Climate Policy: It’s All A Matter of Priorities

For a number of years, environmental issues in general, and climate in particular, have not been at the top of the public’s list of concerns. That is why the issue has been largely absent in this year’s campaign. The public is focused on jobs, economic growth, deficit spending on steroids, and the national debt. If our elected leaders had a similar focus, our economy would be in much better shape.

Attention directed at Washington-driven “climate solutions” is a form of waste and distracts from what should be Job 1: restoring healthy economic growth and fiscal integrity. The human impacts of economic stagnation over the rest of this decade will be far greater than the impacts of climate change, the cause of which is still not fully understood.

The lack of discussion during the campaign does not equate to a lack of action “to do something about it.” Improvements in energy efficiency continue to move us down the road of “de-carbonization” as does the abundance and use of natural gas, which will reduce emissions from power generation. Accelerating the switch from coal to gas will do more than ill-conceived legislation.

The debate over climate change has been going on for more than two decades. What more is there to say? Any discussion during the campaign would simply be repetitious. To the extent that there is new knowledge, it does not reinforce the view that human activities are the primary cause of climate change or that there is an urgent need to take some mitigation actions that would burden the economy with hundreds of billions of dollars in unnecessary costs.

What we know is that the dire predictions of the past have not come about, although climate advocates will be quick to blame fossil energy use for Hurricane Sandy. The models on which advocates base their faith remain seriously flawed. In a recent discussion about the lack of warming for 16 years, Phil Jones of East Anglia University admitted that we really don’t understand natural variability. If that is not better understood, it is impossible to lay the blame for warming between 1976 and the 1990s, or over the past century, on human activities.

The crux of the human causality argument is that increases in greenhouse gas emissions will prevent more solar radiation to be reflected back to outer space. For that to happen there has to be an increase in atmospheric water vapor. That has not happened. In addition, more recent research has raised the possibility that that the climate pattern observed over the past 30+ years has been the result of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. There also is more robust information on the relationship between solar radiation and cloud formation.

It is unlikely that Congress in the near future will pass any legislation that forces a reduction in fossil energy use. The real danger is that EPA will continue its regulatory onslaught even though CO2 emissions have been falling and according to the EIA will not exceed their 1990 level until about 2035.

It is equally unlikely that international negotiations will be any more productive that past ones. EU nations that have led the charge for another Kyoto-like agreement are moving away from emission reduction actions because their economies are in crisis and will remain in such states for many years to come. These annual climate meetings are nothing more than a way to keep climate bureaucrats and hand-wringing advocates employed.

If the UN and others were really interested in taking positive action to slow the growth in greenhouse gas emissions, they would focus on global poverty. About 1.6 billion people have no access to commercial energy, live in devastating poverty, and burn the most polluting forms of energy. We can help change their condition but haven’t. The Millennium Challenge has turned out to be nothing more than pious rhetoric. As these people pursue a higher standard of living they will consume more energy than they do today. Helping them develop the capacity to use today’s energy technology instead of yesterday’s will do more to influence emission growth than the path that has been advocated since the Rio conference 20 years ago.

Originally published by the National Journal at

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