RALEIGH – Just months ago, it seemed that just about everyone was trying to jump onto the climate-change bandwagon as it hurtled down the hill like a juggernaut.
Newly elected President Barack Obama and congressional leaders championed a proposed regulatory regime they called “cap and trade.” Hollywood celebrities publicly fretted about their carbon footprints (in between jet flights to beaches and ski chalets). Al Gore and Rajendra Paschauri, the N.C. State-trained economist who chaired the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), shared the stage to receive a Nobel Prize. And here in North Carolina, Gov. Beverly Perdue talked incessantly about “green jobs” while a legislative commission met to devise a state policy to combat global warming.
The climate-change bandwagon isn’t rolling anymore. It never made it down the hill. In fact, it’s lying in a ditch on the side of the road.
Up in Washington, cap and trade imploded. In Copenhagen, Obama and other world politicians preened for the cameras while their aides privately made sure nothing happened. Over in India, Rajendra Paschauri came under fire by public officials and reputable scientists for the IPCC’s shoddy science and his own personal conflicts of interest. And in Raleigh, the legislative commission on climate change has become either an afterthought or an object of ridicule. After four years, dozens of meetings, and tens of thousands of tax dollars expended, the commission may at some point issue recommendations that no one will bother to implement.
What explains the unlikely fate of the climate-change juggernaut?
There were multiple causes. The Climategate e-mail scandal exposed key players in the IPCC not just as global-warming alarmists but as conspirators actively engaged in trying to block access to public records and manipulate the peer-review process to punish dissenting scientists. New disclosures about serious flaws in the collection of climate data raised doubts about whether apparent warming trends were real. The election of Republican Scott Brown ended the fiction – and it was always a fiction – that the U.S. Senate would pass any cap-and-trade regime that would cost American jobs while having no discernible effect on global climate.
And as the scientific debate continued about the relative importance of man-made emissions, solar radiation, and other factors influencing global climate, the economic debate about proposed remedies got pretty close to being settled: the projected costs of cap and trade far exceeded the expected benefits when correctly measured (i.e. discounted for the time value of money).
In short, even if the alarmists were right about emissions and warming trends, economic analysis shows that it is in the interest of the vast majority of human beings not to expend the resources necessary to reduce future warming (slightly) but instead to adapt to the changing climate while expending those resources on far more valuable goals such as boosting economic growth, reducing global poverty, and improving health through such measures as better sanitation and agricultural innovation.
That’s a pretty wordy explanation, I realize. Let me put it more simply: if you’ve gotten your power or heating-oil bill this month, you know why climate-change alarmists are desperate and angry. Their pitch is falling on deaf ears.
With the state’s jobless rate still north of 11 percent and many people struggling to make ends meet, North Carolinians are reeling from the news that the cost of heating their homes and businesses shot up by as much as 50 percent over the same time last year.
Now, I’m not going to make the cheap rhetorical point that plenty of Carolinians wouldn’t have minded a little global warming last month. The real point is that because any state or federal measures to achieve significant reductions in carbon emissions would necessitate pushing energy prices higher, there is simply no constituency for such measures. People have enough sense to recognize that jacking up the cost of operating businesses, creating jobs, and running households is no way to help North Carolina recover its economic footing. No amount of gobbledygook and broken-window fallacies will persuade the public that it’s in their interest to surrender more of their money and freedom to a bigger government with the uncertain promise of some benefit 90 years from now.
That bandwagon over in the ditch is broken and burning. Both faulty mechanics and driver error are to blame.
Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation