[W]hat the political left, even in democratic countries, share [with Hitler, Stalin and Mao] is the notion that knowledgeable and virtuous people like themselves have both a right and a duty to use the power of government to impose their superior knowledge and virtue on others.
Thomas Sowell, The Prejudices Of The Elite, 2007
"Every aspect of our lives must be subjected to an inventory ... of how we are taking responsibility" in order to control carbon dioxide emissions.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Pelosi Appeals For China's Help on Climate Change, AP, May 28, 2009
Carbon dioxide is central to life. We exhale it. Plants use it to create oxygen. Each time we burn a fossil fuel - those fuels that provide over 90% of our energy and feed our vehicles - we release carbon dioxide. It is hard to imagine quite literally anything that we consume or use, from buying an orange at a store to purchasing, say, a desk that was transported across the country on a truck, that is not involved directly or indirectly in the emission of carbon dioxide.
Yet for all of that, the vast majority of carbon emissions are either not man made or are otherwise natural emissions that we simply cannot control. As pointed out at Power and Control: "The burning of fossil fuels is responsible for just 3.27% of the carbon dioxide that enters the atmosphere each year, while the biosphere and oceans account for 55.28% and 41.46%, respectively."
To what degree, if any, do carbon emissions effect the climate. Scientists in fact disagree on that one. But even assuming that carbon does effect climate, can we can have any sort of impact on our climate by attempting to control the small percentage of carbon dioxide emissions over which theoretical control is possible? That is an even more contentious question. Then, assuming we can actually effect climate, what limits should there be on such efforts to force change by government fiat - i.e., where is the cost/benefit analysis?
For example, Obama has proposed a cap and trade bill that will impose a massive regressive tax on our economy. Yet, as the Governor of Indiana pointed out not long ago, "[n]o honest estimate pretends to suggest that a U.S. cap-and-trade regime will move the world's thermometer by so much as a tenth of a degree a half century from now." The scheme proposed by Obama is like that of the EU. Not long ago, the EU banned outdoor heaters in the UK to limit carbon emissions. Those heaters were responsible for .002 of one percent of Britain's total carbon emissions. Banning them was an exercise in futility. Yet the economic impact was considerable. The cost to pubs, cafes and caterers of this regulation is estimated at a staggering £250 million (half a billion dollars) annually in lost business. Are either justified?
[Update: Jim Manzi at NRO on the Waxmen Cap & Trade Bill:
. . . The costs would be more than ten times the benefits, even under extremely unrealistic assumptions of low costs and high benefits. More realistic assumptions would make for a comparison far less favorable to the bill.
I’ve had to rely on informal studies and back-of-envelope calculations to do this cost/benefit analysis. Why haven’t advocates and sponsors of the proposal done their own? Why are they urging Congress to make an incredible commitment of resources without even cursory analysis of the economic consequences? The answer should be obvious: This is a terrible deal for American taxpayers.
What Mr. Manzi neglects to mention is that this cap and trade system seems far more about finding a massive new revenue source and a vehicle to punish traditional energy than it is about actually reducing carbon. Indeed, an identical program in the EU has seen carbon emissions rise since cap and trade was put in place.
Update: See also this cost benefit analysis from economist Martin Feldstein.]
At any rate, if you don't know the answers to the questions I posed above yet, I would suggest you start digging deep and figure it out. And then take a vocal stand - because there are at least four groups of people who are not motivated by objective science but who are completely invested in pushing a particular answer to these questions. And they are about to change your life drastically:
Group I - As Michael Crichton pointed out several years ago in a brilliant essay on the issue of 'environmentalism,' the far left have made of the global warming issue a religion, complete with an Eden, a dogma, a utopia, and severe penalties for heresy. Al Gore is on record demanding that any dissenting opinion be silenced and and that skeptics be denied access to the public. Numerous of the top "scientists" in the global warming industry are on record calling for the actual prosecution of people who contest "global warming" and the need to control our carbon emissions.
They have traded objective science for religious dogma and when that happens, one takes their word as scientific fact at one's own peril. I am reminded of the fatwah issued by the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia in 1993 that instructed "the earth is flat. Whoever claims it is round is an atheist deserving of punishment." Dogma and science clearly do not go together. We could do with true debates on this issue - but debate is shunned by the global warming crowd. There is a reason climate sceptic Lord Monkton was prevented by the left from appearing before the House Energy Committee at the same time as Al Gore. [Update: See also here, discussing Stanford U. Prof. and global warming alarmist Stephen Schneider's refusal to engage in a debate] If they are not prepared to defend their positions, how can they be believed?
