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Politicking with our Future

By Ted Nelson ecomii.com
June 30, 2009
File under: Alternative Energy, Carbon Emission Reduction, Economy, Environmental Concerns, Environmental Policy, Legislation

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A long awaited climate bill made it through the House on Friday June 26th and is awaiting a vote in the Senate.

While it’s significant that one house of congress has finally passed a bill to curb greenhouse gases (GHGs), the vote was far too close for comfort: 219 to 212. There is no certainty that the bill will pass the Senate.

There are some beefs with the specifics on the bill and not its intent to curb GHGs (such as a Bush-like approach to clean coal), but the vast majority of the opposition is based on an argument that cap-and-trade will hurt the economy.

This reasoning, however, is faulty: if no changes are made nature is set to do far more damage to our economy than 1,000 climate bills possibly could.

This past weekend while flipping through the AM stations on my radio I happened upon a talk radio host going off against the Waxman-Markey bill. His argument was that the scientists who subscribe to the theory of global warming are not real scientists… That as a radio jockey he knows more about science than the vast majority of trained scientists in the world.

The furthest he went into the scientific basis of his argument was stating that CO2 is not a pollutant because he breathes out CO2 at every moment. Now, you don’t have to be a trained scientist to realize that the earth’s atmosphere is meant to contain a certain concentration of CO2; it’s tipping that balance which we’re worried about.

Freedom of speech allows you to go on the radio waves and express your opinion, but we should at least expect some sort of accountability out of our politicians, right? Wrong. Paul Broun, a Representative from Georgia, called climate change a “hoax perpetrated out of the scientific community.”

As Paul Krugman, a Princeton economist, points out in his NY Times op-ed, this would require “a vast cabal consisting of thousands of scientists — a cabal so powerful that it has managed to create false records on everything from global temperatures to Arctic sea ice. Yet Mr. Broun’s declaration was met with applause.”

For his scientific proof, Dr. Krugman cites the latest research on climate change. Facts and evidence may not be for everyone, but those of us who believe in reason have a hard time looking past these findings. Climate change is already happening, and at a faster rate than expected.

M.I.T. estimates of the global temperature increase by century’s end have climbed from 4 degrees to 9… and a consensus is emerging about the vicious cycle of climate change: temperature increases melt arctic ice, which in turn leads to more heat being absorbed (ice reflects far more heat than water, through a property known as albedo), causing temperatures to rise further.

Krugman aptly points out that climate change is an “existential threat” to our society, just like terrorism. The difference, of course, is that our society can only do so much to fight terrorism, while we have full control over doing our part in the fight against climate change. Yet many of the same politicians who are happy to throw the constitution in the garbage to fight terror, are unwilling to risk losing a few bucks to preserve our way of life and ensure the survival of human society.

I don’t want to sound like a pessimist or an alarmist. I believe absolutely that we can fight climate change and emerge as a stronger society for it, but I also believe that large scale action is needed as soon as possible. The question is what sort of action to take. If the fact that we have to do something to curb emissions is taken as a given (which I believe it should be), then the goal is to do so without sacrificing quality of life. If anything, quality of life should improve.

The cap-and-tax mentality loses sight of the logic behind cap-and-trade. The only way that cap-and-trade will turn into cap-and-tax is if no one adjusts their behavior to the new incentives in the marketplace. In reality, economic theory tells us that the various interest groups involved will adjust their behavior.

If electricity producers and other large emitters lose money for polluting, then they’ll make adjustments to become more efficient. If the costs are passed to consumers, then they will adjust their behavior to use less dirty electricity. Of course, utilities are regulated and could be prevented from passing on the costs.

Any way you slice it, efficient companies will gain a competitive advantage, while inefficient companies will be forced to change.

Too much is at stake with Waxman-Markey to let political posturing stand in the way of a constructive discussion that leads to a bill that does as much as possible to combat climate change while also improving our quality of life. The threat of climate change is real, and requires action.

Failure to act will inflict huge damage on our economy and lifestyle, so if it’s necessary a little short-term economic squeeze should be deemed acceptable. However, the Waxman-Markey bill should make every attempt to minimize or eliminate short-term financial harm at the same time as maximizing sustainable action.

Engaging in a participatory process to craft a strong bill would seem to be a much more productive approach to obstaining from the process and attacking the bill as unnecessary.

Click here to learn more about the Cap and Trade system.

 
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