29 June 2009


So Waxman-Markey is the big bill that recently went through the House and is making a run for the Senate. You can usually tell someone's position on it just by how they describe it: if they call it a "climate bill," then they probably want it to pass because they want a looming problem addressed, but if they call it an "energy bill" then they probably don't want it to pass because they think it will cripple America's energy supply and industry. But that's not always true. Sometimes you have to read their nonsense.

Jim Lindgren at the Volokh Conspiracy offers a pretty standard conservative view:
The idea that a government of one country could appreciably change the world's climate over the next 40 years is the ultimate hubris. ... With the Climate Bill, if someone had to waste as much money and destroy as many jobs and as much wealth as possible — and still have only a trivial effect on the environment — the Climate Bill would be pretty much the ideal piece of legislation.

This is a very common sentiment on the right, but it's very unfortunate that it's cropping up at Volokh, which is usually a solid repository of well-thought-out conservative bloggers. It's disappointing they put up such standard hogwash about the bill. Lindgren doesn't bother to offer many facts or silly things in his post, but he has previously supported himself with such gems as this WSJ editorial (the height of scientific data) which is so bizarrely myopic that it's painful. The right's dialog seems to have gone:
  1. We'll support this bill if it doesn't cost very much, but it will cost every household thousands of dollars. The CBO will prove it.
  2. Well, the CBO actually says it will cost only $175 a year per household, but the CBO study is flawed.
  3. The EPA may agree and in fact say it will cost much less than that, but the requirements are still unrealistic. It's part of a renewable energy scam, and global warming isn't going to cause much harm since it will only bring down global GDP by 5%.
  4. Okay, that 5% might represent a huge number of extremely poor countries and their billions of residents, but... um...
Unfortunately, that's where everyone seems to end. It doesn't help conservatives that polling has a lot of people favoring this bill: Nate Silver at 538 did his usual mathemagic and found that there was an "indifference point" in household price below which people were willing to pay to help the climate, and Waxman-Markey is below this even by the higher CBO estimate.

Let's put it frankly: from an environmental standpoint, this bill sucks. It demands 20% renewable energy in ten years (with allowances for 5% efficiency savings to be part of this total), when we should be aiming for at least 30% in that timeframe. It tries for a 17% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020, when we should be aiming for double that number. There are no international provisions to speak of. It's not a very good bill.

But it's the best one that can pass, and even then it's going to be tough. Big industries in the Midwest own a lot of people in Congress, even the most socially liberal Democrats, and a hell of a lot of concessions had to be given away to make this happen. Plus, in ten years when disaster hasn't struck from above, it's going to be a great stepping stone to the next effort.

So all in all, I support it strongly. Let's hope it passes the Senate.

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