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Rhode Island’s Very Own Green New Deal

How much more money can Rhode Island’s political class take from your pocket using green energy as an excuse?

The Ocean State has already signed on to the Transport and Climate Initiative, a cabal of Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states designed to foster a radical change (for the worse) to our economic well-being through costly green energy policies.

Indeed, this very well could be Rhode Island own version of the “Green New Deal,” driving costs higher and higher.

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The Short Leap from Progressive Energy Plans to Dictatorship

Pause a moment and imagine what the plan for net-zero emissions proposed by the Rhode Island Progressive Democrats of America actually means:

The plan for Cranston is to power the city with a combination of sources. Thirty percent of homes would be fitted with rooftop solar arrays while commercial, industrial and town-owned sites would have ground-mounted, rooftop or canopy systems. Vertical wind turbines — smaller and narrower than the conventional three-bladed ones — would also go up in parts of the city.

Batteries would store energy for when it’s needed and the power would be distributed on a modernized grid. Finally, aggressive energy-efficiency programs would accelerate upgrades in lighting and heating and cooling as well as insulation improvements in homes and buildings. The plan would avoid developing green space.

Around one out of every three houses in the city would have to have rooftop solar, in addition to businesses and government buildings.  These wind turbine things would be all over the place.  Somewhere, somehow, the city would house and maintain giant batteries.  Oh, and the government would embark on an “aggressive” campaign to force property owners to upgrade their electrical systems, their heating and cooling systems, and their insulation.  (One suspects that’s not the extent of the new impositions.)

All of this in a state where even managing to “modernize” our energy grid would be a miracle of public policy, given political and economic realities.

In short, this is not a serious proposal. It’s somewhere between an ideological fantasy promoted to push people away from their sense of liberty and a green-energy-industry sales pitch to an overly credulous population.

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Where the Utility Money Comes From

The double-take-inspiring headline in the Providence Journal is, “Regulators: Utilities, not customers, should pay for gas outage on Aquidneck Island.”

While perfectly willing to believe there was some form of negligence on the part of the utilities when the natural gas stopped flowing in January, we might also be tempted to ask:  Where do the regulators think the utilities’ money comes from?  Sure, $25 million can come from reductions imposed on those who invest their time or money in the organization or from planned operational expenses or some other nook or cranny of the business, but all money that goes out ultimately has to come in, and that means customers.

No doubt, there’s waste to be found in the entire system (utilities are, after all, quasi-governmental in their nature), but taking money from different areas will have consequences.  If the organization becomes less profitable, or the possibility of profit becomes riskier, then fewer will be willing to make a career or a company out of it.

Now turn and look at the issue in the other direction.  If we want 100% uptime in our utilities under all circumstances, we’re going to have to build in waste and redundancy.  There would have to be people (unionized people) watching things that don’t actually have to be watched 99% of the time, like the faulty valve in this case.  There would have to be multiple pipes carrying multiple streams of fuel along multiple paths so losing one wouldn’t shut anything down.

In Rhode Island’s current situation, extra personnel is made impossible by regulations that keep prices down through political force while keeping costs high.  The extra infrastructure is made impossibly by the NIMBYism and environmental extremism of the region and the regulations that follow on those things.

So, whether the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers was correct in its judgment in this case is not the most important question for Rhode Islanders to ponder.  What sort of energy reality do we want in the Ocean State, and what are we willing and able to do to bring it about?  Unfortunately, our civic system has developed such that nobody benefits sufficiently in the moment from finding a solution for the long term in order to promote one, and too many people benefit from keeping a pleasant, superficial fantasy alive.

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A Question of Public Safety

Let’s begin with the necessary caveat that advocates and government agencies have incentive to make problems seem critical and to make increased funding seem to be the solution.  That said, Alex Kuffner’s reporting for the Providence Journal does raise a red flag worth noticing:

Environmental organization Save The Bay blames the disrepair of the state’s dams on inadequate staffing in the dam safety program, a problem that plagues the DEM as a whole, resulting, the Providence-based advocacy group argues, in a diminishment of the agency’s enforcement capabilities and an increased threat to public safety.

“We are literally one storm away from loss of life,” said Kendra Beaver, staff attorney with Save The Bay and a former chief legal counsel at the DEM.

So, here’s the next question we must ask:  Where is all the money going?  The state has a $10 billion budget.  Rhode Island must be doing something wrong if the condition of dams has reached the point of near certain catastrophe.

