Is More Government the Answer to Global Warming?

John Stossel points out that central economic controls don’t work.

There are good reasons to begin with a presumption against government action. As coercive monopolies that spend other people’s money taken by force, governments are uniquely unqualified to solve problems. They are riddled by ignorance, perverse incentives, incompetence and self-serving. The synthetic-fuels program during the Carter years consumed billions of dollars and was finally disbanded as a failure. The push for ethanol today is more driven by special interests than good sense — it’s boosting food prices while producing a fuel of dubious environmental quality. …

[E]ven drastic plans to cut the use of carbon-based energy would make only a negligible difference. As John Christy, director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and a member of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, wrote last week in The Wall Street Journal:

“Suppose you are very serious about making a dent in carbon emissions and could replace about 10 percent of the world’s energy sources with non-CO2-emitting nuclear power by 2020 — roughly equivalent to halving U.S. emissions. Based on IPCC-like projections, the required 1,000 new nuclear power plants would slow the warming by about 0.2 degrees Fahrenheit per century. It’s a dent.”

Bill Ritter wants to reduce Colorado’s emissions by 20 percent by 2020. True, he also wants to reduce emissions by 80 percent by 2050, but there are four main problems with his “plan.” First, Ritter’s plan is fantasy. Neither he nor any of his advisers have the faintest idea of how that goal might be achieved. Second, if Ritter’s plan results in merely pushing people out of Colorado to avoid the high taxes and expenses, Ritter won’t have accomplished much by way of “solving” global warming. Third, Colorado contains a tiny fraction of the world’s population. Fourth, even if Ritter could seriously reduce emissions through political controls, the benefits would be miniscule, while the costs would be astronomical.

Sure-Fire Plan to Reduce Emissions by 80 Percent

Vincent Carroll wrote a very nice critique of Bill Ritter’s “Climate Action Plan.”

[F]rom Page 20: “We are not prepared today to address what the state’s position should be with respect to permitting new conventional coal-fired power plants that would serve Colorado consumers.” But they promise a verdict within 12 months.

Permit me to puncture the suspense: Under this administration, the state’s position will be to oppose the permitting of any new conventional coal-fired power plants — or to impose so many conditions that the end result is the same.

Carroll also notes that the plan discusses the possibility of nuclear power, though the “plan seems to dismiss current technology as inadequate while implying that it’s unsafe.” Carroll notes that nuclear plants successfully provide large amounts of electricity in many regions of the world.

What future awaits us if Colorado politicians prevent the building of new electrical plants? Kevin R. Collins, “president and CEO of Evergreen Energy Inc., a Denver-based refined coal producer,” rushes to assure readers that he’s on the side of fighting global warming in an article for the Rocky Mountain News. Yet he offers an uncomfortable warning: “Yale professor Charles Perrow, who follows power-supply shortfalls, says ‘I’m prepared to see many more blackouts occurring. … it’s really going to be a freight train running into disaster’.”

But then it struck me: there is a sure-fire way to reduce emissions of greenhouse gasses in Colorado by 80 percent! If the state’s politicians keep jacking up taxes, putting the screws to business owners, and imposing higher costs through economic controls, they might eventually succeed in driving out 80 percent of the state’s population. Then emissions will go down by 80 percent! Problem solved.

Colorado has been a growth state. One government agency predicts that the state’s population will increase to 6.3 million by 2025 — around a 35 percent increase. So we’re supposed to increase population by 35 percent and reduce emissions by over 20 percent. Obviously, something’s got to give here.

FreeColorado.com—Gov. Ritter’s “Climate Action”

From The Colorado Freedom Report:

Doubts About Ritter’s “Climate Action”

“Yesterday Governor Bill Ritter released a press release titled, “Gov. Ritter Releases Climate Action Plan.” But I wonder whether Ritter’s “ambitious call to action” will accomplish much, other than to force Coloradans to spend more money for cars and electric bills. …

“[T]he only way that we could reduce our emissions by ‘80% by 2050,’ assuming that we are not prepared to descend into mass poverty, is to take advantage of yet-to-be-invented technology and/or nuclear power that is able to mass produce cleaner energy that is less expensive than the energy we now use. …

“If there is no technological revolution in energy, then how does Ritter know that the best response is to reduce greenhouse emissions, rather than simply adjust to the slightly warmer temperatures? …

“Ritter’s plan will have essentially no impact on global warming, yet it could prove deeply destructive to the state’s economy. Realistically, the only way that global emissions of greenhouse gases will be dramatically reduced is if productive advances allow the mass production of cleaner, cheaper energy. To facilitate that goal, the best thing that Ritter and all politicians can do is stay out of the way and stop interfering with the economy.”

