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While everybody is watching Copenhagen, U.S. gets a climate change policy

posted on December 8, 2009 at 10:30 am
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Of course, it’s political window-dressing.

It gives President Barack Obama something concrete in hand to take to the global summit on climate change in Copenhagen.

But yesterday’s decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to declare carbon dioxide a health hazard is also a real game changer. Now no matter what does or doesn’t get decided in Copenhagen, the U.S. has a carbon emissions policy.

Some business executives will cheer. What their companies have been arguing for is certainty. Tell us what the rules are so we know where to put our capital to work, said the companies that have broken with knee-jerk climate change opponent the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

And those industries opposed to any kind of regulation of carbon emissions, which once had the option of trying to kill any legislation in the U.S. Congress, now face a stark choice: face relatively painful regulation by the EPA or hope to get a bill through the legislature that heads off the toughest part of the EPA rules. (I’m sure there will be legal challenges to the EPA rules but the court rulings so far have upheld the agency’s power to regulate carbon dioxide.) Or at least creates a chance to profit from the rules through a program of cap and trade that awards a juicy pot of trading credits to everybody from Jack’s pig farm to Jill’s steel mill.

Right now they’ve got a horrible deal, all stick and no carrot.

Here’s what the EPA has said it will do.

The first regulations, those that cover carbon emissions from cars and trucks beginning with the 2012 model year, will be finalized in March. These aren’t especially contentious since the industry signed off on them when they were first announced in May.

A second wave of regulations governing stationary sources such as factories and power plants could go into effect as soon as next spring. The rules would require stationary sources to begin using best available emissions control technology—the standard in the Clean Air Act–when they build new plants or expand existing facilities. The EPA has said that it will regulate only power plants and factories that produce 25,000 tons or more of CO2 a year.

Lisa Jackson, EPA administrator, has pretty clearly spelled out the route that business can pursue. Only Congress, she notes, has the power to set up a policy of incentives for limiting carbon emissions. EPA, however, she said, has an obligation to regulate carbon emissions whether or not Congress acts.

Copenhagen, if delegates are lucky will manage to produce a framework for a future glob al agreement on limiting carbon emissions and global climate change. Negotiating a binding treaty and then getting it ratified will be the work of years.

But as of Monday December 7, the U.S. has a national policy on controlling carbon emissions. It just remains uncertain what the final balance of carrots and sticks will be.

The most interesting companies for investors will be those who figure out most quickly how to win on the new playing field.

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  • EdMcGon on 8 December 2009

    Chinese stocks start looking better. At least China isn’t overrun with environazis intent on ruining the economy with their insane schemes of limiting CO2, which just happens to be necessary for life on this planet. But why let little things like a scientific fact get in the way of a good political power play?

  • drevil on 8 December 2009

    What about the fraudulent science “Climategate” that the EPA is basing their decision on. Let’s get some legitimate science to support this knee-jerk EPA from deep sixing our national power supply and economy to keep Al Gore, Obama and ilk happy.

  • Jim Jubak on 8 December 2009

    Sorry, Ed. China’s announced plan to reduce CO2 is likely to be just as expensive as anything the U.S.comes up with. It’s just that Chinese companies won’t need to show it on their books in many areas. By the way, CO2 way be an essential part of the life process here on earth, but you can have too muich even of a good thing. People drown in too much water.

  • Jim Jubak on 8 December 2009

    drevil, what fraudulent science? Were you out screaming when political hacks in the Bush administration rewrote findings to say that climate change wasn’t a problem? All you’ve got now is some snarky scientists calling their oponents bad names. The conclusions from the data are certainly debatable–and should br debated–but the idea that there is no “legitmate” science supporting the models showing dramatic changes in the global climate over the next 30-50 years unless the world reduces its emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases is just wrong.

  • funnytom99 on 8 December 2009

    I am not a climatologist, but I have a background in science (undergrad and grad degrees in engineering). If you follow the scientific method, this is not really a debate. The earth is warming dramatically, and it is doing so at one of the fastest clips in our history. We have ice core samples with thousands of years of data. This is really not the question. The question is (and where the debate/uncertainty lies) what does that pose for the future. What processes and reactions take place in response? Now that, no one really knows for sure. It could keep warming, or it might not.

    However it makes sense for us, with what we know about man made greenhouse gases, to curb them as much as possible, and hope that the cyclical nature of earth’s warming/cooling pulls back to a cooling period at some point (probably not in our lifetime).

    Can we do it in a way where we create jobs? Can we as investors take advantage? I think so, and I think that is what Jim Jubak shows us through his various writings/analyses on energy and environmental topics.

