Global warming skeptics are quick to point out the exorbitant costs of global warming legislation because they are, well, exorbitant. The $1.9 trillion of tax revenue generated over eight years from a cap-and-trade bill would still be larger than the $1.5 trillion from NASA, the New Deal, and Hurricane Katrina. It amounts to a nearly $2,000 tax every year for every American household. Projected job losses that would have resulted from the Lieberman-Warner cap and trade would have surpassed 900,000 in some years.
But if it saves the planet, isn’t it all worth it? Some radical environmental alarmists believe saving the environment should come at any cost and capitalist greed and short-sightedness is superseding the preservation of the planet for future generations.
Herein lies the problem: When the benefits of a cap and trade are measured against the costs, the costs significantly outweigh the negligible benefits. We’ve highlighted the costs in the first two parts of this series (here and here). Let’s dissect the benefits.
Analysis by the architects of an endangerment finding that would circumvent Congressional legislation to regulate carbon dioxide, the Environmental Protection Agency, strongly suggests that a 60 percent reduction in carbon-dioxide emissions by 2050 will reduce global temperature by 0.1 to 0.2 degrees Celsius by 2095. The bottom line: The extraordinary perils of carbon dioxide regulation for the American economy come with little, if any, environmental benefit.
So radical environmentalists are willing to pay anything, and more importantly, coerce others to pay heavily to save the planet. But when the benefit is barely noticeable, even that argument falls flat on its face.
There are ways, however, to improve the environment in the U.S. and abroad without burdening the economy. It begins with establishing well-defined property rights. When property rights cease to exist, people do not have the proper incentives to devote their own resources to protect and improve their land. In this instance, whats referred to as the tragedy of the commons occurs. People are much more inclined to litter in a park than their own backyards. While this has environmental consequences of its own, the damage can occur on much larger levels. Overfishing, overgrazing, forest degradation are examples of overusing the earths resources when property rights are not clearly defined. Instead of continual lobbying Congress to meet their radical agenda, environmentalist groups could use their resources to purchase some of this land and improve it themselves.
Also worth noting is that doomsday scenarios, new and old, often play out much differently than what the doomsayers projected. Economist Walter Williams writes,
It’s not just latter-day doomsayers who have been wrong; doomsayers have always been wrong. In 1885, the U.S. Geological Survey announced there was “little or no chance” of oil being discovered in California, and a few years later they said the same about Kansas and Texas. In 1939, the U.S. Department of the Interior said American oil supplies would last only another 13 years. In 1949, the Secretary of the Interior said the end of U.S. oil supplies was in sight. Having learned nothing from its earlier erroneous claims, in 1974 the U.S. Geological Survey advised us that the U.S. had only a 10-year supply of natural gas. The fact of the matter, according to the American Gas Association, there’s a 1,000 to 2,500 year supply.
Here are my questions: In 1970, when environmentalists were making predictions of manmade global cooling and the threat of an ice age and millions of Americans starving to death, what kind of government policy should we have undertaken to prevent such a calamity? When Ehrlich predicted that England would not exist in the year 2000, what steps should the British Parliament have taken in 1970 to prevent such a dire outcome? In 1939, when the U.S. Department of the Interior warned that we only had oil supplies for another 13 years, what actions should President Roosevelt have taken? Finally, what makes us think that environmental alarmism is any more correct now that they have switched their tune to manmade global warming?