States Act on Climate Change

Published February 1, 2003

State legislatures are back in session, and many will debate proposals to reduce carbon dioxide and other so-called greenhouse gas emissions at the state level. Research suggests, however, that they would be wise to avoid rushing into such costly and ineffectual efforts.

In the 2001-2002 session, 21 state legislatures considered more than 50 bills seeking to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Although many of the bills contemplated indirect regulation through such means as alternative fuel requirements and carbon reporting schemes, 12 legislatures considered bills intending to directly cap atmospheric greenhouse gases. Two states–California and New Hampshire–enacted such laws. These and similar proposals are likely to be resurrected this year.

Costly Action

What price do states pay for enacting global warming legislation? A 1997 analysis of the impact of the Kyoto Protocol by Mary Novak, a senior vice president with WEFA, a respected economic forecasdting firm, provides a basis for some estimates. (See “What Is the Kyoto Protocol,” page 4, for more about the Kyoto Protocol.)

According to Novak, by 2010 the nation as a whole would have 2.4 million fewer jobs and $300 billion less in annual economic output. Household income would be $2,700 lower, while energy prices would rise sharply. State tax revenue would fall by $93.1 billion due to job and output losses.

According to Novak,

  • Hawaii would lose 9,700 jobs and $329 million in tax revenue. Unemployment would reach 8.2 percent.
  • Illinois would lose 190,000 jobs and $5.2 billion in tax revenue; unemployment would reach 6.1 percent.
  • New York would lose 140,000 jobs and $7.1 billion in tax revenue; unemployment would reach 7.8 percent.
  • Washington would lose 47,000 jobs and $2.4 billion in tax revenue; unemployment would reach 6.8 percent.

Ironically, recent legislative activity suggests these states are most likely to consider bills to cap greenhouse gas emissions during the upcoming legislative session.

These estimates are probably significantly less than the likely cost to a state of trying to “go it alone,” since businesses and taxpayers would tend to migrate to other states to avoid higher energy costs.

Global Warming Myths and Facts

The poison pill of state CO2 legislation might be worth taking if global warming were a real, imminent, and catastrophic threat, and if Kyoto-style action could address it. Neither is true, however: Most scientists say the global warming threat has been greatly overstated by the national media, and Kyoto-style greenhouse gas emission curbs would have little effect.

Though you’d never know it from the alarmism displayed by the national media, each year’s advances in scientific understanding point to a more moderate and beneficial warming of the Earth’s climate.

Early computer models, programmed according to infant global warming theories, predicted a twenty-first century warming of 10 degrees Celsius or more. Such alarmist predictions have been steadily eroded by growing scientific understanding of the issue, and the most reliable computer models now predict a warming of only a degree or two by 2100.

Even today’s computer models, moreover, likely overstate the nature of any future warming. Like their predecessors, today’s models predict the Earth should have already become much warmer than it is. If the models can’t accurately predict current temperatures, there’s little reason to believe they are accurately predicting temperatures decades into the future.

Today’s computer models, and the theories on which they rest, predict global warming will first become evident in the lower atmosphere, rather than on the Earth’s surface. Precise satellite readings of the lower atmosphere, continuously monitored since the satellites were launched in 1979, show the lower atmosphere hasn’t warmed at all.

The only observed warming has occurred at ground-based stations prone to tainted readings and human error. For example, most ground-based readings are taken at urban and suburban airports surrounded by rapidly growing industrial and residential areas. Anybody who has lived near a large city knows urban areas create artificial heat islands that make the local temperature several degrees warmer than the more sparsely populated surroundings. Naturally, temperatures at these stations will steadily increase as the metropolitan region grows, regardless of any global climate trends.

Ground-based weather stations in rural areas show much less warming than urban stations or no warming at all. Similarly, temperature readings in developed countries like the U.S., where more care is taken to maintain consistency in thermometer placement and other conditions, show less warming than readings in third world countries, where such precautions are less likely to be taken.

Why do alarmists give more weight to ground-based temperature readings subject to tainted readings and human error than to precise satellite readings immune to such errors? Could this be an example of using junk science to scare the populace for self-serving motives?

An Ineffective Solution

Even if rising CO2 levels were causing global warming, full, implementation of the Kyoto Protocol would have only a minuscule impact on climate. The very computer models that predict global warming also predict 94 percent of the projected warming would still occur even if Kyoto were fully implemented. Patchwork state legislation would be even less effective in reducing warming.

The U.S. contributes 25 percent of man’s global greenhouse gas emissions; the average state, then, contributes just one-half of 1 percent of those emissions (.25 x .02 = .005). Greenhouse gas reduction programs can feasibly target only a 25 percent or so reduction in emissions, and are likely to fall far short of this. Therefore, any state’s implementation of Kyoto-style greenhouse gas laws might at best reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a mere 1/8 of 1 percent (.005 x .25). The result would be a largely symbolic statement made at great cost to the state’s residents.

State carbon dioxide caps would sentence a state’s workers and taxpayers to extended recession, high unemployment, and confiscatory energy taxes, merely to reduce global temperatures by an immeasurable fraction of a degree.

Liberal activist groups can believe they have the power to overturn the laws of physics and economics by regulatory fiat, but reality is more stubborn than they think. State legislators should take care not to be duped.

James M. Taylor is managing editor of Environment & Climate News and, with Heartland Institute Science Director Jay Lehr, author of a new Heartland Policy Study on state greenhouse gas initiatives.