  • drevil on 8 December 2009

    With all do respect, I am as open to the possibility and probability that carbon is contributing to said global warming. It is just that the developments over the past month that the group of scientists at the core of the U.N.’s International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have been caught manipulating data to conform to their beliefs regarding globalwarming. A whistleblower released thousands of e-mails and hundreds of pages of research from the university’s Climate Research Unit(CRU) showing this. Now the University of East Anglia announced that the raw data that had been used to develop the CRU’s climate change model no longer exists. Convenient. It reminds me of the “we won’t have any more landfills” that lead to the wasteful recycling movement or “china syndrome” and hysteria over Three Mile Island that led to a stoppage of nuclear plants (zero carbon emmissions) for 30 years.
    When the key people on global warming are doctoring the numbers and get caught, you have to start over and get real numbers. If this was a FDA trial the drug would be yanked and offenders send to jail.

  • Purewater on 8 December 2009

    Personally, I think man-made global warming is a scam. However, I still think reducing carbon dioxide emissions is a great idea because of the health benefits. Air pollution is a direct contributor to respiratory disease such as asthma and emphysema and it’s also linked to heart disease. Why should power plants and the consumers who use power (and cars) not have to pay more to augment health in our society?

  • jamba on 8 December 2009

    Age old saying is “truth needs no defense”

    So ask yourselfs why did these climate scientist refuse to release their data? Why shut out anyone who disagree’s with you? If your scientific data is strong and indisputable it speaks for itself.
    Yes the earth has warmed but that it is all due to humans is highly debatable.

    Jim saying that models show the earth warming 50 years out is also very subjectable. These scientist would not share their data showing the earth was warming, the same data that is being fed into the same 30-50 years models!

  • EdMcGon on 8 December 2009

    Jim, touche. You are correct on China.

    However, look up “dinosaur” in Wikipedia. Here’s a quote for you: “The atmosphere’s composition during the Mesozoic was vastly different as well. Carbon dioxide levels were up to 12 times higher than today’s levels, and oxygen formed 32 to 35% of the atmosphere, as compared to 21% today. However, by the late Cretaceous, the environment was changing dramatically. Volcanic activity was decreasing, which led to a cooling trend as levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide dropped.”

    In other words, with vastly higher levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, life thrived on the Earth. We could replace all the world’s cars with SUV’s and STILL not produce the CO2 levels that were present in the Mesozoic era.

    Man-made global warming is a scam.

  • dermp1 on 8 December 2009

    I am a scientist as well. There is global warming but there are so many questions that have not been answered. The Schwabe cycle of solar activity has been quiet. Sunspot activity correlates to some degree with cooling and warming of the earth. The bitter cold of the 1600′s and 1700′s occurred at a time of reduced solar activity. By 2020 solar scientist predict that the Sun will start one of its weakest Schwabe cycles of the past 2 centuries which will likely lead to cooling conditions on the earth.

    Also- many temperature gauges used in measurement of temperatures are located in cities where the temperatures will tend to be warmer than a non urbanized area. Go outside and feel the difference in temperatures when standing a a field of green grass or under a shade tree when compared to standing on a paved street or parking lot.

    Much of my concern is the lack of a concerted debate. Is man so great as to be the causative factor in global warming or are there many other etiologies that have not been determined or investigated. I believe the problem is partially the dependence on arrogant scientist who think their view is correct but not questioned.

    We are taking some big steps at potentially huge costs to the economy to have less than a full blown discussion of the cause and effects of global temperature change whether warming or cooling. Remember in the 1970′s when the discussion focused on global cooling and nuclear winter. Don’t be too sure this is not the same thing to some degree.

  • davcbr on 8 December 2009

    Eddy my boy, go look up the general usage of the word “dinasaur”.
    Seems they aren’t thriving lately.

    I had thought that this was an investing discussion area. It sounds to me like most here are displaying little appreciation for the FACT that there is a market being created here. But, I guess it really IS more important to be right than rich. BTW, people that understand science don’t use the wikis that much.
    And, I can’t resist…
    Isn’t this the same crowd that said there was no problem with the ozone layer a while back? And the acid rain produced by midwest power plants had nothing to do with the forests and lakes dying down wind?
    Uh huh.

  • EdMcGon on 8 December 2009

    Yes, please look at the dinosaurs, who lived on this planet far longer than humans have so far. Apparently, the higher concentrations of CO2 weren’t so bad, were they?

    The “market being created here” is a phony one, built on a false premise. If you want to buy pet rocks, go for it.

    As for using wikis, the quote I gave had a scientific reference linked to it. But I notice you don’t have a counter for that? Unless you’d like to refer to the IPCC report…

    Finally, as for the ozone layer and acid rain, nice nonsequitors…

  • DJBarber on 8 December 2009

    Can’t resist siring the pot…
    Somebody asked:
    Is man so great as to be the causative factor in global warming or are there many other etiologies that have not been determined or investigated?
    Well I was wondering about that myself…. I was also wondering about:
    Is man so great as to be the causative factor in the pollution and killing off of rivers and streams, depleting or killing off of fish stocks, killing off species after species
    the killing off of rain forests or are there many other etiologies that have not been determined or investigated?
    Oh and by the way:
    There is no link between cigarettes and cancer.
    The world is flat, science is a fraud.
    The earth is only 8,000 years old.
    The theory of evolution is only a theory
    Ozone layer and acid rain were creations of the lefty hippies
    Etc etc etc . . .
    The question isn’t “Is man so great as to be a causative factor?”
    The question really is “Is man so foolish, blind, ignorant and arrogant, that he cannot see that he could be the causative factor?
    Are we really so stupid, that we would error on the side of stupidly, again?