To be fair, Kuffner’s very long article does moderate Beaver’s assertion, but in doing so, it only amplifies the relevant question:  What’s the point, if it isn’t the need for more resources?  And that brings us back to: Where is all the money going?

Read mainstream news stories for long, and you’ll become very familiar with the “here’s a problem in need of more taxpayer dollars” genre.  Maybe what we need is more skepticism about what the priorities of government should be.

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Freedom… From the Progressive Point of View

Perhaps the most clarifying statement in Rhode Island politics, recently, came from one of the candidates now involved with Matt Brown’s Political Cooperative (which, despite the name, is not an alt-country band):

“Thought I may be the epitome of the American dream I cannot sit around and watch while many of my brothers and sisters are denied a shot at that very dream,″ said Jonathan Acosta, tracing his own story from “first generation American born to undocumented migrants from Colombia″ to the Ivy League.

“I believe that we are not free until we have dismantled structural inequality, developed sustainable clean energy, enacted a $15 minimum wage that pays equal pay for equal work, extended healthcare for all, provide[d] affordable housing, ensured quality public education starting at Pre-K, undergone campaign finance reform, criminal justice reform, and implemented sensible gun control,″ said Acosta, running for the Senate seat currently held by Elizabeth Crowley, D-Central Falls.

So, to Mr. Acosta, we’re not free until we’ve taken from some categories of people to give to others, limited people’s energy options to benefit fashionable technologies, forbidden employers and employees from setting a mutually agreeable value on work to be done, taken money from some people in order to pay for others’ health care (as defined by a vote-buying government) and/or put price controls on what providers can charge, placed restrictions on who can live where and what they can build, tightened the regulation of politics with limits on the donations and privacy of those who become politically active, and reduced the rights guaranteed under the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution.

If that doesn’t match your understanding of “freedom,” you’re not alone.  Indeed, by its mission, this “cooperative” is cooperating against anybody whose understanding of freedom differs, because it cannot possibly cooperate with anybody who disagrees.  You simply can’t hold a definition of freedom that doesn’t have satisfactory outcomes for the interest groups that progressives have targeted.

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Global Climate Strike: An Inconvenient Data Point; Your Global Warming Confessions

Today, children around the world are participating in a Global Climate Strike. I won’t criticize them for this highly misguided activity but rather the adults – including, notably and disturbingly, educators – who have foisted on them a hysteria that is almost entirely free of facts and reasoning. For example, one important data point these children are almost certainly not learning in school or anywhere: the actual extent of the greenhouse gases generated by humans and, thereby, what we can conclude about our (very limited) culpability in global warming.

It is less than 6%. ALL of man’s fossil fueled activity – all factories, all power plants, all manufacturing, all cars, all countries, all 7.5 billion people – contributes less than 6% of greenhouse gases generated on the planet. The balance is generated naturally by Earth itself.

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The Once-ler Protects His Long-Term Interests

As part of a series called “Capitalism Is Saving the Planet,” Isaac Orr reviews the forestry industry in Minnesota for the Center of the American Experiment:

Did you know that Minnesota’s forests are flourishing? According to research from the U.S. Forest Service, forests account for 17.7 million acres of land in Minnesota out of a total of 54 million acres, meaning forest cover about 35 percent of the state. Furthermore, this number is increasing due in no small part to the fact that 51 percent of forested land in Minnesota is owned by the timber industry.

From 2012 to 2017, Minnesota’s forested land area increased by 755,000 acres, which equates to an increase of 1.7 percent. During this time, the number of live trees increased by one billion trees, increasing from 14 billion to 15 billion, which is a 7.1 percent increase in the number of trees in our state.

The image of the industrialist Once-ler denuding the world of Truffula trees for his own selfish gain does not appear to apply.  The companies are trying to balance their profits with preservation, utilizing new technologies and techniques to be more efficient.

The forestry industry has incentive to preserve the resource on which it depends.  So, even if we disregard people’s sense of right and wrong (which we shouldn’t do), self-interest is not divorced from reason.  Just so, workers who come into your home have incentive not to steal from you because the long-term benefit of trustworthiness is more valuable than just about anything in your house.

We should recognize, however, that all of this may apply only in a limited range of economic activity.  Cutting down and milling trees is a relatively difficult activity, so the barriers to entry are high, the participants relatively few, and the cutting relatively easy to track and regulate (whether through government or industrial practice).  In circumstances in which the profits are high and the players many, the tragedy of the commons will be more likely.

