'Balance' Is Crucial in Global-Warming Policy Prescription

Article excerpt


At the same time we are learning that global warming is far from an environmental crisis, we are also learning that ill-advised efforts to address it would make us noticeably poorer.

What is needed is balance. We must weigh the risks of global warming against the risks of global-warming policy. Otherwise, we may impose a radical environmental cure far worse than the warming disease. Policymakers should pursue a course of treatment that delivers more environmental good than economic harm.

That hasn't been the case thus far.

Last year, the lead climate-change bill in Washington was the American Clean Energy and Security Act, the cap-and-trade bill sponsored by Reps. Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat, and Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat. It called for large, rapid reductions in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions - a 17 percent reduction by 2020, and an 83 percent cut by 2050.

Some proponents claimed the approach would be virtually cost-free - only a postage stamp per day, according to President Obama. Some even claimed it would yield an economic bonanza of green jobs. Cap-and-trade, it seemed, would be a miracle cure for global warming.

Unfortunately, cap-and-trade is more a quackery than a cure. The only serious analysis of how it would affect temperatures concluded that, at best, the Waxman-Markey bill would lower Earth's temperature by no more than 0.2 degrees Celsius by 2100. That's a negligible amount of environmental good. Even assuming that manmade warming poses a threat - an assumption that has all but been demolished by recent scientific evidence - measures like Waxman-Markey would do little to address it.

How about cost? The truth is, there is no cheap way to curtail carbon-dioxide emissions from fossil fuels. The reason we use fossil fuel for 85 percent of our energy is that it's far more plentiful and affordable than alternative sources of energy.

In 2008, before he latched onto the postage stamp rhetoric, Mr. Obama was more upfront about how he would wean America from fossil fuels. Under his plan, he said, energy prices would necessarily skyrocket. That's because cap-and-trade is really just a convoluted energy tax. It's designed to raise fossil-fuel prices to levels so painful that people are forced to reduce their consumption and, therefore, the emissions that go with it.

How high will costs rise? My Heritage Foundation colleague David Kreutzer found that Waxman-Markey would raise electricity rates by 90 percent, gasoline by 58 percent and natural gas by 55 percent. …