Many bemoan how our political culture has become increasingly and perhaps irretrievably polarized in recent years. Seemingly all of Washington consists of nothing but two sides endlessly screaming at each other. What happened to what once were the regular outbreaks of “bipartisanship”? Can’t these people work together any more to “get things done”?
For myself, I’ve never been much of a fan of “bipartisanship” or “getting things done” in Washington. Almost always, these are euphemisms for adding to the government’s budget and to counter-productive programs, albeit a little more slowly than the Democrats would have liked. How about getting less done in Washington, and letting the states, or the people individually, take care of these things?
But suppose you are a fan of the growth of government and its spending as the route to solve all the big problems of the world. Then the “climate change” mantra may well seem to you like a godsend. Here is a catch-all slogan that can be used to advocate for most or all of your major goals, while bringing to the mix a claim of moral necessity and urgency that many people, especially young people, find politically irresistible. Do you want to have the government take a more active role in maintaining and improving the environment? How about a more active role to make industry or agriculture or transportation more “sustainable”? How about to thwart capitalism and bring about a more just and fair society organized on a socialist model? How about to redistribute income from rich to poor? Make it all about “climate change.” Now you’re not just playing to envy and using taxpayer dollars to buy votes. You’re fighting to “save the planet”! The moral high ground is yours.
So it’s no surprise that the entire field of Democratic candidates has climbed aboard the “climate change” fighters’ bandwagon. Perhaps some of the candidates may be emphasizing the issue more than others. But a solid plurality has gone so far as to explicitly endorse the over-the-top Green New Deal; and even Joe Biden — thought to be perhaps the closest thing to a “moderate” in the campaign — has recently been calling for a “green revolution,” although one that is (supposedly) “rational” and “affordable.”
And how about the Republicans? Not small numbers of the Republicans in Congress, in what they apparently hope will look like the spirit of “bipartisanship,” have recently been throwing out their own proposals supposedly to address this “climate change” thing by finding some way to reduce CO2 emissions, if only by a little. After all, when your opponents are claiming impending eco-apocalypse, and asserting desperate moral urgency, are you prepared to be on the side of destroying the planet and killing the children? So you offer up some half-way compromise that maybe will keep the cost within reason. And thus we have, for example, Senator Lisa Murkowski in March touting an “expanded . . . tax credit for carbon capture utilization and sequestration”; or Senator Susan Collins just last week proposing a bill to authorize $300 million for the Department of Energy for research on better batteries; or Congressman Matt Gaetz in March tossing out a draft resolution for something he calls the “Green Real Deal” (others have called it the “Green New Deal Lite”) with a laundry list of hopefully-not-too-expensive initiatives from “modernizing the electric grid through strategic investments” to “establishing robust homeowner tax incentives for energy efficiency upgrades, including HVAC upgrades,” to “establishing challenge grants for universities to develop actionable plans for increasing resiliency and building adaptive capacity,” and many more such.
But there is a fundamental problem here in trying to reach any kind of half-way compromise on an emissions reduction program intended to affect the climate. The problem is that the whole concept of affecting the world’s climate through attempted emissions reductions quite obviously doesn’t make any sense at all except on the very grandest of scales. Halfway (or ten percent of the way) measures are completely useless. It’s either all — i.e., total transformation of the economy — or nothing. It is likely that the Democrats can all get on board with “all,” which means imminent socialist utopia, not to mention enormous amounts of new power for their friends. But even many of them have probably not yet thought through the details. Let me help.
To illustrate what I’m talking about, I will refer to the Cato Institute’s Carbon Tax Temperature-Savings Calculator. The Calculator is based on the federal government’s own so-called MAGICC model (“Model for the Assessment of Greenhouse-gas Induced Climate Change”). The government has used the MAGICC model, particularly during the Obama years, to drive climate alarm by projecting scary scenarios of human greenhouse gas emissions pushing up global temperatures by as much as 4.5 deg C by the year 2100. If that happens, the ice caps will melt and your city will be flooded! Of course, the same model can just as easily be applied in reverse to see how much savings in temperature increase can be achieved by reducing carbon emissions by a given amount, using the exact same quantitative assumptions as to the magnitude of the greenhouse effect.
Let’s try applying the MAGICC model’s quantitative analysis to an example of an extreme “climate” policy proposal. Among the Democratic candidates, the one who has most made “climate change” the focus of his campaign is Governor Jay Inslee of Washington. Earlier this month, Inslee unveiled his plan on the subject, which CNN on May 3 characterized as a “sweeping plan aimed at combating climate change . . . that, if enacted, would mean a wholesale change to the way the United States builds buildings, manufactures cars and supplies the power grid.” Here is the quote from Inslee:
"We as Americans face a choice. Do we rise to the challenge of defeating climate change? Or do we shrink from this existential crisis and let our kids and grandkids suffer," Inslee said in a statement to CNN. "In this campaign, I will put forward plans that will defeat climate change, create millions of jobs, and build a just transition to an economy run on clean energy."