  • EdMcGon on 8 December 2009

    DJ, don’t confuse local pollution with man-made global warming. It is one thing to say that man can impact a local environment, and quite another to say that he can irreperably damage the entire planet’s atmosphere, especially by releasing an element which is necessary for life.

    Feel free to throw in as many strawman arguments as you like, but you have YET to prove your case for man-made global warming.

    Do I need to remind you that according to the science of his time, Galileo was wrong about the Earth not being the center of the universe? Also, contrary to most Media interpretations, all of the global warming “deniers” are NOT right-wing fanatics or “in the pocket” of big oil. Not that you would have heard from people who can make a reasonable argument against this fraud…

  • James on 8 December 2009

    What fun reading the opposing “opinions”. Even though I am a WASP, nearly a senior citizen, family physician, republican, FOX news watcher, grandfather…..I do not let who I am determine what I thnk…so since the jury is still out, let’s continue the dialogue.

  • davcbr on 8 December 2009

    James… exactly
    Eddy… I mention the dinosaurs because, as you stated, things changed and they are no longer around. It seems a lot of people are putting stock into “it’s a natural phenom., without thinking of ourselves being the dinosaurs.
    Also the ozone thing and acid rain are relevant to this discuss that YOU created.
    BTW, nice come back on my suggest that this IS AN INVESTMENT FORUM. If you can’t profit from the info…

  • DJBarber on 8 December 2009

    (To everybody else, please forgive me but I can’t resist..)
    1st post)
    “But why let little things like a scientific fact get in the way of a good political power play?”
    A nonsequitor if I ever heard one…
    “Chinese stocks start looking better. At least China isn’t overrun with environazis intent on ruining the economy with their insane schemes of limiting CO2”
    (We will over look the Ad hominem attack here, and pretend that you know what your talking about when it comes to China, that is until your second post, when you admit that you don’t)
    To reiterate Jims point:
    China is also stepping up to the plate in Copenhagen, but as Jim mentioned, it won’t appear on anybody “bottom line”, but will still have an effect on business, you just won’t see it.
    And you can bet there are just as many people in China who give a damb about the environment, they just happen to , currently, have very little political visibility, but that will change in time.
    “But why let little things like a scientific fact get in the way of a good political power play?”
    Did you mean your mention of “CO2, which just happens to be necessary for life on this planet”
    Again, To reiterate Jims point:
    Salt is also necessary for life on this planet, if not moderated (Like CO2) it will kill you.

    2nd post
    “Jim, touche. You are correct on China.”
    I take it you took the ten minutes between posts to become an expert on China?
    Since you make reference to the IPCC, maybe you should read it…
    From IPCC Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis
    (Summary for Policymakers)
    “Global atmospheric concentrations of carbon
    dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have increased
    markedly as a result of human activities since 1750
    and now far exceed pre-industrial values determined
    from ice cores spanning many thousands of years
    (see Figure SPM.1). The global increases in carbon
    dioxide concentration are due primarily to fossil fuel
    use and land use change, while those of methane
    and nitrous oxide are primarily due to agriculture.
    {2.3, 6.4, 7.3}”

    3rd post :
    “Do I need to remind you that according to the science of his time, Galileo was wrong about the Earth not being the center of the universe?”
    Another nonsequitor…. I believe science has come a long way since Galileos time, but, Ed, correct me if I’m wrong.
    “all of the global warming “deniers” are NOT right-wing fanatics or “in the pocket” of big oil.”
    That’s funny, in this sentence you seek to let us all know that you are level headed, intelligent, and emotionally able to render an informed decision without being beholden to “big oil, or right wing fanatics…
    It’s funny because you seem to imply in your first post those that who do believe the science are “environazis intent on ruining the economy”
    So we need to respect your ideas, but for those of us who understand the science, and choose to err on the side of prudence, we’re all “environazis” ?
    “Feel free to throw in as many strawman arguments as you like,”
    And your little wiki post about dinosaurs, is what ?
    So from you we have several Ad hominem attacks, references to a report that you obviously haven’t read, a posting referencing a “wiki” attempting to use science to debunk science, and finally to top it off
    another ad hominem attack “Not that you would have heard from people who can make a reasonable argument against this fraud…”
    Really you know me that well…?
    Many people have treated the global warming controversy (if they think about it at all) as if it were a scientific dispute — as if the two viewpoints were merely differing ways of interpreting scientific data. Not true. Among peer reviewed journals, there is no debate, the science backs up the fact that Man is a traceable factor in the current period of warming, period.
    This is not a scientific debate, if it were, based on the scientific evidence as put forth in peer reviewed journals (Not wiki’s) you would come to the same conclusions (If you give any credence to science at all.)
    Essentially, either you have something scientific to offer, from a peer reviewed journal, or you don’t.
    It is amazing how closely your method of “arguments” parallels that of a creationist debate….

