Saturday, September 08, 2007

Channel 4 on Demand

The programme I appeared on yesterday evening, the Great Global Warming Debate, is available for free for 30 days on Channel 4 On Demand. You can get the On Demand service here. It seems to work pretty well.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Business Green blog on green taxes

This blog sounds like it is written by someone with aspirations to be an expert on green issues. Unfortunately, their attacks on our study on green taxes are utterly facile. Hopefully business isn't actually taking environmental policy advice from these people. I'll leave aside the lazy ad hominems and deal with the substantive criticisms:

"As The Treasury has already pointed out the TPA report classifies as green taxes measures such as fuel duty, road tax and air passenger duty which the government does not recognise as purely environmental taxes."

These are clearly green taxes. They place a particular burden on activities that result in greenhouse gas emissions. Don't take my word for it, take the Treasury's: look at the last budget report where increases in Fuel Duty and Air Passenger Duty were included in the chapter "Protecting the environment" (PDF). While they may have other purposes, a central contention of our report is that these are in fact devices for raising the tax burden while minimising political protest, if these aren't green taxes the whole concept is utterly meaningless.

"Furthermore, its research offers no clear definition of "social costs". Instead it simply takes an average of four other reports into the social costs of CO2 emissions. These include the Stern Report and research from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change but appear to have been selected based on the undefined criteria that they are "the most widely quoted official and academic estimates of the social cost"."

There is no need for us to define social cost. The term is pretty clearly defined and in common usage in the rest of the literature. It is used as a proxy for the optimal level of taxation throughout the discipline of climate-change economics. If we reinvent the wheel each time we conduct a study we'll waste a lot of time.

There is no objective criteria which one can use to decide which social cost studies should be used. I absolutely stand by our subjective judgement. If anyone can name a study with more justification to be in our list then please let me know but till then I think our selection is pretty authoritative. The most senior academics in the field and the UN body charged with establishing the state of climate change science for the international community.

The only objective alternative is to use every peer-reviewed study. If we had done that Stern, whose estimate is an alarmist outlier, would have been diluted far more and our study would have shown green taxes to be even more excessive than it does now. The social cost estimate would have been more like that of the IPCC or Tol (who has just released a new, lower, estimate of social cost), both give an estimate lower than the average we used.

"The highest figure quoted by the TPA research, from the Stern Report, puts the social cost of the UK's CO2 emissions in 2005 at £30.5bn, while the lowest estimate from research by William Nordhaus puts it at just £2.7bn. As such if it had just focused on the Stern Report figure or perhaps added in other figures to reflect the fact that some scientists regard the Stern Report's analysis as too optimistic then the TPA's research would have found itself arguing that green taxes were far too low."

There are massive problems with Stern's methodology that we discussed in Box 1.3 of our report. These have led to his report being rejected by the most respected climate change economists. If BusinessGreen.Com want us to use that estimate alone they will need to address some of those arguments.

There are very few credible studies that think Stern's analysis was too optimistic. In the peer-reviewed literature his result is at the extremely pessimistic end of the spectrum. I'll reiterate: if we had included more studies we would have reduced our estimate of the social cost and increased our estimate of the extent that green taxes are excessive.

If this and the Lib Dem statement are the best the green movement can offer in response to our report then they are on very weak ground.

The challenge of integration examined empirically

It may not seem like news that Muslim populations are not integrating into the communities around them. This study, via Chris Dillow, still seems important. It provides statistical confirmation that we have a very serious and novel problem; that we're not just looking at the integration of other communities with rose-tinted spectacles and ascribing to Muslims problems integrating that all immigrants share. Muslim immigrants do not integrate like other communities as they spend more time here and improve their socio-economic status.

The study only looks at the UK but I'd guess its results replicate throughout Europe. It has long appeared that the scale of a country's difficulties with integrating its Muslim population varied, more than anything, with that population's size. While with previous waves of immigration some countries seemed to do better than others, Britain in particular appeared to have done well, now all countries are faring pretty much equally poorly. The understanding of why Muslims struggle to integrate that I came to the best part of a year ago is still pretty solid I think.

This is a very serious problem. It means a clash of values and perspectives within Europe that few are willing to confront. Instead everyone will avoid the problem as the continent sleepwalks towards disaster. The few solutions we do have in mind, such as seeking physical integration in the hope that social integration will follow, fail dismally according to this research.

With these kinds of social trends we should be thinking very carefully about where our multi-ethnic community is going. Unfortunately, the debate over community cohesion and integration tends to be dominated by a lot of very superficial thinking.

Channel 4 tonight

Barring any major suprises I should be on Channel 4 at 7.30pm in the programme "The Great Green Debate". Essentially the format is four panelists who are disproportionately green (3 to 1) trying to convert an audience which is disproportionately sceptical.

It made for an interesting dynamic. Mark Pennington, as the sceptic on the panel, was excellent. He didn't challenge the science, accepted that the weight of scientific opinion was that global warming was happening and caused by humans, but challenged the idea it should be our sole objective and that it can justify big new interventions into the capitalist economy.

The audience also did well. They more than held their own against the 'experts' who wound up beating a hasty retreat on green taxes in particular. I helped this in a sort of 'expert in the audience' role. I was asked, as a representative of the TPA, why people were cynical about green taxes. I told the programme that people are right to be cynical about green taxes; they're set too high and are just a device to raise revenue.

Penn & Teller on the environmental movement

DK posted this superb episode of the Penn & Teller show "Bullshit". I don't know where he gets them from but an earlier one on smoking was also excellent and I want to see more.

