A Free-Market Energy Blog

California’s Path to Regulatory Hari-Kari: For What Climate Effect?

By Chip Knappenberger -- February 5, 2009

Ken Green’s post on California’s global-warming policy commented on the sad state of California’s economy under the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (Assembly Bill 32, or AB 32) . This raises the question: What is California climatically achieving for its sacrifice?

The answer? Even an immediate and complete cessation of all greenhouse gas emissions from California now and forever would result in no meaningful impact on the future course of climate change.

Background: In this weekend’s Wall Street Journal, economics writer Steven Moore has an article “California’s ‘Green Jobs’ Experiment Isn’t Going Well.” In it, he describes the rather sad state of California’s current jobs situation in light of the optimism that was expressed a few years ago with the signing of nation’s first “anti-global warming bill”:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was all smiles in 2006 when he signed into law the toughest anti-global-warming regulations of any state. Mr. Schwarzenegger and his green supporters boasted that the regulations would steer California into a prosperous era of green jobs, renewable energy, and technological leadership. Instead, since 2007—in anticipation of the new mandates—California has led the nation in job losses.

Under AB 32, the state is obligated to reduce its annual greenhouse house gas emissions total such that the its total emissions in the year 2020 are the same as what the total emissions were in the year 1990, and further, that in the year 2050, the total greenhouse gas emissions from California will be 80% below what they were in 1990.

The numbers look something like this (all numbers are in million metric tons CO2 [mmtCO2]):

Year CA equivalent CO2 Emissions
1990           427
2004           480
2008 (estimated)           495


AB 32 Targets

Year CO2 Emissions Savings from 2008 Level Savings/Year
2020 427           68      5.7
2050 85          410      9.8


Now, let’s compare the total emissions savings (under AB 32) to the annual growth in CO2 emissions from countries besides the United States.

According to data from the Energy Information Administration, averaged over the last 5 years (2002–2006), the growth rate in global CO2 emissions (not including the United States) has been about 960 mmtCO2 per year. That means, if AB 32’s entire goal of limiting California’s CO2 emissions to a level that is 80% below 1990 levels, or to a value of 85 mmtCO2/year, could be met tomorrow (instead of waiting until 2050)—the entire emissions savings under this plan (410 mmtCO2) would be completely replaced by new emissions from the rest of the world in less than 6 months. If, instead of reaching the desired goal tomorrow, it was met by reducing California’s annual CO2 emissions by 9.8 mmtCO2/year for the next 42 years (quite a feat considering that for the past five years California has averaged a year-over-year increase of about 3.8 mmtCO2), each year’s annual savings would be replaced by global emissions growth within about the first 4 days of each year (assuming a global rate of growth similar to the past 5 years). That’s a lot of struggle to be swept away in the first 4 days of each year by emissions growth in the rest of the world (primarily China and India, which make up about 2/3rds of the current annual emissions growth).

If we take the California’s AB 32 regulations one step further, and assume that instead of an 80% reduction below 1990 emissions levels, the state now and forever halts all greenhouse gas emissions, the annual saving would be 495 mmtCO2, or about 1.5% of the total annual global emissions. At the current growth rate, all of the emissions saving generated by a complete cessation of all emissions from California would be subsumed by foreign emissions growth in just one half of one year’s time.

The result of all of this is a whole lot of nothing—at least as far as the climate goes. The climate outcome of an immediate 100% reduction of California’s emissions would be equivalent to setting back the total rise in global temperature and global sea levels by about 6 months. Or in other words, the global average temperature in the year 2050 would be less than two-hundredths of a ºF lower than it otherwise would have been in the year 2050. The global sea level would be about a tenth of an inch lower than where it otherwise would be.

Plans such as AB 32, which merely mandate a reduction, rather than a complete cessation of greenhouse gas emissions from California will necessarily achieve even less—that is, if what you are really worried about is the climate.

And if you are worried about the economy, the situation apparently isn’t faring much better.

For additional analyses of the climate impacts of greenhouse gas emission reduction plans being considered in other states across the country, check out the wealth of material available from the Science and Public Policy Institute and their State Climate Profile series.