In other words, what this case study does most effectively is to remind us of the danger of blanket analyses and categorical thinking.  A moralistic children’s story can create a humanoid monster willing to destroy the planet for just a little profit, but we shouldn’t apply him for cookie cutter analysis of every business.

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A Different Way to Get Electricity from Solar Panels

Here’s a potential downside to solar panels that I haven’t seen anybody mention before:

A lighting strike likely caused a fire that broke out in a home on Winnisimet Drive Monday night, according to a fire official. …

“It struck the outside of the building,” said [Fire Chief Joseph] Mollo. “The home had a solar system and it looked like that may have somehow drawn the lighting.”

If this is more than a fluke, perhaps lightning rods of some kind should be standard accessories.  The next step would be to tie them into the system, somehow, to capture the energy.

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Overcoming the Green Religion

The Center of the American Experiment has done a comprehensive study finding that a 50% renewable goal is simply not a feasible goal for Minnesota, and the center’s president, John Hinderaker, summarizes some of the findings on PowerLine.  Basically, the technology isn’t there, and the costs aren’t reasonable, considering that:

Greenies will tell us, of course, that $80.2 billion, a declining economy and tens of thousands of jobs lost are a small price to pay to save the planet. But in fact, the reduction in CO2 emissions would be infinitesimal. Using the Obama administration’s highly questionable assumptions, achieving the 50% renewable target would reduce the Earth’s average temperature by 0.0006 degree Centigrade by 2100–an amount that is far too small to detect with even the most sophisticated equipment.

Liberals don’t actually believe that global warming caused by human CO2 emissions is an “existential threat” to mankind, as they like to say. If they really believed it, they would be campaigning to invade China and India, or to bomb their hundreds (if not thousands) of coal-fired power plants from the air. But I think that we can all agree that reducing global temperatures by 0.0006 of one degree isn’t saving anything.

Of course, if climate change really were the target of these policies — rather than less existential considerations like virtue signalling, socialism, and crony capitalism — advocates would be advocating to get the West over its fear of nuclear power.  (Although, we should make some allowance, on this count, because even if it would solve the problem, cult-like environmentalists tend to see nuclear technology as a Dark Power in opposition to the Light Power of wind and sun and trees and furry animals.)

Be that as it may, readers would do well to read through Hinderaker’s list of findings, if only for the reminder that these adventures in green virtue really do have harmful effects on economies and families.

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The Governor’s Progressive Priorities

A recent Providence Journal editorial highlights yet another indication that the administration of Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo isn’t exactly exhibiting a casual competence when it comes to the basic operations of state government. This time, the problem is the company with which the state has contracted to ensure that people in need are able to make it to their medical appointments, and the House Oversight Committee, led by Representative Patricia Serpa (D, West Warwick), is looking into it:

It has not escaped Ms. Serpa’s attention that there is a pattern of problems in state contracting. For many years, the executive branch has had trouble drafting strong contracts (without requiring an abundance of costly change orders), making sure services are properly implemented, and providing sufficient oversight once services have commenced. At the same time, the Raimondo administration has dramatically increased the number of public-relations people on its payroll.

Public-relations people on the payroll is just the start. Apparently, the governor also has plenty of time for things like this:

Gov. Gina Raimondo is all-in on a statewide bag ban and past opponents of the concept aren’t objecting.

Raimondo gave her support Feb. 14 at the final meeting of the Task Force to Tackle Plastics, an advisory board she created last July with the mission of cutting plastic pollution in the state.

That’s progressives (like socialists) for you: trying to save the world while letting those who rely on their competence for day-to-day operations suffer. The problem, at its bottom, is that people are willing to pay for certain services from government (for themselves and on behalf of others), but not so much for insider excesses and progressive schemes. So, to make way for the excesses and schemes, government has to scrimp on the things for which people are willing to pay so there’s money left over for the things for which they probably wouldn’t.

And at the end of the day, ensuring that the medical transportation vehicles run on time isn’t all that exciting.

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The Irrational and Rational in Real Estate and Climate Change

If this is correct, it would seem that — whatever they may tell politicians and pollsters — many Rhode Islanders don’t actually believe in global warming when it comes to putting their own skin in the game:

“The price of any asset, be it commodities, gold, stocks, depends fundamentally on people’s beliefs,” said Lint Barrage, assistant professor of economics and environmental studies at Brown University. “If people are excessively optimistic about the future value of an asset, there is potential for mispricing, and bubbles and overinvestment.”

