The Weekend Wonk: Conservatives Debate Carbon Tax. Carbon Tax Wins.

June 15, 2013

This past week, a unique event occurred in DC that brought together a fairly large group of movement conservatives and libertarians to discuss the prospects and possibilities of a carbon tax.  The event was sponsored by the R Street Institute, a new think tank on the block that not only believes in small government, and conservative economic solutions, but actual science as well.

Above, you can watch Part 1 of my 2010 interview with R Street founder Eli Lehrer, who left the famously science unfriendly Heartland Institute to found his own unique, and increasingly visible, shop. Part 2 when I get it loaded, tomorrow.

In regard to the debate, I heard thru the grapevine that Bob Inglis kicked major butt, I’m sure in a nice, folksy, low key way.

Do not know if there is video – but below, Inglis displays signature style.


Yesterday, I moderated a debate on the question: Resolved: Under no circumstances should conservatives support a tax on carbon emissions. The debate was organized by the R Street Institute and the Heartland Institute as a debate among free market friends. For the proposition were James Taylor from Heartland and David Kreutzer from the Heritage Foundation. Against the resolution were former Congressman Bob Inglis from the Energy and Enterprise Initiative and Andrew Moylan from R Street.

The audience consisted of perhaps 150 people. Looking over the list of the folks who RSVPed to the discussion most of the attendees could be fairly characterized as leaning conservative or libertarian.

The debate was spirited, but friendly. At the end of the discussion, we called for a division of the house and all participants agreed (with some surprise) that the majority was opposed to the resolution. In other words, a revenue neutral carbon tax could be acceptable to conservatives and libertarians.


Discussions around taxing carbon have increased among conservative groups in the past year, although that hasn’t carried over to Republican lawmakers, who oppose tax increases and generally look on climate change with disinterest.

But you wouldn’t have known the topic is considered lifeless in Congress by attending the event last night. Organizers planned for 150 people, but received about 270 requests to attend. The crowd didn’t reach that size, but the Globe Theater near Dupont Circle was nearly full.

Carbon tax events routinely draw big crowds, but Lehrer smiled as he guessed that the open bar also played a role.

“A year ago, there was no conversation on carbon tax,” he said.

The event exposed divisions within conservative thought groups over the effect that the policy might have on the economy, the environment and the political compass of the Republican Party.

Some believe that climate change is an issue akin to immigration and gay marriage at a time of changing demographics that disfavors a GOP brand that has lost two presidential elections while failing to expand its reach beyond a House majority.

John Weaver, who has been a political adviser to Republican presidential candidates such as former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and Arizona Sen. John McCain, said the debate is a sign that the GOP is a “party in transition.”

“There is a debate internally, broadly, about … whether you have to admit that [climate change] is real, which I believe it is,” Weaver said in an interview. “And secondly, are we as conservatives or center-right activists going to offer solutions about it, as opposed to just putting our head in the sand and pretending it doesn’t exist?”

Below, part of the Lehrer interview made it into this video on Sea Level rise, and the North Carolina flat earth caucus. Lehrer is at about 5:50 if you’re in a rush.

And here’s some video from Inglis’ organization, with an appearance by Reaganomics architect Art Laffer.


16 Responses to “The Weekend Wonk: Conservatives Debate Carbon Tax. Carbon Tax Wins.”

  1. daveburton Says:

    Inglis definitely knows something about butt-kicking, because he got his own butt kicked worse than any other incumbent Republican I know of. He lost his primary by 42 percentage points, because siding with the anti-science Climate Movement religion over sound science doesn’t resonate well with level-headed Republicans.

    • rayduray Says:


      Thanks, Dave. That’s the craziest thing I’ve read all week. Supporting science makes Inglis anti-science? Wow, you’ve achieved some Through the Looking Glass cred with that one. Oy vey!

      What are they putting in your water down in the Carolinas? I haven’t read such lunacy since Secession days.

      Re: The video on your linked article —

      Those Glenn Beck groupies are a scary bunch. It’s hard to believe we’re not in the Dark Ages with their crackpot cracker paranoia. Was Bob Inglis the only sane person in that entire room? Sheesh.

      • daveburton Says:

        rayduray, that was a Washington Post article that I linked to.

        Inglis isn’t supporting science. He’s supporting nonsense.

        What the science tells us is that, despite > 2/3 century of heavy CO2 emissions, there’s been no increase at all in the globally averaged rate of sea level rise. Sea level is rising no faster now than it was 80 years ago, which was before mankind had much effect on atmospheric CO2 levels. In fact, the best studies show a slight decline in the rate of sea level rise over that period.

        That rate is so miniscule that in many places land movement affects sea-level more than global sea level trends do. At about 1/4 of the GLOSS-LTT gauges, sea-level is falling (because the land is slowly rising).

        Over the last 100 years globally averaged sea-levels have risen about 4-5 inches, and it shows no sign of accelerating. (In the USA, it’s a bit more, due to land subsidence: about 8 inches.)