And here are the details of Inslee’s plan as described by CNN:
“Reach 100% zero emissions in new light- and medium-duty vehicles and all buses, achieve 100% zero-carbon pollution from all new commercial and residential buildings; and set a national 100% Clean Electricity Standard, requiring 100% carbon-neutral power by 2030, putting America on a path to having all clean, renewable and zero-emission energy in electricity generation by 2035."
Wow! That sounds like a huge revolution. For example, in this post I set forth why getting to 100% renewable electricity (presumably this is what Inslee means by “clean electricity”) will mean multiplying consumer electricity bills by a factor of something approximately in the range of 14 - 22. And that is just one of the pieces of Inslee’s proposal. But assuming that it can actually be achieved, how much will Inslee’s proposal reduce U.S. emissions, and how much effect would such a reduction have on world temperature even at the most extreme assumption of climate sensitivity to greenhouse gases.
To figure out how much Inslee’s proposal would reduce emissions, we need to look at where emissions are currently coming from. Here is the EPA’s most recent graph of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by sector of the economy:
Notice that Inslee’s proposals address vehicles (part of the “Transportation” sector, which in total accounts for 29% of emissions), commercial and residential buildings (12% of emissions), and electricity (28% of emissions). Somehow he has left out a couple of rather large sectors — Agriculture and Industry — which together are 31% of total emissions. Already he is only talking about only addressing 69% of the alleged problem. Then, in the Transportation sector, he is only talking about “light- and medium-duty vehicles and all buses.” He seems to have left out trucks and airplanes, which together account for about half the emissions in the Transportation sector. So even if he can get zero emissions from the cars, SUVs and buses by 2030, that would be at most a 15% reduction in U.S. emissions. Then, emissions from generating electricity are only 28% of total emissions; and therefore achieving “a national 100% Clean Electricity Standard” only means reducing U.S greenhouse gas emissions by at the absolute most 28% (in exchange for multiplying the cost of electricity by 15 or more). For the Buildings sector, the proposal only addresses “all new commercial and residential buildings,” which leaves out all existing buildings, the large majority of which will still be around in 2030 or 2035. So perhaps at best he can achieve a reduction of 5% out of the 12% of emissions that come from the Buildings sector. Add 28% + 15% + 5%, and you get a maximum theoretical reduction in emissions from this proposal of 48% — about half of total U.S. emissions.
Going to the Cato Temperature-savings Calculator, we can assume the highest possible alarmist climate sensitivity of 4.5 deg C for a doubling of CO2, and give Inslee a 60% reduction in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The result is an avoided world temperature increase of 0.038 deg C by 2050. Well, at least this is (barely) within the range that can be measured. (The guys at UAH claim a measurement accuracy of their satellite system of 0.1 deg C.)
If you were to confront Inslee with these calculations (and believe me, no mainstream journalist ever will) he would not be fazed. Of course, he would say, the U.S. needs to start by getting rid of this half of its emissions, to be quickly followed by the other half, which would bring the avoided temperature increase to maybe 0.065 deg C. The rest of the 4.5 deg C increase projected from the MAGICC model comes from emissions from the rest of the world, and clearly the U.S. needs to sign to up to tighter versions of the Paris agreement and pay the other countries a few trillion dollars to follow our example. Or something like that. If you are wondering what his plans are for trucks, or airplanes, or agriculture, or industry — or how he plans to build gigantic wind turbines after he has abolished industry — well, so am I.
But now consider the half-way proposals coming out from the Republicans. If you take any one of them — or even multiple of them at a time — and work them through the MAGICC model, you will never really come up with any potential avoided temperature increase of much more than about 0.01 deg C. And that’s if you believe the craziest unproven assumptions of the alarmist climate modelers. The cost may be billions rather than trillions, but there is no way of looking at any money spent as other than totally wasted.
Over on the Democrat side, they may look at this and initially think that they have painted the Republicans into a corner. Get on board with our Green New Deal — and transfer all power to us and adopt full socialism — or you are a planet destroyer! The problem is that somewhere along the way to climate utopia, people inevitably are going to start figuring out just exactly what the scope is, and what the cost is, of these “climate” proposals. My own opinion is that it is the climate crusaders who have painted themselves into a corner by claiming immediate moral urgency for totally undoing our modern lifestyle. The fact is, the people are eventually going to figure this out, and it’s not going to happen. See, e.g., recent political developments in, for example, Australia, Alberta, Ontario.
Meanwhile, note that greenhouse gas emissions are actually up substantially in the state of Washington since Jay Inslee became governor in January 2013.