A Free-Market Energy Blog

Houston Chronicle: Climate Alarmism and Policy Activism, but no Economic Analysis

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- May 27, 2009

“With overwhelming scientific evidence that the threat of global climate change is real and accelerating, it’s imperative that the United States, the second-biggest producer of carbon dioxide, take a leading role in crafting solutions. [Waxman-Markey] offers an opportunity to begin exercising that leadership.”

The Houston Chronicle editorial page is one of the most biased in the nation when it comes to climate alarmism and associated public-policy activism. And it maintained that unenviable reputation with last Sunday’s op-ed, Cap-and-Trade-Off.

The 559-word piece is disappointing both for what it did say and for what was left unsaid.

First, some facts in the piece were out of date. (Okay, someone clocked out early for the long weekend; me too.)  The bill was not under debate as stated in the first sentence; it was voted out of committee. The free allowances were not two-thirds of the total as stated but appreciably more. As (correctly) reported in the New York Times:

“In the end, 85 percent of all pollution allowances were given at no cost for various purposes, including compensating energy-intensive industries, state governments, oil refiners and low-income households, at least in the early years of the program. Mr. Obama’s position during the presidential campaign was that all of the permits should be auctioned, not given away, but the White House did not object to Mr. Waxman’s generous allocations.”

But what is far more important, the op-ed contained no discussion of the proposed legislation’s costs and benefits. Specifically, what is the gain for global climate from the bill, and what are the costs (including administrative) for all the regulation proposed in this “massive, 946-page bill”?

In fact, as I told several members of the the editorial board in person a few weeks ago, and as first posted here at MasterResource, the global impact even assuming a “perfect” Waxman-Markey bill (a 83% emission reduction by 2050) would be less than one-tenth of one degree Fahrenheit in that year. And that analysis, and the bill’s estimated substantial costs, have not been refuted. Pending further review, in fact, Waxman-Markey badly flunks conventional economic cost/benefit analysis.

The Chronicle’s only objection to the bill was that the allowances were free rather than auctioned as originally intended. Andy Wilson from the Austin office of Public Citizen is quoted: “Every dollar that’s given away in free allowances is money that’s not being returned to consumers.” What? How about stating something like this: “Every dollar that’s given away in free allowances is money that’s not taken from consumers in the first place–money that if taken might or might not be returned to them by politicians.”

And then there was the bold assertion of “overwhelming scientific evidence that the threat of global climate change is real and accelerating.” But what about temperature trends that show little-to-no warming in the last decade or more despite high CO2 emissions, casting the high-sensitivity models in a harsh light? Some very interesting work on feedback effects appears to explain the reasons for the models’ overestimation of anthropogenic warming. And scares such as more powerful hurricanes from the human influence on climate (a big issue for Houstonians) have been robustly contradicted in the peer-reviewed literature. (A future post will quote Texas A&M climatologist Gerald North on the half-dozen or so false climate mini-alarms.)

Without cost/benefit analysis to argue that Waxman-Markey is a reasonable deal for a recession economy, the Chronicle could only elevate form over substance, asserting that “it’s imperative that the United States, the second-biggest producer of carbon dioxide, take a leading role in crafting solutions.”

Reader comments were strongly negative. One got right to the point:

“The ‘overwhelming scientific evidence’ is anything but. Is global warming man made or is it a better question to ask ‘How much effect does man have on changing the global climate’? There are numerous examples of global temperature changes throughout recorded history. What has not been explained is how placing restrictions on American industry and higher costs to American consumers will change or even affect the global climate? If there is scientific evidence that shows that the US is causing global climate change then explain how will this sacrifice of American industry (and the American consumer) affect the global climate? American consumers are going to be required to pay more, much more for energy. American oil reserves that are currently untapped will continue to be unused further driving up gas prices.

I pay more and this is going to prevent ‘global warming’? Yeah right. Wrong bill at the wrong time for all of the wrong reasons.