Speaking Friday at a one-day conference at Brown on the political and economic consequences of climate change, Barrage described her research on the coastal property market, which included going door-to-door in Rhode Island and interviewing homeowners about flood risk. People with homes in federally designated flood zones tended to underestimate the risk of flooding when compared with people who lived further inland, she found.

“The reason all this matters is that markets cannot price risks efficiently if people don’t believe in them,” she said.

And if the risks of climate change aren’t being accurately factored into prices now, then it could mean a steep drop in values somewhere down the line.

Of course, people’s beliefs and the decisions they make based on them are complicated.  If a waterfront property is highly desirable and brings prestige right now, people may tend to discount the risk of owning it in the long term even if they fully believe that climate alarmists are not actually alarmists.

But then, on the other side of the ledger, one has to consider that — consciously or not — people assess risk to some extent on what they observe, rather than what they are told to expect.  Thus, they may pick up on the fact that warnings about sea-level increases tend not to match our experience.  They may also pick up on the fact that, when the alarmists try to present scary scenarios, they have to go way back in the past or project way out into the future.

In short, one can’t rule out the possibility that people are right to place these bets as they do.

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RI’s Leadership Role in the Climate Shakedown

Ocean State Current alumnus Kevin Mooney has an American Spectator article highlighting Rhode Island’s role in the vanguard of the inside-government attack on the fossil fuel industry:

In 2018, Rhode Island became the first state to file climate change litigation against 21 fossil fuel producers, a move that directly assaults the free speech rights of those who dared to voice a dissenting opinion on climate policy.

Sheldon Whitehouse, the state’s Democratic U.S. senator, joined with Governor Gina Raimondo and Attorney General Peter Kilmartin to announce the suit at a press conference last July. Rhode Island’s litigation closely mirrors lawsuits that have been filed by 14 municipalities across the U.S.

Although climate change litigants have repeatedly failed to successfully make their case in court, state attorneys general persist in reloading the same arguments.

That’s just the beginning of the sordid tale of political showmanship and lawyers’ fees that makes up this abuse of power.

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Governor’s Budget: The “Rhode To Serfdom”

Instead of seeking to shape Rhode Island’s future with the proven ideals of a free-society, Governor Raimondo’s proposed 2019-2020 budget is a stunning departure from America’s core values and, instead, would put our state on a “Rhode to Serfdom.”

The Governor’s regressive budget points us 180 degrees in the opposite direction of where we need to head, and would stifle any opportunity for growth.

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Making Actual Progress on the Environment

Statements of intention are important, of course, preliminary to action, but once some time has elapsed, what people do is much more important.  Writing in USA Today, Jon Gabriel argues that, by that principle, the United States cares much more about the environment than other members of the “international community”:

China was praised for signing on to the Paris Climate Agreement and in Argentina reaffirmed its commitment to controlling greenhouse gas emissions. Last year, however, China increased those emissions by 1.7 percent.

India, the fourth largest source for CO2, saw their emissions grow by 4.6 percent in 2017. Luckily for them, they too were praised for signing that “nonbinding communiqué.”

Overall, the European Union raised their CO2 output by 1.5 percent.

France, home of the Paris Agreement, is leading the diplomatic effort to save the planet. They increased their greenhouse gas emissions by 3.6 percent. …

From 2016 to 2017, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 2.7 percent. Emissions from large power plants declined 4.5 percent since 2016, and nearly 20 percent since 2011. All without signing a piece of paper in Paris or Buenos Aires.

As Glenn Reynolds adds, “it’s almost as if” the environmentalists (who opposed fracking, a leading contributor to U.S. improvements) are “more interested in submission to a transnational bureaucracy than in results.”  Americans should choose to continue with freedom, reason, and actual progress instead.

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A Hidden Subsidy in Solar

The problem of recycling solar energy panels has been in the news lately:

“The biggest issue is the misconception the recoverable materials are worth a lot,” [solar recycler Sam] Vanderhoof says. “We can pull out about 94 percent of the materials — but the market rate is $3.50 [per panel].” Most of that value is in silver. Vanderhoof thinks recycling costs could come down with scale, but the difficulty, he says, is “jump-starting the process.” Europe’s experience with mandating recycling with dedicated funding could be a guide.

