Listening to President Obama’s big climate-change policy speech, one would never realize that climate-change science has been going through a rough patch. For the past 15 years, as The Economist recently noted, Earth’s surface air temperature has unexpectedly been flat even as greenhouse-gas emissions have continued to soar. Climatologists are befuddled.
And although perhaps just a pause, this scientific reality doesn’t seem to have penetrated the White house or affected Obama’s decision to pursue an economically inefficient, top-down, centrally-planned approach to reducing “carbon pollution.” Nope, it’s full speed ahead with executive action directing the Environmental Protection Agency to create carbon standards for new and existing US power plants, one of the country’s largest sources of greenhouse-gas emissions. And Obama also added a climate-change litmus test to approving the Keystone pipeline, even though that oil will get shipped no matter what, if not by pipeline then by rail.
Not that Obama had many options left for an activist environmental agenda given the general Republican abhorrence of cap-and-trade or carbon taxes. If there was ever a time, however, to take a “watchful waiting” approach to climate change — along with greater research energy science research, particularly into geoengineering, this would seem to be it. Also worrisome: the president’s nonchalance about potential economic trade-offs to increased regulation, something he waved away by talismanically invoking America’s innovative ability.
And what is the cost-benefit analysis here? As AEI’s Ben Zycher has noted:
US emissions of GHG are about 18% of global emissions, a proportion that is declining steadily. If we ignore that ongoing decline in the US proportion, the U.S. would contribute about 0.5 degrees of the IPCC [year 2100] best estimate of 3 degrees. Suppose that US policies over time reduce our contribution by half, an outcome that could be achieved only in the face of massive economic dislocation. In that case, the reduction in the US contribution would be about 0.2-0.3 degrees, a change that no climate model predicts would yield measurable effects in terms of climate patterns and attendant impacts upon weather and other parameters.
So what we have is an anti-growth, environmental agenda being pushed ASAP when the science is in a bit of flux. Odd timing for bad policy.