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This item was posted on March 7, 2011, and it was categorized as Energy, fossil fuels, politics of science.
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Global warming debate in Congress almost seems like a sex addiction

As oil prices rise, Rep. Ed Whitfield will hold hearings on global warming

Here we go again . . .

The price for benchmark West Texas crude crested just shy of $107 a barrel in electronic trading today, the highest in more than two years.

By the close of trading, the price had pulled back somewhat. But analysts suggest we could easily be heading to $120 or more — and it could stay there for awhile.

The immediate trigger, of course, is instability in the Middle East. But oil prices were already trending upward, and even before the uprisings, the U.S. Energy Information Administration was forecasting an average price of $93 per barrel this year, and $98 next.

The long-term problem is one of simple supply and demand. As The Economist notes:

With the world economy growing strongly, oil demand is far outpacing increases in readily available supply. So any jitters from the Middle East will accelerate and exaggerate a price rise that was already on the way.

The situation is now stoking fears that the world economy could be oil-shocked back into recession, and perhaps inflation too. The Economist points out that we’ve been here before:

The price of oil has had an unnerving ability to blow up the world economy, and the Middle East has often provided the spark . . . With protests cascading across Arabia, is the world in for another oil shock? There are good reasons to worry.

So with this in mind, you’d think the U.S. Congress could put aside its childish games and have an adult conversation about energy. They could, for example, debate ways of spurring innovation in energy technology, and also the use of tax policies to incentivize efficiency and a switch to renewable energy sources. (Back in a February 22 column, Thomas Friedman made a proposal that was at least worth debating.)

Oh, never mind. Tomorrow, the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power, chaired by Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY), will hold a hearing titled “Climate Science and EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Regulations.”

They just can’t resist, can they? This reflexive revision to the “global warming: yes or no?” debate almost seems akin to a sex addiction.

I guess the editors of The Economist didn’t get the press release from Energy and Power Subcommittee when they wrote this:

At its worst, the danger is circular, with dearer oil and political uncertainty feeding each other. Even if that is avoided, the short-term prospects for the world economy are shakier than many realise. But there could be a silver lining: the rest of the world could at long last deal with its vulnerability to oil and the Middle East. The to-do list is well-known, from investing in the infrastructure for electric vehicles to pricing carbon. The 1970s oil shocks transformed the world economy. Perhaps a 2011 oil shock will do the same—at less cost.

Well, maybe the rest of the world — not including the United States.

UPDATE 3/8: The House hearings have concluded. For those interested in a blow-by-blow, check out this transcript of the live blogging done by NASA’s Gavin Schmidt and ScienceInsider’s Eli Kintisch. I was not able to follow the hearings live. But I’ve looked over the transcript and I have to say that Roger Pielke Jr’s prediction turned out to be correct. He said it would “inevitably be a show hearing using climate scientists as props.”

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  1. Posted March 7, 2011 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

    [...] Yulsman has a perspective well worth reading. In keeping with the spirit of my own superficial gloss, I’ll just add [...]

  2. Posted March 8, 2011 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    [...] Yulsman at the University of Colorado makes this point bitingly at CEJournal, noting the ridiculousness of rehashing basic climate science in the face of clear evidence that [...]

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