The subject of this newsletter – the global warming bill scheduled for a vote in the House soon – may well be the most far-reaching bill considered by Congress in a long time. If it becomes law, it will affect every person in the country. I am concerned that it will erode our quality of life, and it will make it harder for a lot of people in our area to earn their living. This is a big one, and you need to know about it.
Global Warming: The Issue
The temperature of the Earth has fluctuated over time. At one point, much of the Northern Hemisphere was covered with ice, for example. A number of factors influence the Earth’s temperature, including variations in the amount of heat coming from the sun, changes in the Earth’s orbit, shifts in the continents through plate tectonics, and levels of volcanic activity. Obviously, we cannot do much to affect those factors.
Now there is a concern that the Earth is experiencing a warming trend caused by the emission of “greenhouse gases.” These gases are presumed to trap heat within the Earth’s atmosphere, thereby raising the average temperature of the Earth. Greenhouse gases are primarily water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, and ozone. Water vapor, not including clouds, is by far the most significant greenhouse gas, responsible for more than half of the presumed warming effect, followed by carbon dioxide, methane, and ozone.
The essential argument is that the temperatures in the Earth’s atmosphere are rising because of greenhouse gases generated by human activity and that this global warming will bring about a catastrophe, causing ice to melt at the poles, the levels of the oceans to rise, and weather patterns to be altered. Former Vice President Al Gore is the best known advocate for taking drastic action to limit human activities that cause certain greenhouse gases to be produced.
(There are also those who say that even if the temperature is increasing somewhat, it is not necessarily a bad thing. They argue that more arable land, longer growing seasons, and better plant conditions could result.)
In summary, the global warming argument depends upon establishing two facts: (1) the temperature of the Earth is warming and (2) man’s actions are the cause of that warming. The science is not unanimous on either point. Some scientists believe that the temperature of the Earth is increasing rapidly. Others, such as those at the United Kingdom’s Hadley Center for Climate Studies, say that the Earth’s temperature is not much different now than it was 50 or 100 years ago.
The case that man is causing any change in temperature is even more hotly contested. It is based largely on computer models of our climate. No computer model yet developed can include all of the factors influencing our climate, so certain assumptions have to be made. So far, none of the models have been completely accurate in tracking past weather patterns. Relying on them for the future is even more problematic.
Yet, many, but not all, of the scientists who have spoken out come down on the side that man is causing the warming. An interesting question is whether it is science or politics that is leading to that conclusion.
Science, Politics, or Something Else?
Certainly today’s conventional wisdom and political correctness agree that man is causing the temperature of the Earth to increase. A few press reports have looked at what happens to a scientist who dares to offer a different position. It is not pretty.
Dr. Sallie Baliunas, a Harvard astrophysicist, points to another factor -- money. She notes that more than $25 billion has been spent to research global warming. If researchers found that man had little to do with changes in temperature, there would be far less money spent on that research.
It is interesting to note that government funding of climate change technologies has increased more than 500% since 1993 while funding of climate change science has declined a bit when adjusted for inflation, according to the Congressional Research Service.
So, despite the conventional wisdom, there is a lot we do not understand about exactly what is happening to our climate, and even more, we do not understand the reason it is happening.
And yet, Congress is about to take drastic action that will affect you.
It is usually called “cap and trade.” The idea is to limit or “cap” the amount of certain greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere. (Water vapor is the more prevalent greenhouse gas, but the concerns and bills focus on carbon dioxide, methane, and ozone.) Over time, that limit would be pushed further down so that less gas could be emitted. In order to control such emissions, the government would require a power plant, factory or refinery to have a certain number of allowances or permits which authorize the emissions. If a factory does not have enough allowances, it could buy them from a facility that had more than it needed, thus the “trade” part of “cap and trade.” The intention is to limit and then reduce U.S. contributions to greenhouse gases in the hopes that global warming would be moderated.
It is not clear at this point how the allowances would be distributed initially. The government could hand them out to certain businesses, or it could auction them to the highest bidder. A combination of the two approaches is also possible. One thing that is very clear is that Washington is expecting to get a great deal of money from your pocket through this approach – about $650 billion over ten years under President Obama’s budget proposal.
Among the concerns that have been expressed about this plan are that it costs too much and that it will not work.
Even the proponents of cap and trade admit that as energy and goods cost more to produce, their price will go up. We will all pay more for the electricity and fuel we use, for example. One study found that the higher prices will total about $3,100 a year for the average American household. In truth, that may be just the beginning. Texas Comptroller Susan Combs estimates that this plan would cost Texans between 53,690 and 311,600 jobs by 2020.
I believe that the consequences to the economy of our region will be enormous. Oil and gas businesses will suffer. Everyone who uses energy – from farmers and manufacturers to rural households – will pay more. And our quality of life will erode as more and more of what we earn goes to pay for the higher prices.
Another concern is whether all of this economic cost will accomplish anything. Setting aside for the moment the questions about whether the Earth is warming and what role man plays in any temperature change, the limits on greenhouse gas emissions would only affect the United States. China and India, among others, have said they have no intention of doing such a thing.
In addition, studies in the European Union, where they have tried this kind of plan for several years, have found no decrease in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. In fact, there are more now than before, according to Myron Ebell, director of Energy and Global Warming Policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
The bottom line for me is that there is a lot that scientists still do not know, and we should try to understand this issue better before we inflict severe economic hardships on our economy and on our citizens. We need to focus on improving our economy, and we need to improve our energy security. We know that our increasing dependence on foreign sources of energy is a problem that we can do something about. I have introduced again this year a wide-ranging energy bill to encourage more domestic energy production of everything from oil and gas to wind and nuclear power. Common sense and a little humility about what we do not know can help lead us to the right decisions. Rushing through a political agenda will lead us to the wrong ones.
Hotter or Colder?
Click here to read excerpts from a Newsweek article discussing this topic.