Climate Change, Cap, Trade, and the End of the Industrial West

Hey here’s a question to start your Wednesday off with. If Bernie Madoff gets 150 years in prison for running a Ponzi scheme, what do you think the people who designed Social Security and the Superannuation scheme ought to get?

And speaking of colossally stupid government programs, you may have seen the news that the U.S. House of Representatives passed a climate change bill on Saturday by a narrow vote of 219-212. The cap-and-trade bill, otherwise known as Waxman-Markey (for the nominal writers of the bill), mandates that U.S. manufacturers and utilities reduce carbon emissions 17% from 2005 levels by 2020 and 83% by 2050.

Under the sausage making process that is the American Congress, the bill was filled with compromises. Congressmen from coal-producing states or states with lots of manufacturing jobs had to be bribed into supporting it through various means. It must now go the Senate, which must pass its own version of the bill.

If the Senate bill is different from the House bill (and it almost always is, given the different agendas in both bodies and the need for more bribes), the two bills go to “reconciliation.” That’s where a committee made of members from both houses settles on a final compromise version of the two bills and sends them back to their respective bodies to be voted on. Then it gets sent to the President to become the law of the land.

By the way you may have missed an amendment to the bill that’s stirred a bit of controversy. It was inserted the night before among the bill’s 1,200 pages, which you can be sure none of America’s elected officials actually read. The amendment placates Congressmen from Rust Belt states who worry about losing even more manufacturing jobs to the developing world (China). It requires the U.S. President to make a “border adjustment” on goods from countries that do not cap or reduce carbon emissions by 2020. It’s a tariff.

Already President Obama has backed off that particular amendment. He says, “At a time when the economy worldwide is still deep in recession and we’ve seen a significant drop in global trade, I think we have to be very careful about sending any protectionist signals out there.” Very careful, sure. But you already did send the signal didn’t you?

For what it’s worth, we think this was all an exercise in political window dressing to get some version of a bill passed. If the Senate and the House actually agree on a climate change bill that puts a high tax on carbon, then the apotheosis of Obama will be complete.

We will take The One at his word, though. Besides, as everyone knows, the real purpose of the bill is not to start a trade war (although it may do so). The purpose is to make conventional energy more expensive AND—in an era of declining government tax receipts and rising liabilities—to create a huge new source of government revenues by taxing carbon. It’s a revenue and power grab by an institution (the Nation state) that finds itself increasingly off-balance.

It’s also a massive project in socioeconomic engineering that ignores the reality (and physics) of energy generation in an industrial society. It’s true the world could benefit from cleaner and cheaper energy. But cleaner and more expensive energy is a recipe for economic suicide. It’s something Western nations seem particularly keen on committing, although we can’t really figure out why. It could be that the global Left simply finds modern life aesthetically ugly and consumerism (with all that pesky individual choice) a vulgarity that should be destroyed via legislation.

But speaking strictly in economic terms, unless a region or a country has ample hydroelectric or geothermal resources, it’s impossible to meet base load electricity needs reliably with renewable energy. Advocates envision a world full of ultra-long life batteries, windmills, and solar farms. But it’s just a fantasy. If the climate bills become law in Australia and America, it will accelerate the deindustrialising of Western economies and mean the transfer of even more manufacturing jobs to the developing world.

Of course maybe that’s just what the architects of these laws want. Who knows? We know they want to tax productive enterprise and make the bulk of the population dependent on government handouts. That makes people compliant and easily controllable. That is big government Utopia. Advancing the fears of climate change is the easiest way to get more control.

We’d expect to see the construction of a lot more natural gas fired power plants in the coming years in the West (although they are more expensive than coal-fired plants). All those re-chargeable plug-in hybrids have to get their electrons from somewhere. If it’s not going to be coal (which will be taxed out of existence), it’s probably going to be cleaner-burning natural gas power plants, powered by both conventional and unconventional gas.

Right now, global LNG capacity is rising and stockpiles are fairly high. But if you keep your eye on the big picture and we see a transition of the world’s power plant fleet from coal to natural gas, it obviously favours gas producers and explorers. Australia is moving ahead by leaps and bounds in this area with conventional offshore production in the North West Shelf and Timor Sea and more unconventional production (hopefully) from coal-seam-gas in Queensland.

Dan Denning

July 1, 2009

The Daily Reckoning