Kansas Legislature Was Wise to Reject Carbon Tax

Published May 1, 2008

The Kansas Legislature has wisely written a proposed tax on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions out of this year’s energy legislation. That’s the good news. As originally written by the Committee on Utilities, the Sunflower Energy bill’s CO2 tax would have been a first, and a very bad precedent.

The bad news is that the original bill will be copied and wind up before other legislatures that are more likely to pass it, such as those of California and Oregon.

A CO2 tax will largely be levied on utilities that exceed modest limits on their carbon dioxide effluent, so consumers won’t “see” it–except in their electric bills.

They’ll send in their monthly checks, quite unaware that the new tax revenues are likely to be shoved into a slush fund for solar energy, windmills, biodiesel, ethanol, and other green gadgetry boondoggles.

No Real-World Benefits

Never mind that even The New York Times now acknowledges biofuels add more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere than the equivalent amount of conventional fuels, or that the diversion of a third of the U.S. corn crop to ethanol production has driven world food prices up so much that we are now witnessing riots, including a major one in Jakarta [in January].

Let’s just consider the merits of this legislation when compared with some pretty well-known (if poorly publicized) global warming science.

And to make the real consequences clearer, we’ll cheat a bit and stipulate that the bill results in a 10 percent net reduction of carbon dioxide emissions and that global warming fever sweeps the nation, resulting in similar legislation passing in every other state, as its proponents would like.

Based on a widely accepted formula that originated at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, if the entire United States adopted the original Kansas legislation, it would prevent a total of 0.11º F of global warming per century. Read that again, because it’s not a typo: Eleven one-hundredths of a degree in 100 years.

All right, let’s apply the original Kansas legislation to every nation on the planet that agreed to limit its emissions under the infamous 1997 Kyoto Protocol, an amendment to a 1992 United Nations global climate treaty that would require the United States to reduce emissions far beyond what was written out of the Kansas bill. The new law would prevent 0.27º F of warming per century. That’s too small to measure, because global temperatures vary by more than that from year to year–global warming or not.

No Recent Warming

Since 1979, satellites have been measuring lower atmospheric temperatures around the globe. In the past 12 months, they show the Earth’s mean temperature has dropped by 1.13º F. Thus, in one year, the natural variability in temperature is four times greater than the amount of warming that would be prevented if the entire industrialized world adopted the original Kansas statute.

The satellite temperature surveys also show there has been no net global warming since 2000. It’s a little unfair to go back much further in this discussion, because 1998 was an extremely hot year–the high point in both satellite and land-based temperature histories–because of a huge El Niño (which, incidentally, proved to be a great boon to Kansas’s wheat farmers).

All of which is to say that global warming isn’t exactly proceeding apace. Instead, the rate of planetary warming is falling in line with the low end of twenty-first century projections made by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, with the smart money now riding on a bit more than 3º F of warming this century. It’s worth noting that the twentieth century saw about half that much warming, along with a doubling of life expectancy in the industrialized world and an approximately tenfold increase in real personal wealth.

Similar Attempts Likely

But we hear over and over that if we don’t “do” something serious about carbon dioxide emissions in the next eight years (a conveniently presidential number), we are condemning ourselves to an unmitigated climate disaster, with much of Greenland’s ice crashing into the sea, raising sea level as much as 20 feet.

That’s about as likely as a bill limiting CO2 emissions in Kansas putting a detectable dent in global warming. Congratulations to the legislature for its wisdom in writing out the carbon tax. But beware: Electronic copies of the original are flying around the country, looking for places to land.

Patrick J. Michaels ([email protected]) is senior fellow in environmental studies at the Cato Institute and author of Meltdown: The Predictable Distortion of Global Warming by Scientists, Politicians, and the Media. This article first appeared in The American Spectator (Online) and is reprinted with permission.