        To learn what sea-level is really doing, look at the real data, from NOAA, PSMSL, or

        • rayduray Says:


          I seem to recall that you attempt to make a living selling real estate on the North Carolina coast. Have I got that right?

          If so, I can understand why you present such monumentally silly arguments about sea level rise.

          Author Upton Sinclair summed up your quandary brilliantly: “It’s impossible to make a man understand something when his livelihood depends upon him not understanding it.”

          Good luck explaining your “facts” to your customers who have their homes crushed and swept out to sea in the next few decades in a totally predictable hurricane and storm surge scenario.

          You are, of course correct that land is rising in certain locations. Scandinavia and the Canadian side of the Great Lakes are two good examples where glacial rebound is currently occurring. But this is not the case in the Carolinas where retired Professor Orrin Pilkey has a lot of relevant and intelligent things to say about beach erosion and sea level rise.

          Prof. Pilkey made it abundantly clear to me that North Carolina is uniquely vulnerable to sea level rise, and in fact he cites a figure that one inch of sea level rise on the essentially flat and at sea level coast that there is an expectation of about 1,500 horizontal feet of sea infiltration onto formerly dry land. One inch rise = 1,500 feet of beach retreat. He cited the famous example of one lighthouse built on the end of a spit in the 19th Century that is now about 20 miles out to sea. That grabbed my attention. It might do the same for you.

          Unless you persist in delusional thinking, which I believe is your preference.

          • daveburton Says:

            No, rayduray, you don’t have that right. Nor much of anything else, actually.

            North Carolina is especially (though not uniquely) vulnerable to storms, not sea-level rise. North Carolina’s barrier islands, upon which our lighthouses are built, are made of sand. Hurricanes move them around.

            Plus, the Corps of Engineers has had a nasty habit of dredging sand from channels and dumping it far out to sea, removing it from the beach/island system, and worsening erosion problems.

            Sea level rise is not even a significant contributing factor. In fact, North Carolina’s only GLOSS-LTT tide gauge has recorded no rise at all in mean sea-level in the last 20 years.

            (IMO, that’s probably mostly due to the same ~60 year oscillatory pattern in the North Atlantic which was the basis for Sallenger’s “hot spot” further north, rather than indicative of a large sustained deceleration from the long term average of just under 2 mm/yr. But it highlights the fact that sea-level rise is almost negligible, and likely to remain so.)

            Dr. Pilkey has been a Professor Emeritus for a long time. Frankly, he hasn’t kept up with the field. Last year he wrote an embarrassingly misinformed guest op-ed for the Raleigh News & Observer, in which he attacked NC-20 and defended the CRC’s deeply flawed 2010 Report which projected a preposterous 39″ of sea level rise by year 2100.

            For the Report’s projection to be accurate would require either an immediate 400% acceleration in local sea-level rise, or a gradual acceleration of more like 800% to 1000%, which would correspond to a global sea level rise acceleration of more than 1500% (since part of NC’s local sea-level rise is due to subsidence — more than 0.8 mm/yr of it, according to Peltier’s VM2 model).

            Considering that the the last 80 years has seen 0% acceleration, despite a nearly 100 ppm CO2 increase, projecting 1500% for the next 90 years due solely to additional atmospheric CO2 is utterly absurd.

            Of course Pilkey’s op-ed contained no numbers like those. It was long on ad hominem attacks, and devoid of pertinent facts. He made it painfully clear that he hadn’t even read the detailed critiques of the CRC’s Report. In fact, I wonder whether he even knew they exist.

            I wrote one of those critiques. Here it is:

            Click to access Critique_of_NC_2010_SLR_AR.pdf

            Here’s an excerpt:

            Unfortunately, the [2010 CRC] Report is riddled with errors. It is strikingly unscientific in its approach, and its conclusion is wildly wrong:
            · It began by cherry-picking a single, outlier NC tide station as representative of the State, obviously chosen for its atypically large rate of recorded sea level rise.
            · It used just 24 years of sea level data from that tide station, despite the fact that 32 years of data were available, and other NC tide stations had over 75 years of data available.
            · It conflated sea level measurements from coastal tide gauges with mid-ocean sea level measurements from satellites, creating the illusion of an increase in rate of sea level rise.
            · Then it applied a discredited methodology from a fringe alarmist researcher, to justify predicting a wildly accelerated rate of sea level rise, far beyond even the IPCC’s alarmist predictions.
            · Then it exaggerated even his implausible projections.
            · Worst of all, it never even mentioned the fact that the actual historical record of sea level has shown no sustained acceleration in rate of rise for over 80 years, neither globally, nor here in North Carolina. That is the single most important thing to know about sea level rise, but you can’t learn it from this Report.

