House speaker Nancy Pelosi intends to bring the Waxman-Markey bill to a vote on Friday over the objections of farm- and coal-state Democrats and almost all Republicans, figuring that she has the votes to pass it. Then it will go to the Senate, where everyone expects it will die. The opposition complains that the bill, which would impose caps on emissions alleged to be causing global warming, will raise the price of energy, especially electricity, which is simply stupid in the midst of a recession. The blow would fall heavily on the states whose coal provides most of our electricity and on rural areas where electric costs have the most impact. The bill aims to ameliorate these effects by allowing emitting plants to continue for a while by buying permits or allowances from other producers whose emissions are below their allowances—hence “cap and trade.”
Of course the setting of allowances is highly subject to special pleading and dealing. Already the vote-seeking compromises in the bill have outraged environmental purists. Expect a continuous mess. If you liked credit default swaps, you’ll really love the emissions trading market—if it should ever come to pass.
Meanwhile on the international scene climate politics is slouching toward Copenhagen in December, where a successor to the ineffective Kyoto treaty is supposed to be enacted. At this point most sage observers expect this project to fail. Endless preliminary negotiations have been unable to resolve the differences. No agreement will pass our Congress without firm emissions control commitments from China and India, which aren’t going to happen. The European Union, once the proud leader in climate policies (by its own estimation) is in internal disarray. Japan, home to Kyoto, has proposed such a small emissions reduction target for itself that they have almost opted out of the debate. Russia has gone them one better: By picking a 1990 baseline, before the collapse of the Soviet Union’s economy, they figure they can actually continue to increase their emissions and still claim a long-term reduction.
The Chinese, brilliantly cynical, and joined by India and a number of African states, have hit upon a perfect non-starter: The climate problem was created by the West, the industrialized nations, so they should fix it, cutting their emissions to forty percent below 1990 levels, until the developing nations have had a chance to catch up. Anyway, Chinese per capita emissions are so far smaller than the West’s that to curb their development would be grossly unfair. Finally, say the Chinese, the West should give them, free of charge, billions of dollars in climate control technology. They know perfectly well that this is a recipe for economic suicide by the West, so their demands seem to be posturing either as a start to bargaining, or more likely to excuse their determination to continue their growth path without restrictions.
All this diplomatic turmoil is proceeding against a backdrop of growing public indifference. So the alarmist community has reacted predictably by issuing ever more apocalyptic statements, like the federal report ”Global Change Impacts in the United States” issued last week which predicts more frequent heat waves, rising water temperatures, more wildfires, rising disease levels, and rising sea levels—headlined, in a paper I read, as “Getting Warmer.” This is mostly nonsense, and it is certainly not “getting warmer.” The earth stopped warming in 1998 and since 2002 has been getting slightly cooler. Sea ice in the arctics is growing. Sea levels are not rising faster than their usual steady tiny pace. The incidence of severe storms is not increasing. And so on. If you want to worry about the climate, worry about colder weather and lower crop yields as the sun remains unusually quiet.
For heaven’s sake, climate people, pay attention to real life, real time data and not your wobbly and unreliable computer models.