A Free-Market Energy Blog

Obama Climatomics: Politics Drives Science Amid a Fading Alarm

By David Schnare -- March 3, 2009

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.”

Further References

“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).


  1. C3H_Editor  

    Very interesting analysis – one that I will definitely keep mentally, and browser, bookmarked to compare future outcomes with.

    In the meantime, Obama’s “cap & tax” program will impose both a huge direct and indirect tax on businesses and consumers. The economy would definitely be much better off not having this burden , which will only enrich special interests owned by the “elites.” We would be much better off killing the “cap & tax” baby in the cradle, now. If the politicians are hell bent of doing something, then let it be a straight carbon tax.

    With that said, the AGW science is soooo weak, we need to continue to pound on it so that politicians everywhere realize that there is no “consensus” and that a wide range of eminent scientists now question (and criticize) the man-made global warming theory. In addition, if global cooling is a more likely outcome over the near-term we need the political class to focus on a range of outcomes, not just the AGW-hystericals tail-end scenario.

    If your readers want to review what many of these eminent scientists say about AGW, they can read a huge selection of quotes here:


    Oh, and if they really want to know what the “hystericals” are after, they can read those quotes here:


    C3H Editor, http://www.c3headlines.com


  2. Ashby Lynch  

    It appears that the “cap and trade” tax will generate 60 billion dollars a year. If that was assessed only on the billion tons of coal we produce a year, it would double the price of steam coal. I believe that, all other things being equal, it would still make coal combustion the cheapest form electricity production. Which means that massive subsidies would have to be provided for wind and solar to make it competitive. Is that correct?


  3. Ed Reid  

    As long as the rest of the globe does not get serious about controlling carbon emissions, global carbon emissions will not be controlled. That is true no matter how pure our intentions or how herculean our efforts.

    Were increasing CO2 concentrations inexorably marching the globe toward catastrophe, an 83% reduction by 2050 in the US would not not halt that march, though it might slow it somewhat relative to what it otherwise would have been. That would depend on whether the industrial capacity which relocated from the US to the developing nations employed more efficient and/or lower carbon emissions equipment in the new facilities. Absent that, the total impact of the US carbon emissions reductions might be limited to the transfer of US manufacturing jobs to the developing world.

    I would not choose to be the Administration spokesperson who explained to US labor that the federal government had decided to spend, or require others to spend, ~$700 billion per year for the next 40 years to move their jobs to China, India or elsewhere in the developing world. I would, however, like to have the contract to supply the overripe fruit which would be hurled at the spokesperson immediately after said announcement. (Ah, the profit motive!)


  4. TokyoTom  

    Is this the same David Schnare who just last year said the following? Inquiring minds want to know:

    “We are also too late. The world has already exceeded the greenhouse-gas emissions “tipping point” beyond which catastrophic warming cannot be stopped. To prevent catastrophic warming, we had to keep greenhouse gases below a level equivalent to 450 parts per million of carbon dioxide. We passed that point in 2005. The Virginia plan to reduce greenhouse gases by a mere 30 percent by 2020 is too little, too late, and so is the even more aggressive IPCC proposal to reduce them by 80 percent.

    “When I explain this to elected and appointed officials, business leaders, fellow scientists and others who operate in the public eye, they have two reactions. Publicly they maintain the position that this is a critical problem that requires “serious and immediate greenhouse-gas emissions reductions.” Privately they ask me, “What can we do without losing jobs and going back to an 1850s lifestyle? Is there a way to get us more time to shift away from carbon-based fuels?”

    “Happily, there is. It is not a silver bullet, nor is it a permanent solution. But we can give ourselves four or five decades to solve this problem while maintaining our lifestyles and continuing to expand our economy. The response to a climate-change emergency will be geoengineering — the deliberate modification of Earth’s environment on a large scale to suit human needs and promote habitability.

    The most-often-discussed methods aim for one of three outcomes — directly reduce the global temperature, correct the acid balance in the oceans and pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. …

    “However, we can’t use any of these tomorrow. Most of them are scientifically sound proposals that have yet to be fully engineered. Which is why it is time to put some serious money into a climate-change emergency-preparedness plan. We have emergency plans that guide our response to everything from building fires to nuclear war. We need one for global warming.

    “When we are staring global starvation in the eye, only then would politicians be willing to use these approaches. But a prudent person would make sure we had a sensible, affordable and effective plan ready for when we need it — maybe as soon as 12 years from now.”


  5. David Schnare  

    In Response to TT, yes I wrote that piece. It was part of a much longer statement the Virginia Climate C0mmission asked me to provide. The larger point is that if you begin with the IPCC position, then you have no where to go. The Virginia Climate Commission began from that point. Thus, they needed some way to escape from the corner into which the Governor had painted them. My testimony explained that they were in an intellectual corner and that if they insisted on starting from there, they have only one option – use mitigation techniques other than those that would destroy the economy. If you read the entire testimony, and the supplemental testimony, you will find that I take the same position as Professor Scafetta – that we should not begin with the IPCC position. We should not. As Bonhoeffer suggested, “If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.”


  6. TokyoTom  

    David,?I`m not sure I follow you; care to clarify? DO man`s activities pose serious risks that we need to start doing something serious about, and soon? Given the collective action problem, is mitigation simply the wrong trousers, as Prins put it, and we need a massive investment in geoengineering (funded off of general taxpayers as opposed to GHG emitters)? I`m not sure what you`re driving at.

    As for your main theme, it`s always been the case that we get what`s politically feasible, taking into account thye POWERS THAT BE. Sure enviros will be unhappy, but should anyone really be celebrating that? The failure to get more in part represents a triumph of rent-seekers and in part simply the difficulty of coordinating across the globe. If you are applauding, can you explain why?


  7. Andrew  

    TTom-“DO man`s activities pose serious risks that we need to start doing something serious about, and soon?”

    I see the problem pretty clearly now. You are working from the false premise “serious risks”. So, you can never be satisfied with the arguments of sensible people who rightly conclude emphatically NO.


  8. TokyoTom  

    Andrew, the problem with your “clear vision” is that you`re wearing your tribal hostility goggles rather than your thinking cap.

    Perhaps you failed to notice the last two paragraphs I quoted from what David has written elsewhere, and you don`t understand that I`m asking him to clarify whether he has changed from what was HIS view just last year.

    Just maybe it`s David who is working from the “false premise” of serious risks, and who “can never be satisfied with the arguments of sensible people who rightly conclude emphatically NO.”

    Don`t look now, but that`s also the implicit position of Chip Knappenberger, Marlo Lewis, Jerry Taylor and Ken Green.


  9. Andrew  

    I sincerely doubt that they all implicitly believe such things. If that were the case, then why would Chip, for one, administrate a blog which believes that “climate change is a largely overblown issue and that the best expectation is modest change over the next 100 years.” that is, World Climate Report.


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