Panelists Explore High Human-Welfare Costs of Climate Policies

Published July 17, 2015

The panel titled “Climate Policy Impacts,” held at the Tenth International Conference on Climate Change” featured Arizona state Senator Carlyle Begay’s (D) presentation “[The Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change], Saving Humanity from Catastrophic Global Cooling”; economist Alan Moran’s presentation “Global Cost of Emission Restraints and Challenges Posed by Renewable Power”; and astrophysicist Amanda Maxham’s “Policy for People, Not the Planet.”

            Begay, who grew up in the Navajo Nation in Arizona, says the nation has an unemployment rate of 50 percent and relies heavily on coal revenue to survive.

            “The Navajo Nation’s general fund [receives] about 60 percent [of its] revenue from coal [royalties],” said Begay. “The remainder of the budget is comprised of external funds, largely from the federal government.”

            The Navajo Nation’s priorities include first and foremost “to continue to expand on current jobs and revenues realized by the current energy portfolios and policies, including coal,” said Begay.

            Begay says he’s concerned about the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan (CPP).

            “The Navajo Nation currently mines  8–10 million tons of coal each year, down from 13 to 16 million tons before recent EPA regulations began to take a toll on our resources,” said Begay. “These [coal] revenues represent the Navajo Nation’s ability to act as a sovereign nation.”

            Begay says the Navajo Nation recently purchased the only electric power plant on the reservation from its private sector owners, but if CPP becomes law as currently written, “three of its five generating units will have to close and the other two will have to undergo billions of dollars in retrofits.” 

Costs of Climate Change Minimal

Alan Moran, executive director of Regulation Economics, says the costs of policies to fight climate change are enormous compared to any potential problems related to doing nothing at all.

            “The cost [of doing nothing] overall to human beings—the main cost we should be interested in—even under the most pessimistic circumstances the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] uses, won’t be very great,” Moran said. “The disruption costs [of climate change policies] would be colossal.

            “And all of these IPCC policies depend on a near unanimity [of actions] of nations across the world,” said Moran. “It’s no good to have one nation [doing something]. It’s no good even when one group of nations [tries to do something]. Almost every nation has to adopt the same sort of policies [for there to be any real reduction in carbon dioxide levels.] Because if they don’t, industries [that] are energy-intensive will migrate to those nations that don’t do so … so there will be no reduction anyway.”

‘Put People First’

Amanda Maxham, a research associate at the Ayn Rand Institute, said, “[practically everybody is on board with cutting] fossil fuel use in order to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide. … [The conclusion that came] out of the [recent] G7 summit [was] the global economy must be completely fossil fuel free by the end of the century. It is like ‘climate change’ [supposedly] goes into the [proverbial policy] ‘machine,’ you turn the ‘crank,’ and out comes ‘cut back on energy use’ on the other side. … What I see as the real looming catastrophe … in the policy debate [is the tendency to ignore] the benefits of burning fossil fuels.

            “Fossil fuels have been an overwhelming positive [force] in people’s lives,” said Maxham. “And instead of causing a catastrophe, fossil fuels have allowed people to adapt and to mitigate climate risk.”

            Maxham explored the ethics of climate change alarm and policy responses.

            “[Environmentalists have been largely successful in convincing people] any impact people have on the environment will be bad, [which concentrates the debate on] a trade-off between human beings and the environment,” said Maxham. “When one thrives, the other ‘takes a dive.’ This is a moral view, and it’s one that is not too fond of human beings.

            “On this view, human innovation, human well-being, and human flourishing are dispensable, and they should be sacrificed for the goal of not impacting Earth,” Maxham said. “In my view, moral clarity implies exactly the opposite. The standard of what we call good or bad needs to be [based on] what’s good or bad for human beings.”

D. Brady Nelson ([email protected]) is a columnist with Townhall.