Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step


November 26, 2008

Heritage Foundation: The True Costs of Global Warming Legislation

Category: Climate Change,Political – Tom Harrison – 12:42 pm

The Heritage Foundation published a report on Monday regarding the EPA’s decision (or should I say the supreme court’s decision) to regulate greenhouse gasses.

It may not be a surprise that Heritage Foundation thinks this is a bad and costly idea, concluding “all of this sacrifice is in order to make, at best, a minuscule contribution to an overstated environmental threat.” The report is in the context of our current economic “downturn” and suggests that the true costs of implementing the plan would be devastating.

I can’t disagree with their specific conclusion. I just disagree with their assumptions.

The EPA plan is simple-minded, and fails to understand the larger context of energy, climate change, and economy. This is not surprising, as it was written last July under duress, in an administration not inclined to view such regulations favorably, and also before the most public elements of the financial crisis had occurred.

However, the Heritage Foundation continues to couch their positions around views that suggest disbelief in the conclusions of the IPCC reports on global warming (in brief: it’s real, it’s caused by man, it will result in catastrophic change, and bold action now can mitigate the degree of the catastrophe).

Concern that carbon dioxide and other green­house gases are gradually warming the planet has emerged as the major environmental issue of the day, and certainly the most hyped one. Carbon diox­ide is a naturally occurring component of the air, but is also the ubiquitous and unavoidable by-product of fossil fuel combustion, which currently provides 85 percent of America’s energy. Thus, any effort to substantially curtail such emissions would have extremely costly and disruptive impacts on the economy and on living standards.

This paragraph tells a story. First, Heritage Foundation doesn’t agree with the IPCC conclusions, believing them to be “hyped”. I would like to understand more fully on what basis they make this conclusion, as most evidence suggests, unfortunately, that conclusions about the impact of global warming have understated the degree, magnitude and urgency of the problem. Scientists tend to be conservative in projections, especially ones of such great import to the world.

The second part of the quote above seems both simpleminded, and laughable to me. Yes, if we substantially curtailed our use of fossil fuels without making any other changes, it would indeed have costly and disruptive impacts.

Am I missing something here? Does our world of policy operate in such a vacuum that Heritage Foundation envisions us responding to the EPAs implementation of this law as passive bystanders? Do we simply say, “no more gasoline” and throw in the towel? Their analysis does almost exactly this: it calculates the cost. Notice this item “Note that these are net job losses, after any jobs created by compliance with the regulations–so-called green jobs–are taken into account.” Does this mean they are accounting for green jobs? No, just the ones created by compliance with the regulation.

Any even remotely enlightened policy maker might instead consider a broader plan that attacks the requirement (to follow the new law) by finding a solution to the larger problem. If I am caught in a rain storm without proper clothing, I tend not to sit there waiting for hypothermia to set in — I tend to seek a solution, and even (gasp!) learn from the experience for the future. We have an opportunity to embrace the spirit and letter of this law.

The (almost) laughable part of the quoted paragraph above is that it was published several days after the stock market had its largest ever decline, and when report after report shows just how severely disrupted we already are, and how our living standards seem inevitably to have to fall as a result. To be fair, they are saying “now’s a bad time because we’ll just make things worse”. But the overall tone and content of the article suggests a disingenuous attempt to link solutions to global warming with resulting economic disaster.

All evidence suggests that the alternative is the truth. The true costs, when taken in the larger and longer context of fact are borne (and many would argue are being borne now) as a result of inaction.

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