Climate ethics on Capitol Hill

Posted: Jun 30, 2007 12:01 AM
Climate ethics on Capitol Hill

Sarbanes-Oxley and the 2006 elections supposedly inaugurated a new congressional commitment to ethics, transparency, accountability and consumer protection. Something has been lost in translation.

The “energy” bill now wending its way through the legislative labyrinth dedicates $6 billion to goodies like more energy-efficient snowmobiles for ski resorts, outlaws “price gouging” at the gas pump, and sets new mileage standards that will likely make cars and light trucks less safe and cost more lives. It also provides subsidies and mandates for politically correct “alternative” energy projects that probably wouldn’t survive without such aid.

But the bill doesn’t increase the nation’s energy supply by one drop of gasoline or one watt of electricity, says Congressman Jim McCrery (R-LA). It lifts no bans on oil and gas drilling, and does nothing to ease regulatory impediments to pipelines, transmission lines, refineries, or coal and nuclear generating plants. The only power it generates is expanded bureaucratic power over energy and economic decisions.

Its ethanol mandates will result in more land converted from wildlife habitat to corn fields, and in greater use of water, fertilizer, pesticides, and tractor and truck fuel. Corn prices will continue to rise, along with the cost of meat, candy, soft drinks and other products that use corn for feed or corn syrup as a sweetener. The biofuel itself will cost more, but provide less mileage per tank.

Expanded wind power will mean more 300-foot-tall “cuisinarts” killing birds and bats, marring once-scenic vistas, and feeding into hundred-mile transmission lines – to provide expensive, intermittent electricity that has to be backed up by natural-gas-fired generators. It may even take more energy to mine and process the ores and manufacture the turbines and transmission lines and towers, than is generated during the productive lifetime of wind turbines, which only work about 30% of the time.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has proposed to make Congress “carbon neutral” in its electricity use. How this is possible without building separate transmission lines and condemning private property for rights-of-way, to get electricity from wind and solar farms to Capitol Hill, she doesn’t say.

Even less ethical is the rush to “do something” about global warming. Assorted climate change bills propose to slash US carbon dioxide emissions by varying amounts, under different timetables, to prevent speculative catastrophes conjured up by computer models that do not reflect complex atmospheric processes and cannot predict temperature or climate one year in the future, much less 40 or 90.

The worst of the lot (Sanders-Boxer) would compel the United States to go even further than the Kyoto Protocol requires. It would compel CO2 emission cuts of 15% below 2006 levels by 2020, and 83% below 2006 levels by 2050 – presumably without increasing nuclear power.

Such mandates might help special interests – which are lining up to proclaim “consensus” on climate change and claim their share of any entitlements. But they would severely impact US energy production, transportation, agriculture, manufacturing, workers and families.

An MIT analysis concludes that Sanders-Boxer would cost the US up to $403 billion in foregone Gross Domestic Product, corresponding to a loss of some 4.5 million jobs and an impact of $5370 per family of four. The Sanders-Boxer, Feinstein and Waxman bills would result in carbon offset allowances priced at $210 per ton of CO2, adding a truly price-gouging $95 to the cost of a barrel of oil, $2 to a gallon of gasoline, $143 to a ton of coal, and 50% to the price of electricity, by 2020.

Domestic production of goods and services would plummet, and families with low incomes or living in regions with high heating or air-conditioning needs would be disproportionately affected, as they would have to spend much higher portions of their incomes on energy, food and consumer products.

MIT’s evaluation presumes developing countries would match our emission cutbacks. It’s more likely that they would prefer to reap the benefits of more energy at lower prices, to fuel economies, create jobs and improve living standards. Few of them perceive a need to address climate disasters that they view as largely hypothetical or due to wealthy Western countries.

The US Energy Information Administration calculated that Kyoto mandates (CO2 emission reductions to 5% below 1990 levels) could cost up to 2.5 million jobs and reduce our GDP by up to $525 billion annually – equivalent to a tax of $7,000 on every family of four.

Wharton’s Business School of Economics determined that Kyoto would cost 2.3% of America’s GDP. At $12 trillion in 2006, that translates into $275 billion a year or $3700 per family.

Management Information Services concluded that Kyoto could eliminate 1.3 million black and Hispanic jobs, force nearly 100,000 minority businesses to close, and cause average minority family incomes to plunge by more than $2,000 a year. States with large minority populations would lose $10-40 billion a year in economic output, and over $2 billion annually in tax revenues.

At this price, Congress should be 100% certain about these alleged climate change cataclysms. But the case for immediate drastic action is getting progressively weaker, and none of these measures would bring any detectable environmental benefits.

In fact, Congress is telling American families it is prepared to impose enormous costs to achieve minuscule reductions in global CO2 emissions and avert speculative impacts 90 years from now – on the assumption that carbon dioxide causes climate change, and any change will be catastrophic.

The Kyoto Protocol, if adhered to by every signatory nation, would prevent a mere 0.2 degrees F of warming by 2050. To stabilize atmospheric CO2 and prevent theoretical climate catastrophe, we would need 30 such treaties, each one more restrictive and expensive than the last. The various congressional bills would accomplish far less than that.

Moreover, increasing numbers of scientists doubt that carbon dioxide is the culprit. They point out that there has been no rise in average global atmospheric temperatures since 1998, despite a 4% increase in CO2. Ice core and other data indicate that, over the past 650,000 years, temperatures usually rose first and CO2 levels increased several centuries later.

Timothy Patterson, Henrik Svensmark and other climate scientists have found growing evidence that our sun is the dominant cause of climate change. As its energy output varies, so does the solar wind that determines how many galactic cosmic rays reach the Earth.

More solar energy warms Earth directly and generates stronger solar winds, deflecting cosmic rays, reducing cloud cover and warming us still more. Less solar energy results in reduced solar wind, more cosmic rays and thus more clouds – further cooling the planet.

Solar scientists now predict that, by 2020, the sun will begin its weakest cycle in two centuries. That could bring on global cooling that would harm agriculture in northern latitudes, raise heating bills, and make the clamor about manmade global warming look like wasted hot air.

Will Rogers once said, every time Congress makes a joke it’s a law, and every time it makes a law it’s a joke. The energy and climate bills are perfect examples.

Luckily for Congress, it routinely exempts itself from ethics, accountability and price-gouging laws.