  1. Major Mike  

    A Sensible Statement about Global Warming

    Sensible statements about global warming are very rare, and I was amazed to find this one lurking among typical alarmist statements.

    “If the temperature of the Earth’s surface is changing, something needs to be done to mitigate the effects.”

    Of course, that is what humans have been doing for thousands of years. Actually, adapting to change is what humans do best.

    What do we know about the temperature of the Earth’s surface that is incontrovertible?


    We know that it is constantly changing.

    And we know that we must do something to mitigate the effects of these constant changes.

    In Minnesota we put on a thick coat. In Alaska we put on a couple of thick coats. In Oregon and Washington we wear rain clothes and carry umbrellas. In Hawaii, we take off almost everything. In California we complain about everything, demanding perfection in our weather as we do in all things.

    Looking back in time, less than 20,000 years ago North America to points south of the Great Lakes was covered by mile-thick ice sheets. Come to think of it, the Great Lakes were a product of that Ice Age.

    Obviously, humans mitigated the effects of that climate change by waiting for the ice to melt before living in Chicago.

    In more recent years, Americans living in the populous northeastern states found they could find employment and live more comfortably in the warmer southern and western states, and a massive exodus from the colder states ensued. This movement in favor of global warming was abetted by the invention of air conditioning, which mitigated the effects of voluntary climate change.

    In the 1930s heat and drought afflicted the Plains States – in particular northern Texas, western Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota, and eastern Colorado and New Mexico. Many of the residents of the Dust Bowl area took action to mitigate the effects of the climate change – they loaded up their trucks and moved to Californy.

    Today Canadian and New England “Snow Birds” migrate to Florida and Arizona each winter to mitigate the effects of climate change. For them, warmer is better.

    People also move in great masses to mitigate the effects of political climate change, but that’s for another article.


  2. TokyoTom  

    Yes, it seems that California is shooting itself in the foot, but clearly they must know that their policies will have little effect on climate itself.

    My guess is that their policies reflect not only their long-frustrated desires for climate change policy from Washington, but a broken-windows fallacy-based view that, if they push for clean energy in California they`ll not only feel better morally but that California will benefit in net when demands for greener technology grow.

    They may also be thinking that acting in California is a good way to get businesses to pressure Congress to pass legislation that overrides CA.


  3. Ed Reid  

    Business response has been limited to date because of uncertainty about future US state and federal carbon emissions legislation. Once the uncertainty is resolved, business will move from CA, either to other states or to other countries, such as Chindia, which have no intention of limiting carbon emissions.

    The US has already experienced and adapted to substantial de-industrialization. Chindia has already adapted to substantial industrialization. If the US federal government actually imposes “80% by 2050”, the adaptations will proceed to their endpoints.


  4. jae  

    Ed is right. Why can’t the public see this, before it is too late? Why can’t even OBAMA see this? Certainly his IQ is high enough! (different matter for Pelosi and some others, though).


  5. TokyoTom  

    “The US has already experienced and adapted to substantial de-industrialization. Chindia has already adapted to substantial industrialization. If the US federal government actually imposes “80% by 2050?, the adaptations will proceed to their endpoints.”

    Free trade a capitla flows helped Europe and Japan both grow startlingly after WWII; the same is finally happening now -naturally – in China and India because they`ve opened their markets and businesses and investors are responding. Only mercantilists believe that this spells the end of the US or Europe.


  6. Still Dreaming in California — MasterResource  

    […] Ms. Adams couldn’t be farther from the truth. As I have detailed in a previous MasterResource article, there is nothing that California can do to change the future […]


  7. Morning Bell: Avoid California’s Mistakes | The Foundry: Conservative Policy News.  

    […] at what benefit to the environment? None. All economic pain for zero environmental gain; that is the exact same formula the Waxman-Markey […]


  8. Tom Tanton: California Cap-and-Trade: Making Ourselves Poorer and ‘Dirtier’ (Part 2) | JunkScience.com  

    […] wide cap-and-trade. The climate impact, if the programs (unrealistic) goals are achieved, are miniscule. Nonetheless, the program is to start later this year, according to the California Air Resources […]


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