When people arrive at the same policy recommendations but shift to the opposite rationale, it seems fair to doubt their objectivity

Tuesday, August 9th, 2022

There are two carbon calculation problems, Arnold Kling explains, and they are interdependent:

One problem is to figure out the optimal amount of carbon emission reduction. That means making a judgment about how much harm carbon emissions cause (and this relies on unreliable models) and comparing this with the cost of the carbon-emission reduction measures. The other problem is to figure the optimal carbon-emission reduction measures, which will in turn help you to calculate the cost of those measures.

When someone makes a specific proposal, such as changing fertilizer use, I want to say: Show Your Work. That is, show the assumptions and calculations that you made in order to arrive at this proposal. Otherwise, it may not even be true that your proposal would reduce carbon emissions.

In the economy, central planners face a well-known calculation problem. Even when they are sure that the market is getting things wrong, they usually lack a way to measure the degree of correction needed.

To a first approximation, the best way to have a sustainable economy is to let the market work. In order to determine sustainability, markets perform a complex calculation problem. If a firm’s output sells for more than the cost of its inputs, then its production process is sustainable, and it remains in business. If it sells for less, it experiences losses, and it goes out of business. No public official has knowledge that can enable a regulator to outperform the price system.

But there are costs that the market does not count. One cost that is on the minds of most policymakers today is the cost of carbon emissions, which add to greenhouse gases and hence to global warming.

Markets can still help in addressing the carbon emissions calculation problem.


As an aside, I should point out that animosity toward gasoline-fueled automobiles and “smokestack” industry long preceded the focus on global warming. Fifty years ago, one concern was air pollution. This was a fair concern, and I would say that the regulators who mandated filtering systems probably got it right. Certainly, the air in Los Angeles is cleaner because cars no longer spew as much pollution. And the air in Pittsburgh is cleaner because it no longer is a steel town.

Also fifty years ago, there was a concern that we would soon run out of fossil fuels. This motivated President Carter and Congress to create the Department of Energy, tasked with developing alternative energy sources in what Mr. Carter called a “moral equivalent of war.”

The global warming issue shifted the rationale for opposing gasoline and “smokestack” industries. The concern that fossil fuels were subject to scarcity was replaced by a worry that they are too abundant. When people arrive at the same policy recommendations but shift to the opposite rationale, it seems fair to doubt their objectivity.


  1. David Foster says:

    “Carbon” is not the same thing as “CO2″…and I don’t think the use of that word is a harmless shortcut. A lot of people seen to think that “carbon emissions” refers to black particulates coming out of a smokestack.

  2. Goober says:

    Here’s the thing, they keep lying to get us on board with what they want us to do, instead of telling us the truth and explaining their rationale.

    They’ve done it with COVID, and look at the mistrust it has earned them.

    They think we’re stupid, and so dribbling with contempt, they choose to lie to us instead of telling us the truth.

    The reality of it is that oil is necessary for our current energy needs, but it isn’t evenly distributed throughout the planet. This creates extreme geopolitical power imbalances. It gives otherwise minor players a very serious place at the table. It forces us to cozy up to regimes that we would otherwise completely eschew and ignore, if not be outright hostile to.

    Oil, my friends, has been the major driver behind almost every war since, and including, World War 2; it being a driving factor behind the rationale causing both Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany to choose to go all “expansionist”. Pearl Harbor happened specifically because Japan wanted oil from the Dutch East Indies, and they couldn’t get it without causing a war between them and the USA, so they struck first. Every war subsequent to that either happened directly because of oil (Gulf wars, etc) or as a result of the geopolitical clusterfuck that occurred as a result of a previous war for oil.

    In the 1970s, Jimmy Carter saw that a world where we weren’t beholden to OPEC would be a good thing. And it undoubtedly would be a good thing to not have to cozy up to Saudi Arabia anymore, or to have to give two hot shits about what’s happening in the Middle East.

    But they can’t say that part out loud. Of course they can’t, at least not until an alternative is in place. So they lied. They said “peak oil” and then when that was essentially shown to be BS, they said “global warming,” which, to be fair, I totally buy into up to a point. I think we are having a non-zero effect on the climate, but I think there’s enough evidence out there to show that it won’t be a catastrophe, and I think a guy could even make the argument that it might even be net good. They’re doing it to try to get us to comply, because they can’t give us the actual reason until the alternative is in place.

    Worst part of all of it is that the alternative has been available all along, we’re just too stupid and ignorant to actually do it (nuclear).

    I think it’s all exacerbated by the fact that the powers that be have all heavily invested in “green” energy, so they don’t want nukes to prevail because they’re too focused on their own portfolio, instead of actually changing the world for good.

    But yeah, it’s pretty obvious to me that they just reflexively lie at this point, and have gotten so arrogant that they don’t even pretend to be good at it. They have just switched to mocking anyone pointing out the obvious lies as “conspiracy theorists”.

    I don’t think the vaccines kill anyone, for instance, but it’s obvious at this point that they don’t really work. But I get painted as an anti-vax conspiracy theorist for saying that, even though I’ve gotten every vaccination my doctor has recommended I get since…well, since ever. I’m not an anti-vax conspiracy theorist. I just think that the data shows that these specific vaccines that we were sold at great expense don’t actually do much. That’s not a conspiracy theory. Our triple vaxxed president just got COVID twice.

    Oh, wait, they moved the goalposts again to cover their lies, didn’t they? They never said that it would prevent catching COVID (LIE), just that it would lessen the symptoms. Again, a lie.

    They lie to us. They do it with the support of their own conscious and think that these are “noble lies”, but they are lies, nonetheless. They should really stop.

  3. DJB says:

    Only a small fraction of cars, mainly the oldest and most poorly maintained, cause the majority of the automotive pollution. See, for example, https://www.boston.com/cars/news-and-reviews/2015/05/14/study-most-car-related-air-pollution-comes-from-only-25-of-cars/

    Another study done in California (I couldn’t find the link) said something like 10% of the cars caused 90% of the pollution.

    Regardless of the precise numbers, forcing the dirtiest cars off the road would drastically reduce the global warming motivation for car electrification. It could certainly be done faster and more cheaply than electrification.

  4. Wang Wei Lin says:

    “One problem is to figure out the optimal amount of carbon emission reduction.”

    The biased answer is built into the biased assumption that carbon emissions need to be reduced. The charter of the IPCC assumed ‘global warming’ was happening before the research was done. This after years of warning us of global cooling by the same people. These parasites will say anything. If you look at geological time many periods had high ‘carbon’ and were verdant beyond imagination.

  5. Goober says:

    DJB, the issue is that they’re talking about every pollutant except CO2 in that article.

    Regardless of efficiency or emissions systems, and car will make X amount of CO2 for X amount of gasoline burned (with slight variations for slight reasons, but that’s unimportant). Even the most clean, most emissions-free ICE car makes the same amount of CO2 per gallon burned as the old clunker down the street.

    The only way to reduce CO2 is to increase MPG, but a 20-year-old car gets pretty close the same MPG as a modern car, because we’re nearing the limits of ICE efficiency.

    Anyway, that’s a long way to say that you’re kind of distracting from the actual conversation with your post, since it’s irrelevant to the discussion at hand.

    Your point of reducing OTHER harmful emissions stands, but focusing on the 25% of super-emitters would accomplish nothing as pertains to CO2 (or close enough to it).

Leave a Reply