As an aside, someone the other day referred to selling carbon credits under a cap and trade scheme as "granting indulgences." After I stopped laughing, I realized just how apt a description it was, for this is a religion and indulgences were used by the medieval Church to grant forgiveness for sins in return for money.
Group II - A second group are those who want to use environmentalism and control of carbon as a vehicle to attack capitalism and redistribute the world's wealth. Indeed, that was a major theme at last years Bali Conference held by the IPCC, which saw a UN panel urge the imposition of a 'global' carbon dioxide tax on the richest nations. The proceeds of the proposed tax were to fill the UN coffers, which they would then distribute to developing nations, ostensibly to help them combat the effects of climate change.
[Update: To clarify, I consider this group to be made up of the larger international community who are agitating for a redistribution of America's wealth. And the day after I published this, they are in the news again. The Global Humanitarian Forum (GHF) issued a report in which they claim 315,000 deaths in the Third World last year due to global warming. They are using that as justification to put a carbon tax in America, payable to the UN, at the top of the list for the Copenhagen UN/IPCC Summit. It should be noted that, in consideration of the facts that we are in a seventh straight year of global cooling, that we are in an extended period of solar inactivity as reported by NASA, and that temperatures world wide have risen less than a degree over the past century, the numbers of deaths "due to global warming" posited by the GHF would seem to be more than a little cooked. And indeed they are - see Bishop Hill for the explanation.]
[Update 2: If this report is accurate, then Obama has in fact signed us up for both a unilateral carbon emissions reduction a large scale transfer of wealth to the UN, just as GHF and the IPCC are requesting. This is insanity on steroids.]
Group III - Yet a third group, and some of the most vociferous supporters of climate change regulation, are businesses and individuals such as GE and Al Gore who stand to make a windfall from climate change regulation. These are rent seekers who see a chance to reap billions out of the collective pockets of us all. As one author wrote in the WSJ several days ago, we need to beware the Climate Change Industrial Complex. Truly, we do.
Group IV - The most insidious group of all is the fourth - socialist left wing politicians who are on the cusp of using the supposed need to control carbon emissions to justify a massive expansion of government and curtailment of our freedoms. Some of these politicians are fervent believers in the global warming religion while others are far more cynical. Both see in the issue, an unparalleled vehicle for expanding the reach of government, filling the coffers of government with new taxes, and justifying government control of seemingly every aspect of life and the economy. Under the guise of regulating carbon, there is literally nothing that the government cannot reach and then effect through a combination of regulation and taxation. For example -
No more lamb - sheep burps cause global warming.
No more steaks - cattle farts, why they're worse than vehicle emissions.
Indeed, I hope you like a vegetarian diet.
Fat people cause global warming - lose weight or get taxed.
Your thermostat - no more central heating, get ready for centrally controlled heating. As Obama said, "We can’t drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times ... and then just expect that other countries are going to say OK,”
Gas - get ready for it to skyrocket in price - which in fact is nothing more than the left has long sought.
Cars - get ready for them to shrink to deathtrap size while the sticker price goes rocketing "skyward."
Your roof - buy white paint.
Your pocketbook - it will shrink massively under cap and trade plus all of the other green initiatives, with the proceeds going to fund the climate change industry and government coffers. Estimates now are that the cap and trade policies of Obama alone will to cost each family in America nearly $4,000 annually. That is quite a regressive tax from the man who promised us tax cuts but for the wealthy few.
Private jets - well, you can't afford one, but our overlords will be quick to point out that just a few of those (i.e., theirs) will not add appreciably to our carbon footprint. Green for thee, not for me, as Instapundit would put it. It is much easier to be green when you do not have to worry about paying your bills at the end of the month, but it gets even easier when you are not just incredibly rich, but also have a high tolerance for your own personal hypocrisy.
This isn't the road to a green Utopia. Its the road to an Orwellian green hell.
No one on the left has done more to clarify how the socialist left sees this issue than Nancy Pelosi today. As she said, the left intends to reevaluate "every aspect" of your life. What she implied was that after such reevaluation comes regulation and control of aspects she finds below her standards. Thomas Sowell was right - shades of Hitler, Mao and Stalin indeed.
[Update 3: The Non-Governmental International Panel on Climate Change has just issued a nearly 900 page report challenging the science of global warming. You can find the document here. Below are two videos that show the unveiling of the report and give a brief overview.