Counting the Cost of the War on Global Warming

Last month, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger held an international climate summit to show local governments in other countries that greenhouse gas emissions can be cut, to the degree he wants, without harming the economy. This comes as the financial meltdown has prompted a global movement to scale back draconian measures against global warming.

Gov. Schwarzenegger invited his counterparts in 12 states, and regional leaders from four other countries, to sign a declaration pledging to work together to combat global warming, a move Schwarzenegger said will help push other heads of state to curb their nations’ greenhouse gas emissions. The document was signed on the last day of the gathering by the California governor, who hopes the two-day event will “inform” UN negotiations in Poland this month on a new global climate treaty scheduled to be completed by the end of next year.

“We have to draw people into the debate,” Gov. Schwarzenegger told the Associated Press on Nov. 19. “We have no choice. In the end, we are going to destroy the world” if greenhouse gases are not reduced.

The governor believes those gases can be reduced without damage to the economy. Some evidence to the contrary has recently emerged. California’s new unemployment numbers, for example, show a jobless rate of more than eight percent, the highest level in 14 years. The state budget deficit hits news records almost daily.

In a speech to the conference, Gov. Schwarzenegger said national economies will be harmed if governments fail to cut emissions. “We can do it with fairness and equity so all our economies will flourish… and no one is being held back,” the governor said. Of course, he made no mention of several independent analyses that show costs will be quite high.

California’s Legislative Analyst Office, for example, has published a critique of the Air Resources Board’s support of California’s plan to implement AB 32. The LAO concluded that the scoping plan’s overall emissions reductions and purported net economic benefit are highly reliant on one measure—the Pavley regulations for transportation. The plan’s evaluation of the costs and savings of some recommended measures is inconsistent and incomplete.

Further, the LAO indicated that the while the macroeconomic modeling results show a slight net economic benefit to the plan, CARB failed to demonstrate any analytical rigor and, worse, that economic analysis played a limited role in development of scoping plan. Despite its prediction of eventual net economic benefit, the scoping plan fails to lay out an investment pathway to reach its goals for GHG emissions levels in 2020. The governor conveniently failed to mention that.

The United States as a whole is certainly not moving “backwards” but reducing emissions when measured on an intensity basis, by tons of greenhouse gasses per unit of economic activity. In other words, the U.S. continues to improve carbon efficiency and is moving forward. The long march against global warming coincides with a retreat in terms of economic vitality. Californians may find themselves locked into economic doldrums, or worse, because of blind adherence to a militant campaign that ignores fundamental economics.

Unemployment is growing, the state budget deficit is getting worse, home foreclosures are on the rise and so are bank defaults. It is time for California legislators and regulators to put climate control on the back burner and pay attention to the real crises.

Tom Tanton is an environmental studies fellow with the Pacific Research Institute.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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