The Environmental Left has used global warming as a tool to force their Malthusian “sustainability” agenda on the U.S. and, to the extent possible, the rest of the world. Yet in one simple maneuver, the President has replaced save-the-world alarmism with a revenue-driven cap-and-trade program. It is politics, not science, which is in the driver’s seat, and the carbon cuts will be far below what the catastrophists have long demanded. The “unsaved” world moves ahead.
Obama’s get-what-you-can-now strategy ducks the issue of EPA unleashing the Clean Air Act, an approach that is supposed to lead with the (alarmist) science, not cost/benefit economics. Obama has also established a baseline for action that will keep the U.S. economy ahead of the less robust economies of the rest of the world, while avoiding the growing scientific pushback that threatens to crack the IPCC “consensus.”
In simpler terms, faced with new science, an economic crisis, and a need for higher taxes, President Obama has burst the climate-change alarmism bubble. The Environmental Left will get a watered down cap-and-trade program, not the urgent program they insist is necessary. Because Obama, their President, is providing half a loaf, they can’t complain. But the alarmists are now on the fringes of the policy debate and heading into a very inconvenient scientific discussion they are not going to win.
Everything about global warming and climate change is complex, but especially the politics and the regulations. In fact, the only part of climate change that is becoming clearer is the science, which is worth revisiting.
The big question has always been: How much does mankind affect the global climate? Recent analyses—by John Christy (Director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama at Huntsville), Richard Lindzen (MIT), Nicola Scafetta (Duke University), and others—are splintering the “consensus” in the meteorological community upon which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has relied. For example, IPCC head Rajendra Pachauri has warned that temperatures may rise by as much as 5° C by 2100. Christy, Lindzen, and Scafetta all project the rise in global temperature by 2100 will be closer to 1° C, a level that to mainstream climate economics makes the externality associated with the human influence on climate positive, not negative. So much for the IPCC “consensus.”
It cannot be claimed that these “deniers” are right-wing nuts paid for by big coal and big oil. Their work is not merely peer-reviewed; it is recognized as important by the internal decision-makers at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Indeed, EPA’s National Center for Environmental Economics has been bringing in such “skeptics” to seminars on the basic science of climate change.
That seminar series is a small problem for the Agency and its new administrator, Lisa P. Jackson. During her Senate oversight hearings, she stated: “Science must be the backbone of what EPA does. If I am confirmed, I will administer with science as my guide.” She also said: “Political appointees will not compromise the integrity of EPA’s technical experts to advance particular regulatory outcomes.”
Well, now her agency has been given the science by technical experts whose advice should guide her to a finding that greenhouse gases (GHGs) are not a major health issue. Of course, she can also use their data to say GHGs are not as big a problem as thought but still endanger the environment and so require action under the Clean Air Act.
But her hard problem will be to determine what level of GHGs in the air is acceptable. The agency will take years to work that out, but in the mean time it won’t matter—because of how the Congress and president are sidestepping the science, leaving Jackson free to say she followed the science even if no one else did.
So who is left to finish off bursting the climate change bubble? The people involved are important, mainly because of their egos. The single most important player would have been Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. If the president, the rest of Congress, and the public were ready to ignore the science, Waxman would have had primary jurisdiction on a greenhouse gas cap-and-trade bill. And he would never burst the bubble, being a true believer in the climate-change faith.
But someone in the White House or the Cabinet must no longer be drinking the IPCC Kool-Aid, maybe the new Energy Secretary, who would have a hard time ignoring his fellow physicist Nicola Scafetta and the rest of the hard scientists undercutting the faith-based climate science. Or maybe it is EPA Administrator Jackson. Until the tell-all books come out in five years, we won’t know. Whoever they are, they are the ones whose actions burst the bubble.
Here’s how they did it.