    P.S. The jury isnt still out….

  • skllstrm on 8 December 2009

    DJ, Your point about the similarity to the so-called debate about Creationism or Intelligent Design is a good one. There is no real scientific debate. The underlying conflict is partly religion, partly politics, and partly money. I believe this is also true of the “global warming debate”.

  • jamba on 8 December 2009

    “This is not a scientific debate, if it were, based on the scientific evidence as put forth in peer reviewed journals (Not wiki’s) you would come to the same conclusions (If you give any credence to science at all.)
    Essentially, either you have something scientific to offer, from a peer reviewed journal, or you don’t.”

    Was not part of the “climategate” that these scientist were not letting opposing views get published? When an opposing view was published the journal in which the article appeared was then called into question as not being legitimate journel.
    There are scientist that were well respected until the questioned global warming then they where attacked as being on big oils payroll ect.. There was no discussion allowed.

    Since this is a stock board how many of you would invest in a company that said it would grow its earnings 40% a year for the next 30 years? You would ask that company how are you coming up with those numbers and they say “trust us” and refuse to show you their books. No one would do that but these scientist have done essentially the same thing.
    This model shows us human are causing global warming. So you ask to look at your data and they say “trust us” and won’t provide how they are coming up with the data and even go on to destroy the data.

    If you model and data are right you would let everyone out there look at it because they would come up to the same conclusion.

    The debate is not over

  • drevil on 8 December 2009

    If the jury is not out, why is there so much debate about it.

    I saw you referenced the IPCC report. You can toss that out because your scientists tainted it by altering the numbers that went into the data. They were biased and got caught.

    You are so convinced, name one other document, one other body of research that is indisputable that would warrant creating this huge, and it will be huge, transfer of wealth in the form of cap and trade, carbon emission restrictions from developed countries to developing countries. What if you are wrong?

    If you are right, what would this huge transfer of wealth do? It won’t stop global warming or even put a dent in it. We won’t stop using carbon fuels for decades. Jim refers to a “severe shortage” of oil by 2030. We will run out of it within decades of this and have an alternative by necessity not tainted theories and certainly not because of “Cap and Trade”. I would argue that “Cap and Trade” will delay it because we will have less money for R&D because we are transfering it to developing nations.

    Nothing will happen in Copenhagen because there is a cloud over the “evidence” that they have relied on for years.

  • viwi on 8 December 2009

    If CO2 gets taxed, I proposed to impose a tax on overweight people as well. They consume more O2 and produce more CO2 than normal people do.

    Why not?

    P.S. By the way, does it mean that smoking will be punished with an extra EPA tax as well? It should, as well as large SUV’s.

  • viwi on 8 December 2009

    I like and hate this debate in the same time.

    I like it because it looks like everyone has an opinion. However, most of those opinions are based on other people opinions, who also use somebody else opinions.

    I hate it because the scientific evidence is left behind and is placed under strong political pressure.

    My honest opinion … It is all BS. Even if there is a global warming, who said that the average temperature which is ideal for the Earth is the one, which is now. Yet, another Y2K problem, so that some people can make even more money.

  • YX on 8 December 2009

    Hi, folks, you all missed a point. It’s all about money. While I do think we should reduce pollution, UN needs a new source of money. Also, did you heard that Al Gore is going to become the first “green” billionaire? He invested some money in a unknown “environmental” company that is said to get a hundreds of millions of government (i.e. your and my) money, etc. Just Google it.

  • Jim Jubak on 8 December 2009

    edmcgon, I’m personally in favor of a return to the days of a thick atmosphere. The drawings I’ve seen of 8-foot long dragonflies–you need a thicker atmosphere than we have now to get something like that airborn–are seriously cool. But you bring up a very good example of why I like to call this climate change instead of global warming. The don’t have to heat the earth to the point of extinguishing all life or even all human life–I don’t know of anyone seriously proposing this. From what we understand a about the way global climate works, it takes relatively small changes in temperature to throw the system into a new state. So a couple of degrees of warming in the Pacific is enough to change the ElNino, La Nina cycles and throw Australia and Africa into drought conditions. Which seems to be happening now. Melt enough of the Greenland ice cap and you stall the Gulf Stream and paradoxically send England and North America into an ice age. None of these changes causes the end of humanity. But they sure do wreck havoc with agriculture, urban water supplies, marginally sustainable farming and ranching socieities in Africa. Human socieities can cope with changes like that if they’re spread over hundreds of years. Speed them up so that they take place in decades and the solutions are nice things like war, famine, and plague. The big worry, as I understand it, is that we could move the climate into a new state that would require more money, energy, technology, whatever than we now have to reverse. Is the science certain of that? No. Models on this scale have never been built before and they’re incredibly sensitive to initial data conditions. But what are yo willing to bet that the science is wrong? What would you be willing to pay for insruance that it’s not right?

