Will the Carbon Hype Lead to a Carbon Bust?

We are engaged in a profound transformation in our economy driven by growing concern about carbon emissions and their impact on our global future.  Americans like other people around the world are responding to this concern in ways small and large. The election of a new administration with sympathy for these concerns in the last American election is accelerating a change in national policy direction in the United States.

A goal of sustainability or at least one of mitigating the adverse effects of industrial development on the planet strikes most people as reasonable and prudent.  Switching to cleaner, renewable sources such as wind and solar also appeals to Americans as responsible.  Using energy more efficiently and making reasonable lifestyle changes such as compact florescent light bulbs, considering hybrid vehicles, and replacing older appliances with more energy efficient Energy Star appliances also seems like a responsible investment.

Concern about the Environment is morphing into concern about the Cost

But we’re in that awkward stages of policy change when choices begin to cost money—sometimes big money.  And the progressive policies proposed to reduce carbon emissions begin to infringe on our sense of personal choice.  Combine the two and you begin to get push back especially if the changes proposed seem to have political or other motivations that go beyond our expectations.

The more concern is raised about the impact, cost and implications of changes in response to the desire to reduce emissions, the more defensive the proponents of change become.  Labeling questioning voices as “deniers” and pronouncing that the “science is settled” raises red flags that there may be more to the agenda than just the stated goal.

Those issues are at the center of the debate over the Waxman-Markey Bill in Congress as the House-passed version moves to the Senate.  Congress has a poor reputation in the minds of Americans in such complex legislation.  The age-old process of larding up the bill like a Christmas tree full of shiny ornaments to attract votes is the Washington way.  It is not the way of Main Street and the bitter taste in our mouths about the high spending and lack of actual stimulus of the economic stimulus package Congress passed does not reassure us that our politicians have our best interests at heart.

Already the state renewable energy portfolio standards (RPS) are on a path to substantially increase our electricity rates.  Pancaking a federal minimum RPS standard on top of the states efforts compounds the pain.  We also worry that renewable energy while clean may not be reliable because wind and solar are not dispatchable.  We worry that we might be forced to give up on reliance on cheaper, more reliable coal fired generation that provides a substantial part of our power generation today because of the costs of cap and trade legislation before renewable energy can fill the gap.  Worse, if renewable energy continues to cost substantially more than coal fired generation we face skyrocketing energy costs.

What if the US Cleans Up Our Act and the Rest of the World does Not?

The US Energy Information Agency estimates that in 2006, non-OECD energy-related emissions (non-developed countries) of carbon dioxide exceeded OECD (US, Japan and EU mostly) emissions by 14 percent. In 2030, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions from the non-OECD countries are projected to exceed those from the OECD countries by 77 percent.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, hardly a group of deniers, estimates that China has already passed the United States and the world’s largest emitter of CO2.  What happens if the US and EU spend what it takes to reduce emissions with the full brunt impacts such spending may have on their economies and China, Russia, and India to name a few do not?  We all know the answer to this question.  It is not rocket science.  Should the US spend the money to transform its economy with all the pain and dislocation such changes cause when the consequence of such change is that it does not make a material difference in the overall all level of emissions because the biggest non-OECD polluters are unwilling to take actions that slow their economic growth?  See: http://www.ucsusa.org/global_warming/science_and_impacts/science/each-countrys-share-of-co2.html

We know the answer don’t we.

We will be broke and the planet no better off for our pain and sacrifice.  Does that mean we should do nothing? Certainly not.

Does it mean we should spend ourselves into bankruptcy in a quest for a goal that is not achievable?  We know the answer to that too!

But is also means that we should not let our politicians bait and switch us again using Waxman-Markey as a vehicle to continue to dispense spoils to their supporters or to drive us into the financial poorhouse with more pork spending. No good will come from that.

Not for the planet, not for our economy, not for our country.