Economics

Obama Is Still Pushing Green Snake Oil

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In a taped speech shown to attendees at a climate change conference in California this week, Barack Obama continued trying to distract Americans from the enormous cost of making substantial reductions in carbon dioxide emissions by promising "five million new green jobs that pay well and can't be outsourced." Not only is this number pulled out of thin air; it's nothing to be happy about. As I've noted, the manpower required to transform the economy so that greenhouse gas emission targets can be reached is a measure of the cost involved. Obama makes it seem as if we should try to maximize this cost, promising that green jobs will "steer our country out of this economic crisis."

That is pretty much the opposite of the truth. As The New York Times notes, "some industry leaders and members of Congress have suggested that Mr. Obama's climate proposal would impose too great a cost on an already-stressed economy—having the same effects as a tax on coal, oil and natural gas—and should await the end of the current downturn." Obama's response is to portray the economic burden as a boon.

In the speech, he does implicitly make the case that the cost he refuses to acknowledge will be justified in the long run:

Few challenges facing America—and the world—are more urgent than combating climate change. The science is beyond dispute and the facts are clear. Sea levels are rising. Coastlines are shrinking. We've seen record drought, spreading famine, and storms that are growing stronger with each passing hurricane season.

Is it really "beyond dispute" that global warming already has produced drought, famine, and stronger storms? New York Times environmental reporter Andrew Revkin notes that "the statement about 'storms that are growing stronger with each passing hurricane season' is hard to square with the science on hurricanes in a warming world, which has gotten more nuanced of late."

Even if Obama were right about current conditions, and right that things will only get worse, what evidence is there that his cap-and-trade plan will ameilorate the trend enough to justify the cost? Assuming we meet his goal of an 80 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 (a conveniently distant deadline), how much will it cost, what impact will it have on global warming, and how much damage will thereby be avoided?

Bjorn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist and Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming, argues that adapting to climate change is much more cost-effective that trying to prevent it, an effort he says is unlikely to have any measurable impact. Presumably Obama thinks Norberg Lomborg is wrong. I'd like to hear why. But that would require Obama to be more candid about the sacrifices demanded by his plan to create the Clean-Energy Economy of Tomorrow. It is difficult to perform a cost-benefit analysis if you refuse to admit there's a cost.

Ron Bailey's interview with Lomborg appeared in the October issue of reason.