Bruce Bartlett, an old policy wonk colleague of mine from my days at the National Center for Policy Analysis, recently penned a commentary concerning how policy makers should respond to climate change. He gets both the little science he indulges in and the economics of climate policy wrong.
Bartlett compares Earth to a sick human being, writing, “Sometimes doctors have a patient who is sick from an unknown disease. Rather than do nothing, they treat the symptoms, which often is enough to cure the disease or at least keep the patient alive until the disease can be properly diagnosed. I think a similar strategy should apply to climate change. We know two things about its symptoms — rising ocean levels and intense storms, both of which will cause flooding in low-lying areas.” Bartlett’s proposed treatment is a carbon tax reducing the potential threat of flooding.
Contrary to Bartlett’s claim, evidence indicates neither the rate of sea level rise nor storm frequency or intensity have increased during the current warming period – despite repeated claims they should and would. Sea levels have risen more than 400 feet since the end of the last ice age – that’s what happens consistently between ice ages – but they are rising at a slower rate now than they have for the vast majority of the past 18,000 years. There is no evidence the rate of sea level rise during the past century has increased above the rate of the previous two, cooler, centuries. And storm data show no increase in the intensity or frequency of storms, rainfall, hurricanes, or drought.
Bartlett is right about flooding being a problem. The best way to mitigate the impact of flooding is not to tax and thus reduce fossil fuel use – which makes society wealthier and better able to adapt to the vagaries of climate change regardless of the cause or impact – but to end policies like subsidized flood and hurricane insurance that encourage people to develop land in areas prone to rising seas, land subsidence, and flooding. Those who wish to live and do business in flood-prone areas, not taxpayers or energy users in general, should bear the full costs of their choices.
Climate change is not expected to create problems people have never before confronted; rather, it is projected to exacerbate existing problems — for instance, the spread of tropical diseases like malaria; hunger; and floods, storms, and droughts in greater numbers, duration, or intensity. Responding to such problems indirectly via a carbon tax or energy regulations, in the hope that reducing greenhouse gas emissions will marginally reduce temperature increases and in doing so somehow prevent the number of people affected by these problems in the future from growing, would do nothing to help present generations plagued by these problems and would in fact make the situation worse by restraining the use of life- and welfare-enhancing fossil fuels, the cornerstone of modern civilization.
Society should confront these problem directly today, for instance by eradicating mosquitos and other insects that carry tropical diseases through the expanded use of pesticides; expanding the use of modern agricultural tools including tractors, pesticides, herbicides, and genetically engineered crops to improve yields and water use, thus reducing instances of crop failures; developing modern water and electric power infrastructure in developing countries; and mapping areas where land subsidence and flooding are (or are likely to be) problems and hardening them against flooding or moving structures to avoid or at least reduce the possibility of flooding.
Analysts including Indur Goklany and the economists who participate in the Copenhagen Consensus project have shown direct action today would reduce the number of individuals harmed or killed by climate-related problems, and the damage to property and society, today and in the future by a much greater amount than an approach targeting fossil fuels.
The world has a choice. We can wage a losing war against inevitable climate change – a war that will be all image, no substance – or we can, for a fraction of the cost, truly help people, while expanding freedom and well-being. Doing the former means forgoing the latter.
— H. Sterling Burnett
IN THIS ISSUE …
METHANE SEEPS CUT CARBON DIOXIDE
New research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows seeps of methane from the ocean floor in the Arctic Ocean are resulting in a steep decline in carbon dioxide emissions. The research conducted off the coast of Norway’s Svalbard archipelago indicates where methane gas bubbles up from seafloor seeps, surface waters directly above absorb twice as much carbon dioxide as surrounding waters. Biogeochemist John Pohlman of the U.S. Geological Survey found the natural forces pushing bubbles of methane towards the surface were also pushing “nutrient-rich cold waters from the sea bed to the surface, fertilizing phytoplankton blooms that soak up carbon dioxide.” Even though molecule for molecule methane has much more heat-trapping potential than carbon dioxide, the study finds in zones with even modest methane seeps nearly 1,900 times more carbon dioxide is being absorbed than methane emitted, meaning, “the atmospheric benefit from carbon dioxide sequestration is about 230 times greater than the warming effect from methane emissions.”
