exploitable solar and wind energy resources of the USA are more than sufficient to produce several times as much electricity as the entire country uses, with today's technologies -- more than enough to supply all current needs and to electrify our transportation system as well.

We can easily accomplish Gore's stated goal of producing 100 percent of the USA's electricity from wind, solar, geothermal and biofuels within 10 years. It isn't even particularly difficult, technically or economically.

The obstacles are not technical or economic -- the obstacles are political, namely the entrenched wealth and power of the fossil fuel and nuclear industries, who have a death-grip on US energy policy and the bought-and-paid-for politicians like Cheney, Bush, McCain, Inhofe, et al who are determined to delay the inevitable transition to an economy based on and endless supply of free, abundant wind and solar energy as long as possible. That's why the fossil fuel and nuclear industries receive billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies while the meager investment and production tax credits for wind and solar have not been renewed and are due to expire this year.

In spite of the obstructionism of the fossil fuel and nuclear industries and their political shills, private investment is pouring into solar and wind, which are the fastest and second fastest growing energy sources in the world.

If the fossil fuel and nuclear industries were forced to pay the full cost of their toxic and dangerous technologies (e.g. through a carbon tax and strict environmental regulation of uranium and coal mines), and were deprived of the massive public subsidies they enjoy, and wind and solar were supported with very modest investment and production tax credits, then the "free market" would ensure the accomplishment of Gore's goal, and more.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on July 29, 2008 at 9:55 AM | PERMALINK

As I understand it, there is a wide range of opinion between economists as to whether cap-and-trade, carbon taxes, or somewhere in between is better, both from a national and an international perspective.

I think that most economists favor taxes for their simplicity. The biggest pro C&T contingent are the enviros, who like the "guaranteed" aspect of C&T and fail to understand the difficulties in implementation and/or opaque porkiness.

Neither group contributes to campaigns, so McCain will go for neither -- favoring a GM-built hydrogen car or some such nonsense.

Posted by: David Zetland on July 29, 2008 at 10:00 AM | PERMALINK

Cap-and-trade is going to be a huge windfall for Wall Street. Already, most major Wall Street firms have set up carbon trading desks and are using capital to finance projects in other countries governed by Kyoto. Since Wall Street tends to get what it wants when Congress is concerned (see cap gains tax cuts under Clinton, dividend tax cuts under Bush), I would not be surprised to see cap and trade become a major push by either McCain or Obama over the next couple of years, especially with trading firms becoming more and more desperate for new streams of earnings.

Posted by: scoopthecheapies on July 29, 2008 at 10:29 AM | PERMALINK

Will cap and trade be abandoned? I don't know, do Americans like paying more for gasoline and electricity? No? Then cap and trade is dead regardless of who the president is in 2009. So are additional carbon taxes for the same reason.

Get used to global warming, we will be burning even more carbon 25 years from now.

Posted by: Yancey Ward on July 29, 2008 at 11:10 AM | PERMALINK

I'm beginning to wonder if it even matters what McCain thinks because he seems so destine for irrelevancy.

And it doesn't matter what we think of Obama either, we'll get em anyway, just cause McCain really isn't even in the running, but simply a place card to hold the illusion that there is somebody up for Repug Prezinut this term. You get the feeling that even Bush, Cheney and especially Karl Rove wouldn't give old McSame the time of day.

Just too much Repug bad blood under the bridge and way down the river and not worth the effort. Old McSame is always going to be one gaff after another with the age thing, the lack of education thing. I don't think we need a crystal ball to see that it's all down hill from here on in.

Posted by: Me_again on July 29, 2008 at 11:36 AM | PERMALINK

Yancey Ward wrote: "Get used to global warming, we will be burning even more carbon 25 years from now."

In which case, human civilization will not survive to see the end of the 21st century, and there is a very high probability of a global ecological collapse that will wipe out the rich, diverse, robust Holocene biosphere and with it the human species. But that's a small price to pay to keep gasoline prices low for today's Americans.

Get used to the absence of a future.

The fact is that within 5 to 10 years, solar and wind generated electricity will be cheaper than coal generated electricity, and much cheaper than the dwindling supplies of oil or prodigiously expensive fuels from oil shale or tar sands, and there will be absolutely no economic reason to continue burning fossil fuels.

The only ones who gain by prolonging the fossil fuel era are the giant ultra-rich fossil fuel corporations, and their trillion dollar profits come at the lethal expense of the rest of us, and of all life on Earth.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on July 29, 2008 at 12:21 PM | PERMALINK

SA,

I wish that I thought you were right. Scalability and base/peak load problems are going to dog wind and solar for some time to come.

Posted by: Brian on July 29, 2008 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

Brian wrote: "Scalability and base/peak load problems are going to dog wind and solar for some time to come."

I don't know what you think the problem is with "scalability". Both solar and wind can be scaled up much more rapidly than either coal or nuclear. Construction times for utility-scale wind turbine "farms" and concentrating solar thermal power plants are a fraction of those for new coal, natural gas or nuclear power plants.

And of course, wind and solar have the advantage that they can be easily scaled down -- distributed photovoltaics and wind microturbines will provide a substantial portion of our electricity in the future, eliminating the need to build large, centralized, polluting power plants to provide peak power.

And contrary to fossil fuel industry propaganda, a properly designed portfolio of wind and solar generation can indeed provide baseload utility power. This has already been demonstrated in Germany; see also this article by the Rocky Mountain Institute.

Concentrating solar thermal power plants already have the ability to store excess heat for generating electricity after dark. It is much more efficient to store excess energy as heat than to store electricity. Nonetheless, technologies for utility-scale storage of electricity in lithium-ion batteries or flywheels already exist and are already being deployed.