    All this is important and interesting but, I’d argue, somewhat off the point for investors. As investors the question isn’t whether the science is right or wrong, but what decisions will be made (perhaps for totally wrong reasons) by politicians and CEOs over the next few years and what opportunities do these decisions present to make and lose money. You can make has much money off a widely shared “mistake” as you can from a consensus correct conclusion.

  • EdMcGon on 8 December 2009

    DJ, since you took the time, I’ll take the time to respond:

    ““But why let little things like a scientific fact get in the way of a good political power play?”
    A nonsequitor if I ever heard one…”
    While my comment was made sarcastically, feel free to explain why scientific facts would be ignored in global warming theory? The only motivation I can see is government research money, which is spent by politicians who, as Rahm Emanuel would say, “don’t want to let a good crisis go to waste”.

    “(We will over look the Ad hominem attack here, and pretend that you know what your talking about when it comes to China, that is until your second post, when you admit that you don’t)”
    Truth be told, I question the Chinese commitment. However, I will respect Mr. Jubak’s opinion on the subject, with my own reservations, especially since I don’t have any definitive facts to challenge him.

    “China is also stepping up to the plate in Copenhagen”
    Actually, they seem to be using the occasion to make “show me the money” demands on the West. A rather odd thing if we are to assume they buy into Global Warming theory? If they truly believed that their CO2 emissions will lead to their own destruction, why would they be making economic demands?

    “Salt is also necessary for life on this planet, if not moderated (Like CO2) it will kill you.”
    Why don’t we ban salt too? Because no one is claiming it will cause global warming. Regardless, this planet has seen far higher levels of CO2, and life thrived. Your salt argument is a strawman, which sounds nice, but is totally irrelevant to the discussion.

    “Since you make reference to the IPCC, maybe you should read it…”
    Why bother? It’s already been proven they rigged the data to show what they wanted. Any claims made in the IPCC are suspect, at best, until new studies can be done. Although I do find it interesting they use 1750 as their starting date, since we were in the Little Ice Age at the time.

    “I believe science has come a long way since Galileos time, but, Ed, correct me if I’m wrong.”
    Obviously not, since Galileo was treated much the same way as scientists who challenge global warming theory.

    “So we need to respect your ideas, but for those of us who understand the science, and choose to err on the side of prudence, we’re all “environazis” ?”
    If you understand the science, then feel free to explain why the scientists changed the code in their models to achieve the results they wanted, instead of what the data actually said? If you understand science, then explain why they excluded data which contradicted their theory? If you understand ANYTHING about science, then you’d know that is NOT science. But I do apologize if the term “environazi” hit a little too close to home for you.

    ““Not that you would have heard from people who can make a reasonable argument against this fraud…”
    Really you know me that well…?”
    I’m still waiting…

    “Among peer reviewed journals, there is no debate”
    And now we know why. Any peer reviewed journal which didn’t go along with global warming theory got threatened by the environazi scientists leading the global warming crusade. But don’t let that dissuade you from your mistaken belief…

    “the science backs up the fact that Man is a traceable factor in the current period of warming, period.”
    And now we’ve learned that science was fraudulent. Data was intentionally omitted, then the data which was used was never revealed for peer review (except to other sympathetic scientists), then the data modeling was rigged, and finally the peer review process was subverted. Once you add up all those factors, you have no science left.

    “It is amazing how closely your method of “arguments” parallels that of a creationist debate….”
    Do tell. I am making scientific arguments, while the only thing you have is the scientifically questionable IPCC report.

  • EdMcGon on 8 December 2009

    Jim, you and I will probably have to agree to disagree on this point, but I appreciate your intelligent response.

    But the reason this is an important question, is the only problem with investing in a widely shared mistake, is what happens when everyone realizes it’s a mistake? Not only does the investment go bust, but public opinion can do a 180 degree turn against that investment.

    Finally, I should add that I am not averse to alternative energy development (for the record, I own stock in a Chinese biodiesal company), but NOT for global warming reasons. As you pointed out in your recent oil post, the world’s oil supply is not unlimited. But I believe that a reasonably slow approach to the problem can be taken, without redirecting trillions of dollars toward the research. That’s money our economy desperately needs right now, and redirecting it for fraudulent reasons is not going to help us now, or in the long run.

