Opinion: Daily Journal

Why So Hot Under The Collar?

RALEIGH – A journalist friend of mine asked me the other day why my colleagues and I at the John Locke Foundation have so closely followed – and criticized – the workings of two state global-warming panels. The answer is simple: there are few issues of greater significance to the future of North Carolina than getting our energy policies right.

Climate-change alarmists believe that energy prices are too low. Most of their policies either would raise utility and gasoline bills directly or are contingent on future energy-price increases that the activists expect and welcome. Few North Carolinians would agree that the electricity and motor fuels they buy are underpriced. That’s why those formulating global-warming action plans prefer to keep the details and cost-benefit projections fuzzy. Close public scrutiny is not their friend.

Well, no one ever said doing the right thing will win you only friends. Sometimes it wins you foes, albeit the right ones.

What North Carolina’s Climate Action Plan Advisory Group (CAPAG) wants state government to do is adopt new taxes, regulations, and subsidy programs that will raise the cost of virtually every trip you take and good or service you buy. Recent increases in energy prices have already translated into price spikes for milk, eggs, and other groceries, because energy costs are a large percentage of the cost of producing and transporting them. The same goes for the cost of housing materials, clothing, appliances, and medical products. The regulators and activists want to see still-higher prices.

Not used to hearing these global-warming policies described as energy-price hikes? That’s because of a successful propaganda campaign to convince policymakers, reporters, and the general public that raising prices will lower prices, that increasing the cost of doing business will create jobs, and other such self-contradictory nonsense. CAPAG has made no use whatsoever of legitimate economic analysis of the proposed global-warming policies, preferring instead to hire consultants without the relevant expertise who are guilty of pervasive errors of logic and computation.

As I have previously pointed out, for the purposes of evaluating North Carolina’s proposals, there is no need to settle the ongoing debate about how much global warming there is, how much is anthropogenic vs. an artifact of natural patterns, and to what extent projected warming will create net costs or benefits to human beings. Rather, one can adopt the alarmist answer to each of those questions and still be compelled to conclude, based on the facts, that North Carolina should adopt precisely none of CAPAG’s recommendations.

Why is that? Because their advocates say that if all policies were fully implemented and worked according to plan (giggle), the result would be carbon dioxide emissions from North Carolina in 2020 roughly equivalent to the emissions from our state in 1990. Everyone admits that this would have no discernible effect on the local or global climate! Furthermore, if every state in the nation followed our lead, it would still have no discernible effect on the climate. Finally, if by some miracle every country in the world met the same target, which in places like India and China would result in human suffering on a massive scale (because their energy production under such constraints couldn’t come close to serving the needs of their teeming billions), the resulting effect on the climate might, indeed, be discernible but still so small – roughly two-tenths of a degree by 2100 – that few if any tangible benefits would flow from the “accomplishment.”

John Christy, director of the University of Alabama’s Earth System Science Center, provided a telling example the other day. Imagine, he said, that within the next decade every country in the world forced their residents to buy autos averaging 43 miles per gallon. Would that matter to the global climate? No. Under generous assumptions, the impact would be about five-hundredths of one degree by 2100.

The reason JLF has been sounding the alarm so loudly about CAPAG’s runaway regulation train is that when it crashes, it will cost North Carolinians dearly. Its recommendations would amount to one of the largest tax increases in state history, transferring resources away from economic activities providing real net benefits to workers and consumers and towards dubious alternative-fuel schemes and social-engineering programs with no net benefits.

I can only think of two reasons why more elected officials, media organizations, and interest groups aren’t sounding the alarm about this. Either they don’t understand what’s going on or they do understand it but think that impoverishment is a price worth paying to achieve their desired ecological end-state.

We’ll keep trying to inform the first group. As to the second group, it’s worth remembering the old adage that good intentions are all too often the paving stones on the road to a place that’s, well, really warm.

Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.