To write a cap-and-trade bill, or to regulate under the Clean Air Act, someone has to decide how much to reduce GHG emissions. That’s a question that would normally emerge from the scientific debate on how safe is safe enough. According the Al Gores and Jim Hansens, we must eliminate all GHG emissions immediately in order to prevent catastrophic climate change, since we have already passed the “tipping point” that they claim will result in a 5° C global temperature rise by 2100. (This is the Kool-Aid they want us all to drink.) That, of course, is possible only if we destroy our modern economy. The White House knows there is no alternative over the next twenty years to carbon-based energy. But a clever person in the White House, knowing that we cannot reach the level required by the Clean Air Act (which is based on the IPCC rantings), and demanded by the leading fear-mongers, came up with a different plan. Rather than wrangle over what GHG level to obtain, they picked a target based on how much money the government could collect without destroying the economy (according to them).
This is quite clever. To heck with the science, let’s generate federal revenue. It will be on the back of the big energy companies, meaning it will be spread over the entire population, and it will be nearly invisible as a tax because it won’t come out of paychecks directly, but will be rather like a value-added tax to nearly every good or service in the economy. Further, by making the climate tax large enough, it will pay for the proposed health care program as well as provide a means to transfer wealth to the lower-income bracket. You can find all this in the president’s budget, fully explained and described in a single paragraph.
So, why exactly does this “burst” the climate change bubble? Consider how the Obama approach marginalizes the environmental Left. Waxman now has to negotiate with Charlie Rangel, chairman of the single most powerful committee in the Congress, the House Ways and Means Committee, which sets all tax policy. Rangel will decide how low to set the cap based on the need for federal revenue. He wants to put the program into the Treasury Department rather than at EPA or in the Energy Department. He’ll be happy to have Waxman figure out how to measure GHGs and how to do the accounting, but the price per ton will be something over which he will maintain strict control.
Not only does Waxman lose out, so does the entire discussion on climate catastrophes. We don’t care about the environment any more. How low we go is about taxation, not about ecology. The rest of the world can follow the U.S. approach if they want, but they won’t—because the cost per ton the Congress will select would probably destroy less robust economies. And if they pressure the United States into a less draconian cap, once again they burst the climate change bubble by ignoring the fear-mongering still more.
So, who is going to complain about all this? Jim Hansen, of course. Al Gore, probably, although he will make money on the back of a cap-and-trade program, regardless. The well-funded environmental Left will be very unhappy, because only by draconian reductions can they get the “sustainability” utopia they have long sought, and the Obama targets don’t get it done. But they won’t be able to complain very loudly. After all, this is their president, and they have opened the way for more punitive taxation in the future against the master resource, energy. (Besides, they themselves have permanent jobs since the planet is never finally “saved.”)
The White House has also been very clever. They have set a long-range GHG reduction target–83 percent by 2050–that is so far away that no one will care about it, and all the environmental Left can do is grumble. Even the scientific community is not going to be too offended by it because, according to Professor Scafetta, by 2030 we will have absolute proof as to whether GHGs are unimportant to global warming. So, a future administration and Congress can modify the cap-and-trade tax system later, based on hard science, and the current crew is happy to let that be someone else’s problem. In the meantime, the fear-mongers are going to be given the Washington glad-hand treatment. They will be told the Congress and the administration have done all they can, and done more than anyone else, while dealing with more pressing problems.
Lastly, the White House approach will eradicate state-level actions by replacing the various localized GHG markets with a federal program. Governors will still be able to beat their breasts and proclaim they have done something by meeting (or trying to meet) the federal caps. Further, they will be able to blame Washington if this new tax system harms the economy or their local businesses. They have dodged the bullet and they don’t have to have an answer the hard question as to whether there is any climate emergency in the first place.
Who would have guessed that a paragraph in the president’s proposed budget would undo the climate change hysteria? But it will, because climate change is no longer the political flavor of the day. To quote a former President: “It’s the economy stupid.”
“Boxer eyes bold move to thwart filibuster on emissions bill,” by Darren Samuelsohn, senior reporter, E&E News PM, (02/26/2009).
Scafetta, Nicola. “Total solar irradiance satellite composites and their phenomenological effect on climate.” In press, for a special volume by the Geological Society of America, (2009).