          • andrewfez Says:

            ‘Prof. Pilkey made it abundantly clear to me that North Carolina is uniquely vulnerable to sea level rise, and in fact he cites a figure that one inch of sea level rise on the essentially flat and at sea level coast that there is an expectation of about 1,500 horizontal feet of sea infiltration onto formerly dry land. One inch rise = 1,500 feet of beach retreat. He cited the famous example of one lighthouse built on the end of a spit in the 19th Century that is now about 20 miles out to sea. That grabbed my attention. It might do the same for you.’


            If you had a shoreline that was pretty evenly sloped, you could make a guestimation of how much shore will be eaten up by sea level rise by examining (on paper) a cross section of the sloping shore.

            Draw a shore gently sloping up from the normal sea level, then draw the sea level under that line, and then draw a vertical line arbitrarily to attach the two lines you’ve drawn so that you’ve made a right triangle, where theta is the angle of the shore, with respect to a perfectly horizontal sea.

            Let y be the distance running up the shore’s line, and x be the distance on the vertical line. x represents horizontal changes in sea level, and y represents how much shore goes underwater when x goes up. Then all you have to know is that y=x/sin(theta) where theta is expressed in degrees. That’s just simple trigonometry for right triangles.

            Then to find the change in y with respect to change in x, just find the first derivative of the equation. dy/dx=1/sin(theta).

            So, for example, imagine the shore sloped uphill 2 degrees on average. dy/dx=1/sin(2) = 28.7

            So if the sea were to rise 1 unit upward, then dx=1. Then just plug and chug: dy/1=28.7 and thus dy=28.7. So if the sea were to rise 1 unit, then 28.7 units of shore goes underwater for a 2 degree slope on the shore. So 1 foot of rise, eats 28.7 feet of shore for a 2 degree sloping shore.


            Of course, now we have computer models that can take in topography data, and see what really happens, but my back of the envelope thing allows for a rough idea, as long as the shore is pretty uniform. Now if the shore’s cross section is more of a curvilinear shape then the problem needs lots more envelopes to figure out. Probably have to set it up as an area under the curve type deal, then find a close approximation for the function of the curve.

        • miffedmax Says:

          How ’bout we take a look at what the NOAA says, instead of what you say they say?

  2. daveburton:

    “To learn what sea-level is really doing, look at the real data, from NOAA, PSMSL, or

    You just – without attribution – used your own little private webpage as a proof source for your ridiculous claims, and compounded your duplicity by name dropping NOAA.

    This is truly unethical – even for you.

    The tentative conclusions of actual scientists (which you are not) who do actual research in the field on this topic (which you do not) and who publish their results in actual scientific peer-reviewed journals (which I do not believe you do – correct me if I am wrong) is that, contrary to your assertions, the rate of sea level rise is in fact increasing.

    from NOAA, who you, above, claim to support your assertions – the exact opposite conclusion:

    Click to access issea.pdf


    daveburton – you are not only a liar, you are a disgraceful liar.

    At a time when overall global temperatures are rising, when the temperature of ocean waters is rising, when ice melt from Greenland, the Arctic, and the Antarctic are all rising and at unprecedented heights during the last millenia – you have the gall to come here and try to hoodwink people the the rate of sea level rise is not accelerating.

    Shame on you.

  3. andrewfez Says:

    Owning a tiny bit of property on Hilton Head, South Carolina, I can tell you the guy in the video above ain’t lying. In order to purchase property on the island, you need three separate insurance policies: 1) Regular home owner’s insurance; 2) Wind insurance; and 3) Flood insurance through the Federal Flood Insurance Program. Don’t quote me on this, but i believe that is a state requirement, and not just a mortgage lender requirement.

    Now why, you might ask, doesn’t the regular home owner’s insurance offer a flood policy? I don’t know for sure, but i would say that it is because the policy premium would be so high that it would not be worth owning property there for the middle and upper middle class people that do so.

    Also, there is a limit to the Federal Flood program: You can only get up to $250,000 in flood coverage. Most of the homes there are $300k, $400k, and $500k homes. There are a wealth of $600, 700, 800, 900, and $1M+ valued home there as well the could potentially be hurting if a storm surge went over 10 feet.

    Usually things don’t get that bad as there are natural barriers out there a mile or so off the coast that makes the surrounding waters rather docile. Natural, day to day waves are only a foot or so high, with 2 (or so) foot ones happening during a storm. Not a surfer’s paradise. But if a perfect storm hit, then…

  4. […]  you did not see part 1, by all means, check that first, or you’ll be lost here. That’s the major part of the story. I post part 2 of my […]

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  7. Eli Rabett Says:

    Turns out that the northeast US coast, from Cape Hatteras on north up to Maine is the so called Northeast Hot Spot (NEH) and the rate of sea level rise since 1950 or so is three times the global.

    Sallenger Doran and Howd explore the “Hotspot of accelerated sea level rise on the Atlantic coast of North America”. (appeared in Science, that is an open version)

  8. […] Moylan, from a national think tank called the R Street Institute, wasn’t certain how the right-leaning Globe Theatre crowd would react to his debate position: that a carbon tax could in fact make the U.S. more […]

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