Under the Right Conditions We Can Collaborate

Global warming seems more real. Warming’s consequences are likely to be unhealthy and perhaps destructive to shorelines but there is yet no reliable agreement on the magnitude of warming, its precise causes, and the trajectory of temperatures. Against a background with so many uncertainties, Americans are being asked to unilaterally commit to big sacrifices. The justification for sacrifice is not as clear as its proponents suggest.

Raw data on climate was tainted by a lingering suggestion that some scientists fudged the data. The allegations are not limited to one instance. There have been different sets of locations used over time to collect temperatures. There is still no consensus on the right start date for the dataset of temperature measures and for CO2 concentration. Climate alarmists hate mention of 1998 as a start because it was much hotter than usual. Others refuse to accept dates that were exceptionally chilly. Clearly, there are preconceived biases in the scientific community and even more biases among political analysts.

Documented cycles of global warming have peaks in the Middle Ages, and in ice age melts that occurred millions of years ago. They demand explanations that blame neither a carbon economy nor manmade heat. It’s highly doubtful that climate cycles are caused by a single factor, and the explanations for ancient warming cycles may have current explanatory validity as co-factor with human activity.

That said, reductions of atmospheric carbon dioxide probably can reduce current increases in warming, but the mention of CO2 does not by itself justify executive edicts such appointing the EPA as carbon czar with a license to scapegoat coal.

Virtually ignored is the overwhelmingly constructive role played by fossil energy sources that fuel most of our transportation and electricity production. Efficient transport and electricity provide heating and cooling, lighting, manufacturing, and commuting that leads to our prosperous and healthy US economy. When government agencies promulgate regulations with this depth of impact on the economy, the cost benefit analysis needs to be thorough and honest, and prior to the regulation’s adoption. There must be no convenient increases in the costs of mortality, morbidity and carbon.

Global warming is indeed global, yet some legislators insist on committing the US to a quasi-religious global crusade against carbon-dependence by hobbling our economy, without like commitments from nations that emit or will emit similar quantities of greenhouse gases.

If the US industry is saddled with pollution abatement obligations, then trading partners can award themselves an economic trade advantage by not cutting back on greenhouse gasses. That would offset the benefits of our progress in reducing pollution and harm our workforce by making it comparatively less efficient. So, if we achieve greenhouse gas reductions, but China, Russia, India, and less developed countries do not, then the American sacrifice is undermined and American workers are harmed. A similar labor force consequence would flow from US states making disparate greenhouse gas progress.   If we are not in it together, it is probably not worth the sacrifice. We may need to use hardball negotiation with nations that directly subsidize gasoline sales at the retail level.

All CO2 molecules trap atmospheric heat in the same degree, thus reductions in carbon dioxide emissions have the same value regardless of how the gas is generated, and the reductions should be valued the same regardless of whether it comes from swamp gas, cattle, natural gas, petroleum or coal. The most evenhanded way to induce those reductions is through a revenue neutral carbon tax. A carbon tax allows chemical, transportation and energy industries to devise the most efficient ways of cutting carbon as one of their production inputs. That makes progress toward a reasonable national target.

The revenue-neutral aspect means that the total of carbon taxes will be returned to consumers, through either income tax reductions or sales tax reductions. The collected carbon taxes must not be allowed to accumulate within easy reach for legislators’ pet projects, especially for subsidies in non-carbon energy industries such as solar, nuclear, and wind turbines.

When subsidies for renewables are available, they increase the cost of energy to the consumer (let’s cease pretending that government subsidies do not cost consumers anything). The hideously tall regulatory burden that makes nuclear unaffordable and slow to bring online should be pruned so that the uneven regulatory burdens among fossil and renewables are leveled.

Unfortunately, some political opportunists will hog the TV cameras and proclaim moral superiority due to their support of solar and wind and their hatred for carbon. Our most valuable leaders will take a more balanced stance – measuring worth in tons of carbon dioxide eliminated, not in a public platitude contest with style-points for kissing babies.

A balanced stance makes room for all Americans to join the parade and take some ownership in solving the problem. Our elected officials should avoid rejecting help from those who refuse the partisan Kool Aid – everyone’s help is valuable.