TCS Daily

The Economic Hardship Act

By Roy Spencer - July 7, 2004 12:00 AM

Although the Senate defeated the McCain Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act last October by a vote of 43-55, Sen. McCain believes in a never say never legislative strategy. He has been campaigning, cajoling and coercing leadership, supporters and opponents in an effort to get his Act passed this summer. Just last week both McCain and Sen. Lieberman took their message to a conference on climate change that was jointly sponsored by Brookings Institute and Pew Center.

The central goal of the Climate Stewardship Act is a reduction in U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 2000 levels by 2010. This is a milder version of the international treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, which would reduce emissions to 1990 levels. It would presumably have correspondingly milder benefits in terms of global warming reductions in the next fifty years.

In his talk, Lieberman focused on the free market principles that the Act would rely upon to achieve the GHG reductions. This is good, I thought, "free market principles" sounds much better than "excessive regulation". Private industry would be free to reduce their emissions in any way they want -- as long as the emissions got reduced. He likened the challenge to that of JFK (the original one) committing the country to landing men on the moon by 1970, which ended up having so many spin-off benefits. Apparently we wouldn't have invented all of those computerized gadgets we love if the government hadn't mandated a stroll on the moon.

McCain listed a number of anecdotal "facts" that prove climate change, including the current drought in Arizona. I wondered, if Arizona happened to be going through its wettest period on record, would he have been pointed to that as evidence of global warming as well? McCain seems to assume that all climate change is man-caused. His most obvious misconception is that severe weather events have increased, which isn't true. Storm damage has increased, but this is because we continue to build more things in severe weather-prone areas (which is just about everywhere). Apparently, McCain's and Lieberman's reliance on the Pew Center and Environmental Defense Fund for their global warming "facts" has distorted their thinking on the subject.

Not that there isn't credible evidence for warming of about 1 deg. F over the last 100 years or so. What isn't so certain is how much of this warming is man-made, or how much there will be in the future, and most of all, whether any significant amount of future warming can be forestalled without driving mankind back to the stone age. McCain admitted that the Climate Stewardship Act is just a very small first step. Much more will be needed in the way of GHG reductions in the future in order to have much effect at all on warming. This is true, no matter what you believe that future warming to be.

What worries me is that the Act represents a government mandated brake on economic growth. This feels to me like one of those slippery slopes you keep hearing about. Affordable energy is the lifeblood of economies, and we are now going to limit it by punishing the use of energy. The United States is already very efficient at energy use per unit of GDP, and that efficiency is getting better every year. Free markets naturally lead to increased efficiency because it reduces cost and improves productivity. But through the Climate Stewardship Act, our government will require sharply higher efficiencies to be realized, or else we'll just have to stop producing.

McCain admitted that grassroots support will be necessary for his bill to pass, and that requires an informed public. But the Climate Stewardship Act seems premature at best, and at worst, a first step down the road to economic hard times.

Roy Spencer is a principal research scientist for University of Alabama in Huntsville. In the past, he was served as Senior Scientist for Climate Studies at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, where here he directed research into the development and application of satellite passive microwave remote sensing techniques for measuring global temperature, water vapor, and precipitation. He currently is the U.S. Science Team Leader for the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer (AMSR-E) on NASA's Aqua satellite.


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