Sunday, May 03, 2009

Robert Samuelson retreads, repeats past mistakes on climate

Robert Samuelson got far more credit from me than he deserved until I realized he wasn't respected economist Paul Samuelson. Brad DeLong accurately describes Roger as "one of those who knows enough about economic analysis to use it as a tool but who instead uses it as a club."

Anyway, Robert has once again announced that it's too hard to do much about climate change, citing an Energy Information Administration study forecasting increased US emissions in 2030 compared to 2007.

I'll outsource much of this to Paul Krugman who notes that skeptics believe capitalism can manage any resource constraint except ones on GHG emissions, but also add these notes:

  • RS fails to link directly to the study, but rather to the EIA main website. The study is here and reading the first paragraph may indicate why he omitted the link: the forecast increase is based on doing nothing additional to control emissions beyond what's already planned, either legislatively or under Clean Air Act authority. Even so, just the relatively minor changes in policies in 2007 and 2008 decreased the rate of increase from 0.8% annually in 1980-2007 to 0.3% annually for 2007-2030. Of course Samuelson doesn't note this.

  • Two years ago, Samuelson wrote a very similar article saying future conservation won't work. At that time, he picked a study assuming only a 30% gain in vehicle fuel economy by 2030, and came up with 31% increase in carbon emissions. Now his current article says 50% gain in fuel efficiency, and 7% increase in emissions.* What he thought difficult to do just two years ago is already way behind what's anticipated. I think the same will hold true with his do-little position he now forecasts.

*Not totally clear from his articles whether in 2007 he's talking about global or US emissions, but the change in anticipated fuel efficiency is unambiguous.

UPDATE: per the comments, I corrected my screwup on the name from "Roger" to "Robert".

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