As Al Gore pointed out in his recent speech, the main reason that people are skeptical of his goal of generating 100 percent of US electricity from wind, solar, geothermal and biofuel energy within ten years is that they are not aware of just how far advanced these technologies already are.

The actual state of solar and wind technology is a reason for optimism. The technology is ready for widespread deployment now. The reason for pessimism is the entrenched political opposition to doing so, in order to delay the inevitable transition and protect the profits of the fossil fuel and nuclear industries.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on July 29, 2008 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK

When the energy companies decide some kind of carbon limit can no longer be avoided the republican party will strongly support a cap and trade system where the credits are given to existing polluters.

Posted by: JeffF on July 29, 2008 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

The problem is that global temperatures have been stable to slightly lower over the past ten years, notwithstanding the vast amounts of CO2 added to the atmosphere during that period. The advocates of the manmade global warming hypothesis have not offered any kind of convincing explanation for this failure of the facts to fit their predictions. If and when they can do so, or if global temperatures ever start going up again, well, I suppose in that case there might be sufficient political will to impose trillions of dollars of expense onto the public in order to reduce CO2 emissions.

Posted by: DBL on July 29, 2008 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

DBL wrote: "The problem is that global temperatures have been stable to slightly lower over the past ten years, notwithstanding the vast amounts of CO2 added to the atmosphere during that period. The advocates of the manmade global warming hypothesis have not offered any kind of convincing explanation for this failure of the facts to fit their predictions."

That is absolute BS. It is nothing but rote recitation of the fake, phony, pseudoscientific bunk published by Exxon-Mobil funded propaganda mills.

Your assertion that "global temperatures have been stable to slightly lower over the past ten years" is a flat out lie.

Your assertion that the empirically observed facts of global warming are inconsistent with theory is another flat out lie.

Tell me, DBL, why do you enjoy being a mental slave of Exxon-Mobil?

Posted by: SecularAnimist on July 29, 2008 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK

DBL wrote: "I suppose in that case there might be sufficient political will to impose trillions of dollars of expense onto the public in order to reduce CO2 emissions."

This is just more Exxon-Mobil scripted BS. The cost of reducing CO2 emissions is nowhere near "trillions of dollars".

"Trillions of dollars" is the amount of profit that Exxon-Mobil and the other fossil fuel corporations will lose if we phase out the consumption of their toxic, polluting fuels in favor of clean, free, abundant, endless wind and solar energy. It is that transfer of wealth from the old, dinosaur fossil fuel energy industries to the new renewable energy industries of the 21st century that Exxon-Mobil and its ilk are trying to delay with their sickening disinformation campaigns, through which they spoon-feed fake, phony, pseudoscientific BS to weak-minded, ignorant, gullible dupes like yourself.

And of course you have no objection to squandering trillions of dollars of the taxpayers' money to use the US military as the oil corporations' mercenary army to seize control of Middle Eastern oil.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on July 29, 2008 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

SA,
I do adore the way you can make a serious argument on the merits without resorting to ad hominem attacks.

Posted by: DBL on July 29, 2008 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

SA,

For youre reference, please see the graphs reprinted at: http://www.news.com.au/heraldsun/story/0,21985,24036602-25717,00.html

There may well be scientific explanations for the failure of the earth's temperature to rise over the past decade as predicted by the computer models. Maybe the past decade is an anomaly for some reason, an interval in a long-term period of warming. If so, what's the cause of the anomaly? How great is its effect? How long will it last? In any event, the fact remains that the computer model on which the global warming hypothesis is based does not explain the past decade's temperatures.

Posted by: dbl on July 29, 2008 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

Secular Animist,

Life on this planet is not going to end because of global warming. People who say that it will are usually suspected of being lunatics.

I do believe that eventually fossil fuels will reach the point where their actual physical supply will not be able to fill the increasing demands for energy (conventional petroleum may already be at this stage), and this change in relative costs will, at last, allow the more expensive alternatives to take up the load. However, coal will remain plentiful and cheap for some time to come, and there is every indication that we will be burning increasing amounts of it across the globe.

Posted by: Yancey Ward on July 29, 2008 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK

DBL, the graphs you link to are bunk. You should spend some time at www.realclimate.org informing yourself about real climate science. In fact you will find those very graphs thoroughly debunked there.

Yancey, you should inform yourself about the Permian–Triassic extinction event. It would take far, far less than that to cause the extinction of the human species, and your projected increase in fossil fuel use and corresponded increase in atmospheric CO2 concentrations will put us on an irreversible course in that direction.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on July 29, 2008 at 4:08 PM | PERMALINK

Yancey Ward wrote: "coal will remain plentiful and cheap for some time to come"

Coal is only "cheap" because those profit from its extraction and use are able to foist off ("externalize") the costs of the severe environmental and public health damages it causes on the public -- which is both theft and violence committed against all of us.

If those costs were internalized, for example by a carbon tax, coal would no longer be "cheap". Even without such a tax, wind-generated electricity is already approaching cost parity with coal-fired electricity, and both wind and solar electricity will be cheaper than coal within a few years.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on July 29, 2008 at 4:14 PM | PERMALINK

SecularAnimist: The obstacles are not technical or economic -- the obstacles are political...

My qualifier about "seemingly impossible" is because it is primarily a political problem, and as you stated, one of the most difficult sorts. We've done tremendous things in this country when there is the will to do so, but I am not sanguine that the force needed could be mustered to accomplish it in 10 years. But even if it took 15, 20 or 30 years, it's worth striving for, and a goal I think the electorate would get behind.

Posted by: has407 on July 29, 2008 at 10:37 PM | PERMALINK

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