A 2012 update to European Union electronics rules included specific regulations for solar panel recycling. As a result, EU countries have a more robust recycling program. This year, France opened what’s believed to be the first plant dedicated solely to recycling solar panels.

Vanderhoof would like to see a similar system set up in the U.S. “Like recycling here for cans and bottles,” he says. “Or if you go buy a new TV [in California], you pay upfront for the recycling.”

According to this expert working in the field, people should be paying into a recycling fund when they buy their panels.  Right now, that isn’t happening, and panels are coming online in a large wave.  That means somebody is going to have to cover that cost when it becomes a crisis — either the people who own the panels or everybody else.  (Have you noticed how some of the rooftop solar companies say you get to keep the panels after 20 years?)

Which of those will be the case depends on whether solar energy companies can remain a fashionable and powerful political lobby.  At the moment, we should just note how much of the cost of solar is not included in the price when people decide to deploy them.

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Changing Our Landscape to Gray and Black in Order to Be Green

Some years ago, back before it included two giant cooling towers, when I’d take that turn on Route 24 in Portsmouth that brings the Brayton Point power plant into view, I’d wonder how different it would feel if the structure in the distance were a medieval castle or something.

On the same stretch of highway, two separate wind turbines sit not far from the road, spinning away.  As suburban novelties, they bring almost a country feel, as if a couple of farmers installed them on their copious land to supplement their energy.  (Although, I’ll admit that driving through there at certain times of day is a little more unsettling than it used to be, because the flicker of the blades does spur a reaction.)

Reading Alex Kuffner’s Providence Journal article on proliferating turbines, along with the panic among local municipalities as solar companies swoop in more aggressively than expected, makes me wonder if we’ve really thought out how all of this fashionable renewable energy will change the character of Rhode Island:

The wind turbines appear up ahead as you drive west on Route 6, rising high on a hill over Johnston.

In a matter of weeks, Green Development, of North Kingstown, has installed six of the German-made behemoths that each stand 524 feet tall when their blade tips are at their highest point — higher than the Industrial Trust building in Providence.

They aren’t buildings, of course, but that’s essentially a few city blocks worth of whirling skyscrapers.  Add in the replacement of forested areas with fields of black solar panels, and the Ocean State will start to feel very different.

We should probably start thinking about that.  After all, we’re not only tolerating the change, we’re subsidizing it heavily through our taxes and our electric rates.

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How We Should Address Climate Change

Here’s another narrative-disrupting bit of information, this one from Michael Bastasch on The Daily Caller:

Greenhouse gas emissions continued to plummet during President Donald Trump’s first year in office, according to new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data.

Based on data from more than 8,000 large facilities, EPA found greenhouse gas emissions, mostly carbon dioxide, fell 2.7 percent from 2016 to 2017. Emissions from large power plants fell 4.5 percent from 2016 levels, according to EPA. …

Earlier this year, the Energy Information Administration reported that per-capita greenhouse gas emissions hit a 67-year low during Trump’s first year in office. …

[Meanwhile,] EPA’s new data follows news that, globally, greenhouse gas emissions are set to rise to historic highs by the end of the year, despite nearly 200 countries signing the Paris climate accord. Global greenhouse gas emissions also rose in 2017.

On the other side of all those questions about how much warming we should expect and who or what is causing it lies a whole ‘nother series of questions about how best to address it.  I’ve long been of the opinion that economic and technological progress is the only way forward.

If we’re really only 12 years from a point of no return that could only be averted by the impossible decision of the people of the planet to hand over their freedom to a group of unaccountable global elites, then the only way out really is through.  Set a reduction in fossil fuels as a goal — a good thing — and then step back.  Bureaucrats are neither well positioned nor vested with the ideal incentives to understand what will achieve the end and what won’t.

This is another area in which, it seems to me, the constant need of progressives to filter everything through government is harmful even to their own ends (to the extent that they have ends other than the accumulation of power).

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When Science Comes with an Underlying Hope

An essay on NRO by Oren Cass is worth a read for the broad-ranging illustration it provides of the state of politicized science these days.  His opening vignette is perfect:

The president of the United States had just cited his work with approval during a Rose Garden speech announcing a major change in American policy, and MIT economist John Reilly was speaking with National Public Radio. “I’m so sorry,” said host Barbara Howard. “Yeah,” Reilly replied.

This was not a triumph but a tragedy, because the president in question was Donald Trump. And the action taken was withdrawal of the United States from the Paris climate agreement.

