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Wall Street Journal Market Watch

 

Feeling the Heat on Climate Change

July 22, 2013

By Diana Furchtgott-Roth

Would you like to know where to find a succinct statement of liberals’ climate change policy? It is not at the White House website nor the Environmental Protection Agency’s website. Instead, it can be found in a memo distributed by Kenneth Berlin of the “Energy & Environment Team."

It is a fascinating read for those who want an insider’s guide as to what to say and not to say about climate change to support the Administration. It is supported by focus groups and polls. For example, don’t “lead with straight economic arguments.” The literal reader can only assume that the Administration will lead with crooked economic arguments, or more likely, none at all.

In a conversation on Friday, Berlin explained that he distributed the memo written by the Climate Action Campaign. He believes economics is critical, but judged that other aspects of climate change were more important when the president gave his speech on environmental regulations at Georgetown University on June 25.

In the speech, President Obama called for regulatory measures to reduce greenhouse gases. He announced that he will use his executive powers to reduce greenhouse emissions from existing power plants, as well as future plants. He also plans to increase efficiency standards for appliances and authorize the placement of wind farms and solar power plants on federal lands. He asked the Department of Defense to install 3 gigawatts of renewable power on bases. He announced that over the next 7 years, 20 percent of the energy the federal government will consume will come from renewable sources. He mentioned plans for federal tax dollars to fund building infrastructure, such as seawalls for communities.

The memo states that in supporting the president’s climate change agenda, don’t “try to suggest net job increases.” If there is no straight economic argument for climate change, and if there are no net job increases, why should the American public support the Obama’s climate change agenda?

One might have sought an answer to that question Thursday at a hearing at the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, chaired by California Democrat Barbara Boxer. The hearing, at which the memorandum was discussed, held in the ornate Dirksen Senate Office Building, was entitled “Climate Change: It’s Happening Now.” I was one of the witnesses at the hearing.

One could listen to the majority’s witnesses and not hear a whisper about economics or jobs resulting from the president’s climate change policy. Rather than economics or jobs or even hope, the Senate Democrats offer morality and fear. Consider the memo’s “simple 3-part message formulation:”

1. We have a moral obligation to act.

2. Communities all over America are already being harmed.

3. The president’s climate plan is full of common sense solutions including first-ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants.

The memo states that Americans are being harmed by extreme weather, drought, flooding, and wildfires. The Senate committee hearing was intended to provide ammunition.

Only one problem: testimony from some of the witnesses shows that climate change is not happening as fast as the Democratic senators would like. Some, such as Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, are trying to prove that climate change is happening so that they can implement a tax on carbon dioxide, enabling them to exert more control over the economy. Whitehouse proposed such a tax on March 22, which failed to pass the Senate by 41 to 58.

With global temperatures apparently reaching a plateau since 2003, global warming activists are channeling their energies into climate change.

They suggest that the world is seeing an increased risk of hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, and cyclones. The benefit from reducing these events, they say, justifies the new costly regulations that could mean the end of coal-fired power plants, from which America gets almost 40% of its electricity.

For instance, Heidi Cullen, chief climatologist of Climate Central, a research organization, stated that “there were 11 extreme weather and climate disasters in 2012 each costing upwards of $1 billion.”

But the scientific evidence shows that hurricanes have not increased in America in frequency or damage since 1900. Cyclones have not increased since 1970. Floods have not increased since 1950.

Professor Roger Pielke of the University of Colorado, said that “it is misleading, and just plain incorrect, to claim that disasters associated with hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, or droughts have increased in climate timescales either in the United States or globally. It is further incorrect to associate the increasing costs of disasters with the emission of greenhouse gases.”

If extreme weather events were happening, it is to be expected that insurance companies would be concerned. Franklin W. Nutter, president of the Reinsurance Association of America, testified that adverse climate events are of substantial concern to insurance and reinsurance companies. The Association recommends that Congress provides tax credits — no doubt refundable — to Americans to mitigate extreme weather and climate change. This will reduce claims.

Nutter did not mention Lloyd’s Risk Index for 2013, published every two years, which puts climate change at 32nd place in terms of business risks. Climate change came after piracy, sovereign debt, and pollution and environmental liability.

Topping the 2013 risks in the Lloyd’s Risk Index is high taxation, up from 13th place in 2011. Fifth on the list is “excessively strict regulation.” So President Obama and senators who hope to solve the problems of climate change through regulation and a carbon tax are increasing risk, rather than reducing it.

A carbon tax would raise electricity rates, both because of the tax on carbon, and because utility companies would switch to expensive alternative fuels such as wind and solar power. Households have far higher utility bills using alternative energy than natural gas.

Higher energy prices disproportionately affect low-income Americans, who spend a higher share of their income on energy. Data from the Labor Department released September 2012 show those in the lowest fifth of the income distribution spend an average of 24% of income on energy, compared to 10% of income for those in the middle fifth, and 4% of income for those in the top fifth.

If greenhouse gas emissions are contributing to climate change, what should the United States do? Since U.S. emissions only represent 17% of total global greenhouse gas emissions, and emissions from China and India are increasing, American measures for greenhouse gas control would have only small effect.

To reduce global greenhouse gas emissions in a less costly manner, America could assist China and India develop shale gas from hydrofracturing and build natural-gas fired plants to reduce their reliance on coal. Or, America could ship coal to China, because U.S. coal burns cleaner than Chinese coal. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the majority of China’s coal (54%) is bituminous, which has a carbon content ranging from 45% to 86%. On the other hand, 47% of America’s coal, a plurality, is subbituminous, which contains a carbon content of only 35% to 45%.

In addition, Congress could fund research into geoengineering measures to cool the earth. More needs to be done to study solar radiation management, which could potentially diminishes the warmth caused by the sun’s rays. This could be done by injecting fine sulfur particles or other reflective aerosols into the upper atmosphere to reflect incoming radiation, or spraying clouds with salt water to increase their reflectance.

It is vital to look at the economic arguments and determine what is best for the United States in the climate change debate.

Original Source: http://www.marketwatch.com/story/feeling-the-heat-on-climate-change-2013-07-22

 

 
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