Belching Cows and Global Warming

The temperature fluctuates every day and every season by dozens of degrees. Average temperature has fluctuated many times between ice ages and warming trends over hundreds of thousands of years.

If humans continue their current emissions of greenhouse gasses, the temperature of the earth might increase by a few degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. If humans destroy their modern industrial society and revert to barbarism, the temperature of the earth might increase by a few degrees Fahrenheit by 2100.

Is it conceivable that environmentalists are using global warming as a pretext to denigrate industrial society and socialize vast tracts of the economy? Rousseau managed to condemn technological achievements and promote statism even before industrialization really took off. If it were not for global warming, would environmentalists advocate free markets and praise industrial society, or would they continue to advocate political controls and reduced human use of resources?

Yet people can most effectively deal with changes of weather and other problems when they are free to innovate within a free market — i.e., within the context of private property rights, voluntary association, and economic liberty. The environmentalist “solution,” to put politicians and bureaucrats in control of more of the economy, will waste vast resources and slow the rate of technological innovation. (Gus Van Horn discusses this issue.)

Keith Lockitch explains why some environmentalists blast even “green consumerism:” “the goal of environmentalism is not any alleged benefit to mankind; its goal is to preserve nature untouched — to prevent nature from being altered for human purposes.”

In his October 16 column for the Rocky Mountain News, Vincent Carroll discusses the latest environmentalist attack on human activity:

When an ultra-establishment voice such as the Los Angeles Times devotes a 1,600-word editorial to the perils of “Killer cow emissions,” not as parody but as serious analysis, you know that concern over porterhouse steaks has elbowed its way into the mainstream.

After noting that “livestock are responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions worldwide, according to the U.N. — more than all the planes, trains and automobiles on the planet,” the Times slogs through a variety of tactics that might reduce the impact of the methane gas that cattle produce (mostly through belching). It then concludes, however, that none of these measures would be enough.

The only alternative: “eating less meat.” As a result, “the government should not only get out of the business of promoting unhealthful and environmentally destructive foods, it should be actively discouraging them.”

Let’s be clear what the Times is saying: The government should actively discourage eating beef in order to combat global warming.

The Times’s October 15 editorial is worth quoting at greater length:

It’s a silent but deadly source of greenhouse gases that contributes more to global warming than the entire world transportation sector, yet politicians almost never discuss it, and environmental lobbyists and other green activist groups seem unaware of its existence. …

Most of the national debate about global warming centers on carbon dioxide, the world’s most abundant greenhouse gas, and its major sources — fossil fuels. Seldom mentioned is that cows and other ruminants, such as sheep and goats, are walking gas factories that take in fodder and put out methane and nitrous oxide, two greenhouse gases that are far more efficient at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. Methane, with 21 times the warming potential of CO2, comes from both ends of a cow, but mostly the front. … [I]t’s estimated that a single cow can belch out anywhere from 25 to 130 gallons of methane a day.

Now, I do agree that possible subsidies of beef production should be eliminated. And I’m fine with voluntary efforts to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases through new technology.

But when environmentalists advocate expansive political controls of cows, they risk making themselves laughingstocks. I have no doubt that some environmentalists will continue to push the anti-cow line, though, in part because it fits so beautifully with the animal-rights agenda.

The environmentalist movement wants to tightly control human activity and reduce human energy use. The shame is that, if environmentalists are successful, they will destroy the market dynamism that would otherwise enable the rapid development of technology. In a truly free market, people would be free to produce and trade unshackled by government controls, capable of dramatic advances in energy production (and other fields) well before the year 2100. Does anyone really believe that politicians, bureaucrats, and political moochers are the ones capable of directing technological revolutions? But the path of liberty would enable people to use dramatically more energy and exploit many more resources (eventually off-world as well), and environmentalists can’t have that.