All we need to know about the president's speech on climate change is revealed by what's missing: Nowhere did he tell us what effects on future temperatures or climate can be expected from his policy proposals on greenhouse gases (GHG).
So let's do that math. U.S. GHG emissions are about 17 percent of global emissions. If we apply the widely accepted MAGICC climate model developed at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and if we assume the international Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change midrange emissions path, an immediate cut in U.S. emissions by half would yield a reduction in global temperatures of 0.1 degrees Celsius 100 years from now.
Forget the president's assertions about opponents' heads being stuck in the sand. Look instead at the actual evidence. There has been no temperature trend over the last 15 or so years despite increasing atmospheric concentrations of GHG. The earth has been emerging from the Little Ice Age since roughly 1850; accordingly, temperatures increased from about 1910 through about 1940, were roughly constant through about 1980, increased until 1998, and have exhibited no trend since then. How much of this long-term upward trend is anthropogenic? No one knows, and those who claim to know don't.
The past 12 months have set a record for the fewest tornadoes ever in a similar period. There has been no trend since 1950 in the frequency of strong (F3 to F5) tornadoes in the U.S. The number of wildfires is in a long-term decline. It has been almost eight years since a Category 3 or higher hurricane landed on the U.S. coast.
The proponents of climate policies have depended heavily on anecdotes (“Hurricane Sandy!”) and the predictions made by various climate models. The models, however, cannot predict: the warming around a millennium ago, the Little Ice Age; or the subsequent patterns after 1850. All climate models predict that GHG emissions would create an enhanced heating effect in the tropical midtroposphere; but neither the satellites nor the weather balloons can find it, a reality that raises serious questions about our understanding of the underlying atmospheric physics. In short: Models can predict neither the past nor the present. It is far from obvious that policymakers should have faith in their predictions about the future.
The president's proposals will penalize areas and industries disproportionately dependent on coal-fired power. A recent MIT study concludes that the winners will be the Pacific coast, New England and New York. The losers: the south-central and mountain states and Texas.
The winners are states with high power costs or with significant inexpensive hydroelectric resources that would be unaffected by GHG policies. The losers are states with low energy costs driven by disproportionate use of coal-fired power. By driving power costs up in the latter group of states, the GHG policies would reduce the competitive disadvantages of the former group.
This issue is about wealth redistribution from red states to blue, and not about carbon dioxide, which, in the Orwellian language of the left, is “carbon pollution.” It is not toxic to humans at many times current ambient concentrations. It protects plants from various environmental stresses. It is like no other effluent; for those, less is better. That is true as well for the coercion and government planning authority inherent in the Obama proposals.
Benjamin Zycher is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.