Trump had cited Reilly’s work correctly, saying: “Even if the Paris Agreement were implemented in full” using Reilly’s economic projections, “. . . it is estimated it would only produce a two-tenths of one degree . . . Celsius reduction in global temperature by the year 2100.” But as Reilly explained on NPR, “All of us here believe the Paris agreement was an important step forward, so, to have our work used as an excuse to withdraw it is exactly the reverse of what we imagined hoping it would do.”

In other words, this isn’t about science, but about belief, and in this view, science is supposed to find evidence confirming progressive assumptions.  That’s what it means to “believe in science.”

As Cass elaborates, this is especially a problem for people who profess to believe in data-driven public policy.  If their data starts to raise doubts about their policies, and rather than adjust the policies, they look for new data, the whole thing begins to seem a bit like a scam.  More from Cass:

Some check is needed on the impulse to slice and dice whatever results the research might yield into whatever conclusion the research community “imagined hoping” it would reach. In theory, peer review should do just that. But in this respect, the leftward lean of the ivory tower is as problematic for its distortion of the knowledge that feeds public-policy debates as it is for its suffocating effect on students and the broader culture. Peer review changes from feature to bug when the peers form an echo chamber of like-minded individuals pursuing the same ends. Academic journals become talking-points memos when they time the publication of unreviewed commentaries for maximum im­pact on political debates.

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Tempering the Terror of a Climate Doom Report

WPRI reporter Tim White tweeted that this New York Times article about the United Nations’ accelerated doom-saying about climate change is “truly terrifying.”  My response was to ask if this section (emphasis added) doesn’t set off his alarm bells:

Avoiding the most serious damage requires transforming the world economy within just a few years, said the authors, who estimate that the damage would come at a cost of $54 trillion. But while they conclude that it is technically possible to achieve the rapid changes required to avoid 2.7 degrees of warming, they concede that it may be politically unlikely.

Look, one needn’t be a climate change skeptic to acknowledge the layers of assumptions that go into these scary warnings.  First, one must ignore the lack of warming over the last two decades and assume that the models will be more accurate going forward.  Then, one must assume that the change really does derive from human activity and that it’s possible to avert the worst.  Then, another wave assumptions comes with predictions about the effect on weather, creating soaking rains where that will be harmful and droughts where that would be harmful, all coming together in a way that doesn’t equalize the effects (by, for example, simply moving where farming must be done).  Add in the effect of technology and changes in energy production that have made the United States a leader in CO2 reduction.  And don’t forget that one must balance the estimated $54 trillion in costs from warming against whatever the cost would be to rework our economy — including an assessment of the people who bear those costs.

Put that all on a scale that pivots on the promise that giving more power to the people who brought the warning, and a tempered reaction to the terror is justified.

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Who Profits from Deepwater Cronyism

Is a Danish company’s purchase of Rhode Island–based Deepwater Wind relevant to a discussion about corporate cronyism in our government?

Providence-based Deepwater Wind announced Monday that Orsted has entered into an agreement to buy it. Orsted says it’s paying $510 million. …

Deepwater Wind says it’ll expand in the coming years, making Providence and Boston the two major hubs of the company’s U.S. offshore wind activities.

The time line goes like this:  To his shame, Republican Governor Donald Carcieri guaranteed long-term profits for a green energy company run by his former chief of staff.  Earlier this year, Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo surprised Rhode Island by announcing a secret deal to guarantee the company more profits (and then immediately began fundraising off it).

Now the company’s owners have sold it off to ∅rsted, no doubt at tremendous personal profit.  There’s a reason CEO Jeffrey Grybowski hands out about $4,000 per year to key decision-makers in government, with Gina Raimondo taking the lead since 2010, at $6,300 total.  So far this year, Grybowski has given the max to Raimondo, Democrat Aaron Regunberg, Republican Allan Fung, and Republican Patricia Morgan — hedging his bets, it would seem.

Rhode Islanders should push back against these gambles.  If companies from anywhere in the world can make make a profit in Rhode Island while offering its people something for which they are willing to pay, then we should welcome them for that mutually beneficial exchange.  But when our political overlords force us to guarantee profits, the benefits are always imbalanced toward connected insiders.

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Betting the Farm on a Free-Market Solution

Courtesy of EcoRI, here’s an interesting take on a Tiverton farm that is apparently soon to become a solar power plant:

The 72-acre farm is filled with history and habitat. Thousands of trees, a pond alive with frogs, an 18th-century farmhouse, and the grave of an American Revolutionary War soldier are among the property’s many treasures, buried or otherwise.