  • drevil on 8 December 2009

    Jim, 26 comments. That’s got to be a record, eh? Thanks for providing the forum for discussion.

  • DJBarber on 8 December 2009

    I just walked in the door with the idea that I would follow up my last post to Ed.
    I was going to say that after reading a bit about Climategate, I would have to agree to some degree that while the emails didn’t make anybody from the scientific community look very good, I still would not, on such flimsy evidence, be ready to throw out the “baby with the bathwater”.
    I would like to apologize to ED for my posts, which must have sounded like a personal attack, when in fact, it wasn’t personal, it was purely based on his argument methods. Pissed me off.

    I too had come up with a metaphore for how I think about climate change.
    A gallon of water, heated by an outside lamp. The lamp changes temperature from time to time. We add a teaspoon of salt and stir, everything looks the same, the salt dissolved into the water. The “system” seems fine, over time we add more and more salt and stir, the system still appears fine. The outside lamp cools down and we notice that some of the salt in the water drops out of solution and onto the bottom. Over time the lamp heats up again and the salt again is found to be in solution. We add more and more salt, and still the system seems pretty stable. This can go on and on for some time until one day, because of a confluence of inputs, the salt, the temp of the water, the fluctuation of the lamp, we find that the system becomes more and more unstable, until some outside force, forces the system back into equilibrium.
    So we collect data, run the numbers, produce models, make predictions, and sure enough some of those predictions come true.
    Some people point to the data and say, see we are right, we have to do something about this, before we make this water uninhabitable for millions of people, the data proves this.
    Others say, We have seen these cycles through millennium, they have nothing to do with us, were going to be fine, the water will come back into equilibrium by itself, nobody is in danger, the data proves this.
    Both groups get together and say, I interpret the data differently from you, I believe I am right, but there is a slim possibility that you could be right, but I doubt it.
    Over the course of 75 years, the first group of people spends billions and billions and billions and billions of dollars to reduce salt, and in the process, transfer new and old wealth in ways never imagined, bankrupting some people, and making others rich, and in the process create thousands of new businesses dedicated to reducing salt and if they are lucky the system comes back into equilibrium, and millions and millions of lives are saved. If they are wrong and it had nothing to do with them in the first place, things stay basically the same, millions and millions of lives are lost because the system is naturally out of equilibrium and they must wait for it to naturally come back into equilibrium, but they have created entirely new technologies, and businesses models, fostered cooperation around the world, and in the process cleaned up huge amounts of salt from the water.
    The second group does nothing. If they are right, everything stays the same as it is now, millions and millions of lives are lost because the system is naturally out of equilibrium and they must wait for it to naturally come back into equilibrium.
    If they are wrong, tens of millions, if not more, of lives are lost over that same 75 years, and things will only continue to get worse.
    Do we still want to talk about destruction of capital? Do we still want to talk about how to interpret the data?
    Of course there is a third group, the Investors. (I’m sure there are other groups, but who cares about them anyway…)
    The investors say, I don’t care who’s right or wrong, I want to know, who’s going to benefit, what’s the trend here?
    Who’s going to build the salt reducing machines? (GE, Monsanto?)
    What technologies are we looking at? (salt scrubbers, intelligent salt meters? )
    Can we substitute salt with something else? (Wind, Natural Gas, solar?)
    I suspect Jim is already working on this, that is, if he’s not dreaming about 8 foot long dragon flies….Can’t you just see it ? Jim sitting in front of the fire place with that big ‘ol goofy grin, Quietly humming to himself “puff the magic dragonfly lived by the stream…”


  • DJBarber on 8 December 2009

    Sorry that should be
    The first group, if they are right, spends billions and billions and billions of dollars, and manages to effect change, saving millions and millions of lives over that 75 years. If they are wrong, they have built new technology and new business models, but lose millions and millions of lives, and billions and billions and billions of dollars (Unless the new technologies replace some of the dollars spent) over the same number of years.
    The second group if they are right, loses the same millions and millions of people over many years. If they are wrong, they still lose millions and millions of lives over many years, and things are bound to get worse, because they didn’t do anything about the problem when they could.

  • mp3106 on 8 December 2009

    A common sense reply to all of the above. We are a ag based buisness for the last 100 plus years,long family ownership,. In the last 10 years we have seen a major change in weather patterns and length of growing seasons, which have led to big headaches on the production of crops. Know i am not a scientist but common sense tells me something is messing up the enviroment. Is it global warming,good question. But i do know if we sit on our hands and do nothing there may be some real hungry people in the near future and trust me food shortages don’t respect borders. Just my two cents worth, I prefer to discuss investing not politics.