This isn't the entire environmental movement, there are decent and informed people out there, but it does characterise well the ignorance, hysteria and mixed objectives of far too many - quite possibly a majority - within the green camp. Those who use the environmental movement as a new rationale for old socialist dogma; the eco-socialists. Those who mean well but sign up to campaigns without really knowing the issues. Those who, if not properly challenged, will try to pass extreme possibilities off as well established facts.

The Liberal Democrats on green taxes

The Liberal Democrats have responded to The Case Against Further Green Taxes. They make two arguments. First, they contend that Stern is more accurate because it is based on more up to date science than the other studies. It isn't. Then they make a point that we knew would come up and did address; what about externalities to road transport other than greenhouse gas emissions?

This argument doesn't stand up to scrutiny. I've responded to both their charges here, take a read. This section summarises why you can't justify Fuel Duty by just adding more and more externalities:

"The second argument assumes the simplistic view that all externalities are the same and should be responded to with increased taxation. This is not the case and is not accepted in other parts of the economy. We do not place special taxes on sports classes because someone can injure themselves playing sport, and is almost certain to playing some sports like Rugby. We don’t place special taxes on nightclubs and factories on the grounds that they are noisy although this is also an externality.

For most local externalities our response has always been regulation to ensure that they do not go beyond safe levels. We do regulate road transport: we limit speeds, require that people get regular safety checks for older cars, force people to wear seatbelts, test people’s ability to drive, prosecute those who drive unsafely. All of this is designed to control casualties (we have other rules to control noise and pollution). There is no reason, beyond political victimisation, why this should not be enough for road transport while it is accepted as sufficient in other activities.

Fuel Duty and Vehicle Excise Duty are entirely unsuitable to correct for congestion. If you drive on a deserted road in the Scottish highlands during the small hours of the morning you pay exactly the same rate as someone fighting their way to work through an urban rush hour. This means that the tax doesn’t create an incentive to drive at times and in places where you do not create a cost to other drivers.

The problem of congestion could be solved by building roads. The number of drivers doesn’t change that much over time so demand for roads is limited by the number of miles they can drive. Fuel Duty and Vehicle Excise Duty could be cut massively with plenty of room in the budget to get plenty of new roads built."

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Greenpeace threaten hoodie-terrorism

This is so deeply unpleasant. The needless 'them and us' hatred of an 'enemy' guilty of nothing more than disagreeing with them. The presentation of extreme predictions as facts. The almost explicit call for violence (Greenpeace know that sceptical scientists already receive death threats).


Monday, September 03, 2007

The Case Against Further Green Taxes

A report of mine examining the state of green taxes launched today. It sets out how we already pay far too much green tax and that these charges are not particularly effective, are economically harmful and regressive.

I'm very proud of it and the media coverage has been superb. Front page of the Metro, in the Telegraph, Sun, Financial Times and other papers and some broadcast media attention as well.

Do take a read, the full report is available at the TaxPayers' Alliance website as a PDF.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

The British State and Al Gore

Today the Daily Mail reports (not online) that more than 500 civil servants are going to spend an afternoon watching Al Gore's film an Inconvenient Truth. The two screenings at the West End Vue will cost £2,675. The wage bill will be £21,000 for the two-hour running time. Is there any other body on Earth with the warped mindset necessary to indoctrinate itself?

This isn't the beginning of the British public sector's love affair with Gore's film though. As a study I carried out for the TaxPayer's Alliance revealed East Hampshire Council have been showing their staff Al Gore's film too. Here's the press release for an earlier preview screening with David Miliband sounding like Al Gore's press agent:

"Opinion formers from across England today attended a preview screening of Al Gore's new climate change film.

Speaking at a preview screening of the former US Vice-President's film, 'An Inconvenient Truth', Environment Secretary David Miliband said he wanted to give opinion formers and leaders from communities across the country the chance to see the film.

Mr Miliband said the film, which vividly portrays the threats and dire consequences of un-checked climate change, could help spread the message amongst those who can make a real contribution in tackling this threat."

It was announced in February that Al Gore's film is to be sent to every secondary school. This has faced a legal challenge but, unfortunately, I hear that challenge has failed:

"Al Gore's climate change documentary An Inconvenient Truth will be sent to every secondary school in England, Environment Secretary David Miliband and Education Secretary Alan Johnson announced today."

This always seems to be justified in the same way by DEFRA. "The debate over the science of climate change is well and truly over, as demonstrated by the publication of today’s report by the IPCC." That completely misses the point. Regardless of the state of the scientific debate over climate change's existence there is clearly still a debate over the scale of the problem. The estimates given in Al Gore's film of the extent of sea level rises, for example, are radically different to that given by the IPCC. Equally, Al Gore's proposed response has been dismissed by William Nordhaus - who The Economist called the '"father of climate change economics":

"First, the [UK Treasury’s] Stern proposal for rapid deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions would reduce the future damage from global warming by $13 trillion, but at a cost of $27 trillion dollars. That’s not a good deal. For an even worse deal, the DICE-2007 model estimates that the Gore proposal would reduce climate change damages by $12 trillion, but at a cost of nearly $34 trillion. As Nordhaus notes, both proposals imply carbon taxes rising to around $300 per ton carbon in the next two decades, and to the $600-$800 per ton range by 2050. A $700 carbon tax would increase the price of coal-fired electricity in the U.S. by about 150 percent, and would impose a tax bill of $1.2 trillion on the U.S. economy."

Al Gore's film isn't an attempt at presenting a balanced view of the current state of knowledge. It's a radical political manifesto and that our state is actively disseminating it is truly depressing.