Julie Munafo’s family has owned Wingover Farm since 1970s, but a pending sale could lead to the destruction of more Rhode Island open space — another act in a growing pattern that sacrifices natural resources for energy production.

The state — thanks to generous economic incentives that are energizing shortsighted development — is paying for the rampant expansion of its renewable-energy portfolio, mostly ground-mounted solar panels, with forests and farmland.

The interesting part is that an environmentalist publication is using a notably contra-government tone in favor of preserving the open space.  The only semblance of an answer mentioned in Frank Carini’s article is for people to attend meetings to help figure out better rules for placing solar farms, but that is insufficient on its face.  The problem will remain that (at the behest of environmentalists) the government has created financial incentive for solar farms.  Making it more difficult to site them will only raise the cost, which is just another way to lower the subsidy.

Eliminating the subsidies altogether would be a better option.  The progressive complaint against free-market solutions is that they give people or groups with money an advantage, but progressive solutions that leverage government give people or groups with power an advantage (and, of course, money is one source of power).  At least in the free market, people with money are competing with other people with money.

Happily, those with more-material intentions will be the most keen to make sure their investments are well placed and efficient, while those with more-altruistic intentions will have an edge in projects that have a moral or aesthetic angle.  A nostalgic family looking to offload a farm, for instance, might sell it for less to developer who plans to sacrifice profit for preservation.

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Giving a Little Balanced Economic Thinking to Climate Change and the Poor

One needn’t agree with everything a climate change skeptic says to observe something conspicuous from the alarmist side.  They rarely treat the question of climate change as an issue with unfortunate trade-offs, as Byorn Lomborg does in an essay for the New York Post:

Activist organizations like Worldwatch argue that higher temperatures will make more people hungry, so drastic carbon cuts are needed. But a comprehensive new study published in Nature Climate Change led by researchers from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis has found that strong global climate action would cause far more hunger and food insecurity than climate change itself.

The scientists used eight global-agricultural models to analyze various scenarios between now and 2050. These models suggest, on average, that climate change could put an extra 24 million people at risk of hunger. But a global carbon tax would increase food prices and push 78 million more people into risk of hunger. The areas expected to be most vulnerable are sub-Saharan Africa and India.

Indeed, the attitude of alarmists is pretty good evidence that their solutions come before their reason for them, because the depth of analysis is lacking.  A promotional interview of progressive candidate for lieutenant governor Aaron Regunberg that Rhode Island Public Radio (RIPR) misleadingly presents as a “debate” contains a good example.

Regunberg pitches the move to reduce the flow of traditional energy into the state as a good economic trade-off.  Imported fuel sends our energy dollars out of state, he says, while home-grown green energy production keeps energy dollars here.  Even without going into the ways in which modern companies are constructed (with supply lines crossing many borders), we can observe Regunberg’s lack of economic depth.

If imported traditional energy is (let’s just say) half the cost of local green energy, it is a cold comfort to local residents that they’re spending twice as much on energy, but with the extra going people who happen to share their state.  On the commercial side, local businesses could reinvest that money in themselves.  In both cases, all of the extra money going into the local green machine is coming out of the local economy anyway.

As with Regunberg’s claims about single-payer health care, progressives insist that their policies are 100% upside and the only reason to disagree is some sort of hatred or greed. On its face, that’s foolish.

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The Demagogue Cycle of Energy

This Providence Journal editorial makes an important point:

Some politicians have been critical of National Grid for a proposed 19 percent increase in the electric bill for the typical residential user starting Oct. 1. It’s a frightening number, to be sure. The irony is, politicians have a greater influence over that number than the energy distribution company.

The proposed 19 percent — painful to Rhode Islanders and their economy, if approved by the state — is not a profit center for National Grid. It is the pass-through cost of energy. It gains the company nothing other than angry customers.

Of course, the utility doesn’t have to worry but so much about angering customers, given that it is a monopolistic utility.  But the key point is spot on:  Every year, politicians layer on new regulations that make energy more expensive and cave to activists who wish to prevent the development of any traditional energy sources.  As they drive up the price, it is that much easier to whip up anger at the messenger.

If one is inclined to ponder cui bono, this is an excellent topic.  And as the editorial notes, if one is inclined to ponder who doesn’t benefit, the answer is all of us.

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