  • rdemetrion on 8 December 2009

    fascinating discussion.
    greenhouse gases make up less than 1% of our atmosphere. if they were not present, earth would be a ball of ice. so they are important in small quantities. and it seems inescapable that if you change their percentages you must expect some change in their effect on climate. the real question is how much change, and over what kind of time span.
    from an investing perspective, it appears that climate change will be accepted as fact, and it would behoove an investor to incorporate that into an investment strategy.
    what is your time horizon? are you merely seeking to enhance your own existence? are you concerned about your offspring? how many generations into the future are you attempting to provide for? is the long-term future of our environment worth consideration?
    jim jubak is a rare bird in the world of investing in that he’s cognizant of what he calls externalities. i think his time horizon is a bit longer than that of the average investor. it makes him a valuable read.

  • Jim Jubak on 8 December 2009

    DJBarber: And don’t forget the 6-foot long cockroaches and all the beer (very green and no hnops, I admit) that you could brew from 40 foot tall club mosses.

  • robert1234 on 8 December 2009

    BR rrrrr it’s cold outside where I live.
    Winter came a month early !

    It’s that cursid global warming !

    Last winter, we had 7 feet of snow in 20 days !
    Soo much the walls in my house cracked ! I heard them pop..

    If the envio crack pots had any brains, they would consentrate on polution, over consumption of natural resources, over population, and the destruction of our farm land.

    Or the degridation of our oceans, and man made chemicals in the food chain.

    Everyone on the planet could get behind that !

  • GreatDoctor on 8 December 2009

    Wherever you stand on the climate change debate, the most important thing is finding a way to profit from it.

  • FrozenFoot on 8 December 2009

    Thanks for the new divie play in the other post.. will use the divies to reduce my carbon footprint… house needs insulation and the windows are cold and rattle when the dinosaurs ran past..
    cheers, F

  • phillip e on 8 December 2009

    Back to investing..
    So how can we profit from this?
    Will coal be taxed. or capped, so its not as inexpensive a fuel source as it is now? (Jim did sell a coal stock out of the dividends portfolio)

    Will demand for natural gas grow (cleaner fuel) so that natural gas plays will be the way to go by 2015? Jim’s talking oil plays, but maybe a tax on CO2 will change that timeline and the oil shortage occurs in 2025 instead of 2015?

    Will solar power companies be subsidized (or at least more in demand) that we should be buying the smart solar producers soon? (are they all in China?)

    Will the higher CO2 in the atmosphere in fact make farmers more productive so food costs will go down? (and give us more/cheaper raw materials for biofuel?)

    Will bigger bugs mean we should by chemical companies?

    Will American factories cut back on hiring because they had planned to use plants that may now be more expensive to operate under the new CO2 emission guidelines?

    All this is a long way of saying we should be focused on the last line of Jim’s article: “The most interesting companies for investors will be those who figure out most quickly how to win on the new playing field.”

  • george cerny on 8 December 2009

    It seems this great debate is based on Political Leanings and Philosophy rather than what unbiased people(if there is anyone) really beleive. I suppose it isn’t possible, but wouldn’t it be refreshing to seek what is best for the country, and not what is best for our personal agendas? It seems that everyone has an agenda these days and doesn’t give a damn about whats best for the majority. Does that sound Polyannish? I am only criticizing some,certainly not all of the comments. Sorry, GC

  • DJBarber on 8 December 2009

    What to invest in next ?

    The Carbon-credit market. If cap and trade become a reality as expected, the rise in prices will be government-mandated.
    Can’t go wrong. . .

  • cjxland on 9 December 2009

    Hello Jim- I’d like to try to raise this discussion to the next level, too: where/how to invest whether climate change is real or not (but-perception IS reality).

    I’m a geologist- not a “scientist”, but a guy who works for mining companies. I’ve spent most of my professional career either digging up or looking for [and finding] uranium- on the order of 35 years now. All of us in the mining industry understand that “global warming” is a non-issue; there have been a dozen or so ice ages in the last million years on our planet- and guess what happened after every one of them? Yep- things warmed up. Interestingly- guess what happened BEFORE every one of them? right again- warming. A million years is an eye-blink to geologists (and this old earth-ball we live on for the moment), so the argument over dinosaurs, 8 ft. long dragonflys, giant mosses, CO2 buildups or letdowns and this and that is not really relevant- altho these things existed and happened.

    The point for us investors is how to make a buck on the “Global Warming” issue, not to waste our time and breath in specious arguments about whether or not it is real, or to what extent man contributes to the current situation.

    I submit that one way to do this is investing in Nuclear Power. It is the ONLY electricity source that can provide base-load supply without “carbon footprint” at this time (and also when there are a few zillion green electro-cars running around, doubling orur electricity needs by 2030). There are Nuclear ETFs, there are utilities (try EXC- or if you really want to go green, try FPL- nuclear and alternative sources are their specialty). Uranium mining is in the toilet at the moment- I see that as mostly political payback: Mr. Obama and his colleagues making good to their dearest supporters- the “environmental” crowd…for now. But nuclear is gaining a wide following even in the Democrat camp, and even in the environmental camp. I believe we will all live to see the day that even the horror of all nuclear horrors- Yucca Mtn. – will be revitalized as a perfectly suitable and safe means of storing nuclear “wastes” until we can think of something better to do with them (guess where they are stored now?) Mr. Obama OWED Mr. Reid on that one- at least for the moment. There are many more interesting things we can do with those wastes, like recycle them (against the law, in this country, at the moment, but check on USEC). Uranium mining will eventually have to make a comeback here, and there are a multitude of uranium miners around right now, most of which are too ephemeral to consider; but a few, including Billiton and Cameco are real contenders, rather than players.

