Climate change needs more science, less salesmanship

Bob Tippee

From the politics by which the US Senate passed comprehensive energy legislation this month, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) extracted the promise of a vote on a climate-change bill they sponsor.

At one point they proposed to make the Climate Stewardship Act of 2003, which they introduced last January, an amendment to the energy legislation.

The bill uses a cap-and-trade system to pursue Kyoto Treaty emission targets for greenhouse gases. Commercial, industrial, and electric-power emitters would fall subject to emissions allowances, which they could save, buy, or sell. Something called the Climate Change Credit Corp. would use funds from allowance sales to reduce costs to energy users, such as by providing rebates on purchases of efficient appliances.

Debate over the Lieberman and McCain bill would provide a welcome chance to separate salesmanship from science on this issue.

Industrial-strength salesmanship comes from Lieberman himself.

"By capping emissions and tapping market forces" to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, he said in January, "this bill will heat up American innovation and cool down our changing climate."

Cute but untrue. By itself, the bill—even if it succeeded in reducing greenhouse-gas emissions to target levels—could have no measurable effect on average global temperature. None.

What the bill would do is raise energy costs. At the request of senators, the Energy Information Administration estimated the effect, emphasizing uncertainty of the exercise.

According to EIA, the cost of Lieberman-McCain prescriptions through 2025 in 1996 dollars, based on the discounted value of lost disposable income, comes to $47/person/year.

That doesn't sound like much. But someone should ask how a majority of Americans would answer this question:

"Would you agree to send the government an annual check in the amount of $47 times the number of persons in your household to fund global warming remedies with no chance of influencing global average temperature unless matched by greenhouse-gas emitters around the world—which won't happen—and possibly not even then?"

The debate over global warming remedies needs less salesmanship and more perspective about the costs of presumptive remedies and what they reasonably might be expected to achieve.

NOTE: There will be no Editor's Perspective Aug. 29.

(Author's e-mail:

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