ENDANGERMENT FINDING AT RISK
In Climate Change Weekly 246, I wrote concerning two groups who’d filed petitions challenging EPA’s carbon dioxide endangerment finding on the grounds it was not scientifically justified. The Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) has filed a third challenge arguing EPA failed to follow the legally mandated procedures when it issued the finding. According to a press statement released when TPPF filed its petition, “In its rush to regulate greenhouse gases in 2009, the Obama Administration missed an important step,” said Ted Hadzi-Antich, senior attorney for TPPF’s Center for the American Future. “It utterly failed to submit the greenhouse gas endangerment finding to the Science Advisory Board for peer review, as required by statute, and that violation is fatal to the endangerment finding.”
“Because the most prevalent greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide, a ubiquitous natural substance, the endangerment finding has been used by the EPA to begin regulating virtually every nook and cranny of the national economy,” Hadzi-Antich continued. “A regulatory action of such magnitude must be taken soberly and, at the very least, in compliance with the law.”
Regardless of any challenges to the science used by EPA to justify the endangerment finding, if TPPF is right Obama’s EPA failed to follow the law when it issued the finding, this could give the Trump administration an easy justification for vacating the finding, giving legal justification to its efforts to roll back Obama’s climate policies in their entirety.
BLACK CHAMBER OF COMMERCE TO TRUMP: DITCH PARIS
Harry Alford, president of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, penned an open letter to President Trump explaining why he should keep his promise and withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. Alford notes American families and businesses depend on affordable, reliable energy every day, calling it “the lifeblood of our economy, it is fundamental to our modern society, and it is essential to our future strength, security, and growth.” Alford says remaining in Paris threatens to undermine our nation’s national security and economic well-being because the deal is skewed against the United States and in favor of geopolitical and economic competitors, including China.
Alford concludes the United States must withdraw from Paris because the country “cannot afford … to willingly sacrifice our place as global economic leader to appease international bureaucrats who would seek to dictate what kinds of energy we use in America and how, when, and why we use them.”
SOLAR ENERGY INDUSTRY HURTING
Things are looking bleak in the solar energy industry. Sales and installations are slowing and government support is waning, leading to an oversupply in solar panels, causing a huge price drop and a wave of losses and bankruptcies in the heavily government-subsidized industry.
In an effort to fight climate change, governments around the world, including state governments in the United States, have subsidized and in some instances mandated the use of solar power. Voter complaints have risen along with the rise in ratepayers’ energy bills as high-cost, low-reliability solar power has been forced onto the grid. Politicians have started to respond by reining back their support.
In the United States, for example, Iowa declined to continue the state’s 1.5-cent-per-kilowatt-hour solar power tax credit and Indiana ended its net metering program, under which homeowners who installed solar panels on their home are paid retail instead of wholesale rates for the power they sell back to the grid.
The biggest decline in support for the solar industry came, however, from China, which scaled back its domestic solar power targets, flooding the export market with relatively inexpensive solar panels.
The sharp price decline has put industry leaders into a tail spin. SolarWorld, once Europe’s largest solar equipment provider, announced on May 10 it was following its former rivals, Q-Cells, Solon, and Conergy, into insolvency. This was not SolarWorld’s first flirtation with bankruptcy, having been forced to restructure in 2013 when the government of Qatar bailed out the company by taking 29 percent ownership of it. In the United States in mid-April, Georgia-based solar panel manufacturer Suniva, which claims to be the “leading American manufacturer of high-efficiency, cost-competitive PV solar cells and modules,” after having lost millions of dollars in recent years, followed rival manufacturers Verengo Solar and Sungevity in filing for bankruptcy.
Interestingly, Suniva is majority-owned by a Chinese company, Shunfeng International Clean Energy, yet it filed a trade case with the International Trade Commission asking it to increase the tariffs imposed on and set minimum prices for solar modules imported from China.
U.S. leaders in the sales and installation of roof-top solar panels, SunPower and SolarCity, have not been immune from the downturn in the industry. In early May SunPower reported its sixth consecutive period of quarterly losses and laid off 25 percent of its workers. Tesla-backed SolarCity, accounting for 41 percent of the solar installation market, reported a 39 percent decline in installations year over year for the first quarter.
Could energy and business realities finally be “Trumping” climate fears?
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