Opinion: Daily Journal

Let’s Put on a Cheaper Show

RALEIGH – The state’s Division of Air Quality made a big show Tuesday of releasing a set of recommendations, developed by an out-of-state activist outfit via a flawed process, for how North Carolina can combat global warming. Feel free to peruse detailed accounts at your leisure, but here’s a time-saver courtesy of your friendly neighborhood snide-r-man:

They want to put on a show.

I used to argue that climate-change alarmism was a religion. It’s certainly not science. It’s not subject to normal rules of evidence and respectful debate. To most of its adherents, the notion that humanity is endangering the survival of the planet by burning fossil fuels isn’t just a hypothesis to be tested or a risk to be assessed. It must be true. The stakes must be earth-shattering, or in this case earth-melting. Otherwise, policymakers and the general public will never be willing to embrace the massive changes in lifestyle that environmental activists have been pining for since the 1960s.

But as the debate has developed, I find that my choice of analogy isn’t a precise fit. Even the most passionate alarmists have come to realize that regulations with a real prospect of significantly altering the future climate would be so draconian that no elected government on the planet will be willing to adopt them. If the movement were truly religious in nature, such practical impediments wouldn’t matter. But they do.

That’s why I’m shifting the analogy somewhat. Climate-change alarmism isn’t religion. It’s community theatre, with all the accompanying Waiting for Guffman imagery.

Consider the proposed policies announced Tuesday. Set aside for a moment the entire debate about the extent of global warming, its causes and effects, and the purported existence of a near-unanimous scientific consensus about its policy implications (which does not exist, but we’re setting that aside for now). Believe it or not, you don’t have to have a strong view about these issues one way or the other to see the Division of Air Quality’s plan as the plot synopsis of a cheesy morality play.

Its advocates admit that if North Carolina adopts all the proposed recommendations, there will be no discernible effect on the global climate. Furthermore, because the North Carolina proposals are based on the original Kyoto Protocols target from the early 1990s, it’s important to understand that its advocates admit if the United States as a whole met the Kyoto emission target, it would also have no discernible effect on the global climate.

Finally, even if one could imagine that every party to the Kyoto Protocols were to meet their original emissions-reduction targets, advocates admit that the resulting effect on the global climate by the end of the century would be so small as to be barely detectable by current measurement technologies.

In other words, in a best-case scenario that has heroic North Carolina lawmakers bravely jacking up our taxes and energy prices, invading our property rights, and destroying many thousands of our jobs in order to shame the rest of the nation and much of the world into following suit, there would be essentially no practical benefits. It’s all pain, no gain.

If the debate on climate change were about making sound public policy, North Carolina regulators and activists wouldn’t be bothering to release the new recommendations. They’d be laughed out of the state capital (which, given the extent of frivolity there, would be saying a lot). But the climate-change debate isn’t about minimizing costs and maximizing benefits for the citizens of the state. It’s about putting on an expensive show to make people feel guilty.

I have a counterproposal. Although it pains me to do so, given my past criticism of taxpayer funding of the arts, I suggest the following compromise: instead of enacting any of the senseless rules, taxes, and spending programs contemplated by the Division of Air Quality, let’s create a new program called the North Carolina Environmental Arts Council. Give it several million dollars to spend. Allow community theatres across North Carolina to apply for grants to produce climate-change morality plays in conjunction with environmental groups. The more excessive the dramatic license the better – Indian spirit guides, self-flagellation with a cat-of-nine-tails, sackcloth, burlap bags, Corky St. Clair choreography, the works.

Finally, make it a condition for renewing a driver’s license that every North Carolinian see at least one morality-play performance. For each person who runs away screaming at intermission, we’ll have one fewer driver on our congested highways and one more potential transit customer. Environmentalists will gain a massive audience to which they can express their outrage. Theatre folks will get a chance to pitch their upcoming productions of “Camelot” and “The Mousetrap.” And taxpayers will lose only a fraction of the incomes they would have lost to wrongheaded environmental legislation.

Everybody wins.

Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.