Opinion: Daily Journal

How Irrational Fear Can Drain Your Wallet

This week’s “Daily Journal” guest columnist is Donna Martinez, Carolina Journal Radio co-host and Carolina Journal associate editor.

Imagine coming home from school to find your house empty and your parents gone. It sounds like an episode of “The Simpsons,” but it really happened to an elderly man I know. He laughs about being abandoned as a teen and says being forced to face his fears — and learn which were real and which were unfounded — made him a stronger person.

I’ve been thinking a lot about him lately. I wonder why so many lack his self-reliance. I wonder why so many give in to fear created by politicians and advocates who trade in doomsday scenarios. And I wonder why so many fail to evaluate alarmist predictions and the alarmist solutions that accompany them.

In his book The Science of Fear, Daniel Gardner describes the psychology of irrational fear as a fight between the gut and the head. As he explains in his prologue, by analyzing travel data for the year before and after September 11, 2001, psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer quantified the results of giving in to the feeling that driving is safer than flying. It isn’t. “With these data,” Gardner writes, “Gigerenzer was able to calculate the number of Americans killed in car crashes as a direct result of the switch from planes to car. It was 1,595.”

Irrational personal decisions are regrettable, but when policymakers enshrine irrational fear in laws and regulations, the ramifications are visited on vast numbers of people.

That’s why it’s important to pay attention to the General Assembly’s Legislative Commission on Global Climate Change (LCGCC), created in 2005 in a misguided effort to address the irrational fear of global warming. This group of legislators and environmental advocates is poised to allow its collective gut to defeat its head by recommending severe restrictions on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Those restrictions would put the government in control of North Carolina’s economy and the lifestyle of every resident.

The LCGCC is considering more than 50 proposals (pdf link). They include a cap-and-trade plan, CO2 tax, vehicle-miles-traveled fee, building energy codes, energy efficiency requirements, smart-growth policies, and public transit initiatives. Each comes with a significant cost to consumers.

Under a cap-and-trade system, the state would impose a cap on the amount of CO2 that can be emitted by regulated entities. Since the U.S. Energy Information Administration reports 86 percent of total energy consumption is from fossil fuels, which emit CO2, the impact would be sweeping. To avoid fines, those over the cap would be forced to buy credits and/or turn to costly “green” alternatives. Producers also would incur tracking and compliance costs. You and I would pay for it all via higher prices for almost every good and service we purchase.

Driving would become more expensive if the LCGCC recommends new taxes and fees. Ideas being considered include a tax on the number of miles driven and a registration fee based on how “environmentally friendly” your car is. If tougher tailpipe emissions standards are recommended, expect the price of a vehicle to jump by $1,000 to $4,000. North Carolina’s Climate Action Plan Advisory Group recommended that the LCGCC endorse the tougher tailpipe code California is seeking to impose. After appearing to die last year, California’s request to impose a tougher standard than the EPA’s was recently resurrected when President Obama directed EPA to reconsider California’s waiver request.

If the LCGCC recommends “smart growth” initiatives, the choice of where to live would be limited to lifestyle options deemed acceptable to government, or made more expensive. For example, the construction industry would have no other reasonable choice than to pass on to consumers the compliance costs for stricter “beyond code” rules.

These scenarios potentially await North Carolinians because politicians and advocates have created an irrational fear of climate change — change whose source is far from settled within the scientific community and, I’m happy to report, among the public.

Last week in Hickory, the John Locke Foundation co-hosted a climate change debate with the Reese Institute for the Conservation of Natural Resources at Lenoir-Rhyne University. More than 250 were on hand to hear Dr. John Christy, noted climate scientist and Alabama State Climatologist, and Dr. William Schlesinger, president of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and former dean of Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

You can view the debate here. Then you can decide which presenter represents the gut and which represents the head.