Morning Bell: Lieberman-Warner Is Lose-Lose
Conn Carroll /
Last week the Natural Resources Defense Council put out a report claiming “Doing Nothing on Global Warming Comes With Huge Price Tag.” Covering the report’s release, the Austin American-Statesman wrote: “If the United States doesn’t do something soon to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it could cost the country $3.8 trillion annually from higher energy and water costs, real estate losses from hurricanes, rising sea levels and other problems, an environmental group predicted Thursday.” The NRDC’s report is a case study in how environmental groups distort science to deceive the American public.
The first thing to note is what exactly the NRDC means by “soon.” In order to arrive at its $3.8 trillion figure, the NRDC extends the life of its study all the way to 2100. Respectable economists don’t pretend to know what the world will look like much beyond 25 years, let alone 90. Even Lieberman-Warner only taxes carbon through 2050. But the NRDC distortions don’t end there.
Besides the completely unrealistic long forecast window, the NRDC’s biggest misrepresentation is the claim that its climate data comes from “the most pessimistic probable outcome” of current climate modeling. The NRDC then claims that “likely” means a two-thirds probability of occurring. The NRDC blatantly confuses “confidence interval” with “probability” here. In reality, the best computer simulations currently give only a 1-in-6 chance to the dire climate outcomes the NRDC uses for their numbers — and even then the NRDC can’t get those dire numbers correct. The NRDC claims claims sea levels will rise 45 inches by 2100. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) most pessimistic scenario (only a 5% chance of happening) pegs sea level rise at 24 inches. The IPCC’s worst temperature scenarios show increases of 3.5 degrees to 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit. The NRDC says temperatures will jump 13 degrees.
One of the biggest costs to the U.S. economy the NRDC uses to reach its trillion dollar figure is from hurricane damage. Not mentioned in its press release and buried deep in the report we find that the NRDC does not claim that global warming leads to more hurricanes. Instead, all of the hurricane damages come from increased costs in damage to coastal development. Never mind that more and more people are moving away from coasts to avoid these costs. This same problem undermines all of the NRDC’s damage numbers. The largest source of economic costs in the report comes from water damage. But the NRDC assumes people will do nothing to protect their property as sea level rises. No sea walls, no building up sand dunes, no elevating beach houses. The NRDC wants us to believe people will just stand there over a 100 timeframe and do nothing to protect their homes.
But that is not even the biggest kicker of all. Even if the NRDC gets its way and Lieberman-Warner becomes law, and works perfectly, none of the economic damage claimed to be caused by global warming in the report will be prevented. Due to the fact that it will take decades for emissions already in the atmosphere to dissipate, and that China and India show no signs of choosing carbon reductions over their economic survival, no scientific study can show Lieberman-Warner will lower the Earth’s temperature by even .1 degrees. That is why Lieberman-Warner is a “lose-lose.” Not only will it cost the U.S. economy $4.8 trillion by 2030, but it will not affect the Earth’s climate at all.
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