One consolation that Chronicle readers have is the thrice-weekly column by business editorialist Loren Steffy, which is more analytical and insightful on matters such as cap-and-trade.

A Different Future?

If the Chronicle editorial board wants to know the weaknesses in the scientific case for climate alarmism, several hours of concentrated effort is all that it will take. If the editorial board wants to understand how Waxman-Markey is very expensive regulation for its own sake, without appreciable benefits, that is there for the taking too.

But what will it take for them to want to know what is wrong with both climate alarmism and the policy choice of regulatory mitigation instead of wealth-is-health adaptation? How much government and analytic failure must there be before the other side of the debate in all of its dimensions–physical science, economics, public policy–is seriously considered?

The readership of the Houston Chronicle, many of them skeptics of climate alarmism, deserves better.


  1. Tom Tanton  

    I find it extremely disturbing that Mr. Waxman acknowledges (on film) that he HASN’T EVEN read his own bill and that he doesn’t know what all is in it, but that he has to rely “on the scientists of the IPCC” First I’m not sure his oath of office allows such delegation of authority effectively ceding soverignty to an international body. Second, if he hasn’t taken the time to read his own bill, I’ll bet he also hasn’t read the IPCC report, nor noticed the differences between the “Summary for Policy Makers” and the main “science”. He’s not “relying on scientists” (which would be bad enough in this case) but relying on international policy wonks with an agenda.


  2. Paddy  

    Here is the link to the Seattle Times editorial on political action to halt global warming: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/editorialsopinion/2009259641_edita25green.html

    Equally disgusting!!


  3. rbradley  

    The Houston Chronicle’s sister paper, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, went digital in April.

    The Houston Chronicle registered a 14% drop in weekday subscriptions for the six months ending in April 2009, not a good result in a strong city but not too much worse than other comparable cities such as Dallas. See the results of the top 25 papers here: (http://www.editorandpublisher.com/eandp/news/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1003966608)

    I cannot help but conclude that a “Left wing” paper in a “Right wing” city has hurt their circulation on the whole. I do know that the paper’s hard alarmist stance on the human influence on climate is not received well–the polls indicate that the public is not alarmist, and in Houston that is probably more so.


  4. Doc  

    Please help me understand why so much energy and time are spent on the one of the greatest hoaxes ever perpetrated on mankind, “Climate Change”. I hear the word “evidence”, yet I see no credible “evidence” produced by anyone. Even Al Gore refuses to debate the issue with credible individuals on the other side. That’s because “theres a hole in the bucket” and it will not carry water!


  5. rbradley  

    The Chroncle editorial page defaults to alarmism again.

    The editorial [“Change on the way: Latest U.S. global-warming study predicts sweltering future (June 17, 2009) at
    http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/editorial/6485543.html%5D is a push for the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill now under debate.

    The editorial ends:

    “A bill to set up a cap-and-trade system to lower carbon output from U.S. industrial facilities is under discussion in Congress.

    Texas Democratic lawmakers, including Houston Rep. Gene Green, have signed off on a compromise that would initially provide refiners, electric utilities and other industries with allowances to soften the economic impact of reducing emissions.

    President Barack Obama’s science adviser, John Holdren, hopes the latest findings “will contribute to how people think about specific legislative proposals and the need to move ahead smartly now after many years of dithering and delay.”

    Living in a region particularly vulnerable to the consequences of global warming, Houstonians should support congressional efforts to craft sensible measures to turn down the heat.”


  6. Houston Chronicle’s Loren Steffy on Waxman-Markey (can this straight shooter be added to the newspaper’s editorial board?) — MasterResource  

    […] editorials have long been a bastion of climate alarmism and policy activism (see here and here), positions that must be so dear to the paper’s senior management (and owners?) that they […]


  7. Houston’s Energy Citizens Rally (and why was the Houston Chronicle editorial board silent?) — MasterResource  

    […] have lamented how the editorial board of my hometown Houston Chronicle long ago took a hard left position on […]


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