    And what would it really hurt, after all, if we were to put a few bucks into windmills and solar cells, even tho we KNOW the science behind this is baloney- if they double or triple over the next few years?

    We can argue the yes or no on climate change forever- none of us will ever know if we are right or wrong. I do agree with the gents that pointed out that most of the antis in this argument were also adamant about ozone and acid rain being “voodoo science”- not to mention seatbelts, crash helmets for motorcyclists (and bicyclists) and second-hand cigarette smoke.

    And- oh, by the way: the earth is REALLY only 4400 years old, not 8000. This has been proven, time and again. But- how do we invest in that science to make a buck or two?

    Thanks Jim- a fine brew-haha you’ve gotten us into here! (pass me one of those moss beers please.)

  • cjxland on 9 December 2009

    Jim- I failed to point out another couple whole segments of the nuclear industry invesment possibilities- infrastucture design and implementiation, and plant construction. The local faves are SHAW, GE, FLUOR, and the newly released Babcock and Wilcox. International heavies are Areva, Hitachi (with GE), and Toshiba(with Westinghouse.) This whole industry is a long-term investment, unfortunately, not suited to most hot-for-the-moment portfolios. You mentioned that you’d be looking at Shaw Group a few posts back- I’m looking forward to your analysis.

  • viwi on 9 December 2009


    I like your thoughts, but Nuclear Power is not that easy. You need about 15 years to build a nuclear power station and 1-2 years to get all the required permits. If someone really wants to go nuclear, he had to start at least 10 years ago. Besides, most of the US nuclear power stations are living their last decade before they have to be retired for safety and other reasons.

    So, let’s do a simple math. You have to start building now to replace 20% of the currently existing nuclear power and 60% of the currently existing coal/NG power plants. It is about 2 TW of the total power. 1000 nuclear power stations.

    Personally, I am a big fan of solar power. But, I believe that the best temporal solution is NG, which is cleaner than coal. Given the current rate of the cost reduction of the solar power, in 10 years it will become the cheapest solution for our energy needs.

    I agree with Jim, that smart power distribution systems, energy storage, and batteries are, most probably, sure bets in a long term. NG, once it passes current oversupply, is a good bet in a short term.

  • cjxland on 9 December 2009

    viwi- it also takes 4 or 5 years to build an NG plant (a small one), so if all those nukes go down in a decade, how will we replace that 20% of our power, AND supply the 50-100% increase in demand that is looming? [I think most of the answer is that most of those N plants will live for a much longer lifespan, in fact.] Permitting goes for everyone- a mess, but no getting out of it, and yes a couple years or so, no matter who you are.

    If we WANTED to expand our nuclear capabilities- if we had the collective national will to do that- we would start today, as we will never be able to drop back that lost decade (some of us see that as three lost decades). If we adopted standardized designs and fast-tracked standardized permitting, the permitting/construction time would be about 7 years.

    But, hey- we are talking about how to invest. I like NG as well as the next guy, and even NG electrical generation. I also like smart power distribution, and technology efficiences that can save zillions of MWatts in existing usage.

  • amtrend10 on 9 December 2009

    What a can of worms. Why does this reek of political bias? I think most of these experts need something to do other than grandstand.

  • EdMcGon on 9 December 2009

    DJ, my apologies if my snark earlier offended you. I should show more respect for other belief systems. :)

  • romingerd on 9 December 2009

    Does anyone remember DDT? How about Chlorofluorocarbons? Does anyone know the science and the politics which led to their demise? Does anyone remember who made money from their demise? Does anyone know who gained power through their demise? The parallels to Carbon Dioxide are eerily familiar. Keep an open mind and look at who gains (money and power) and who loses (money and power) as Carbon Dioxide is regulated. As for me…the answer is clear.

  • mwp2634 on 11 December 2009


    I AM a scientist, and believe me there is no good science or plausable link between a TRACE GAS LIKE CO2 and global warming. This is coincedence only! The system is self regulating.

    There are too many cosmological things such as Sun energy variation (Munder Minimums, etc.) the tilt of the earth on its axis, etc. that can easily explain what we are seeing.

    The only real threat are the “models” that EXTRAPOLATE these bad assumptions into catastrophies in the future.

    BTW, the carbon based power cycle is also self limiting due to supply.


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