September 28, 2021

September 28, 2021

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Meeting Biden’s Climate Goals Would Cripple America

by | Jun 30, 2021 |

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Dr. Jay Lehr and Tom Harris received the below letter from Robert Lyman, Economics/Policy Advisor and Director for the International Climate Science Coalition – Canada. Mr. Lyman is an Ottawa, Canada-based energy policy consultant and Principal at ENTRANS Policy Research Group, Inc. He spent 37 years in the Canadian public service as a diplomat, economist, policy advisor, and ten years as a consultant on energy, transportation, and environmental policy issues.

Mr. Lyman writes: 

“Canadian politicians have been setting ambitious targets for GHG emissions reduction since 1992. Not one target has ever been met, but after each miss, a more stringent target is set.” 

The below graph, prepared by Tom Harris for https://www.sensibleclimatepolicy.ca, illustrates this well. As of last year, Canada was on track to emit 112 megatonnes more than our Paris Agreement target (#5, below).

Canada’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Graph

Robert Lyman will be Jay and Tom’s guest on The Other Side of the Story, to be broadcast on Saturday, July 3, and Sunday, July 4 at 11 am and 8 pm each day. Listen here!

LETTER TO A NEIGHBOUR – A CANADIAN COMMENTS ON US CLIMATE POLICY

Dear Neighbour,

The much-increased attention that politicians in your country are giving to climate policy is not really news to us on your northern border. Our governments have been having a field day, if one could call it that, with the subject for more than twenty years already, but especially since 2015 when the government led by Justin Trudeau was elected and the COP 21 conference was held in Paris. Over the years, we have learned much about what underlies the debates about what governments should and should not do to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. I thought that it might be helpful to share with you some of what we have learned, recognizing of course the differences between our countries.

It is not about whether climate change is “real”.

The statement that “climate change is real”, is often used as a kind of shorthand for the claim that human greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are causing increases in extreme weather events in the short term and potentially disastrous global climate changes in the long term. Of course, the climate is changing as it has for millions of years, but whether human emissions are having or will have seriously adverse effects is a highly contentious scientific issue that maybe one in ten thousand people fully understand. Contrary to what you may have heard, that debate has not been resolved and much of it depends upon the value of projections by complex computer models using hundreds of assumptions. The real “policy” issues concern what to do in the face of great uncertainty. 

The discussion about emissions is a distraction. It’s really about energy services.

The newspaper and government reports on climate science and policy spend thousands of pages discussing something called “tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent” that are emitted into the atmosphere. Who knows what that is? Have you ever seen one? First, carbon dioxide is an odorless, colourless gas that is essential for all life on earth. With every breath, you exhale almost 40,000 parts per million (ppm) of the stuff, and it is present in the atmosphere in trace amounts of about 415 ppm. More important, carbon dioxide is primarily produced from the use of oil, natural gas and coal to provide the energy services upon which life in modern societies depends – light, heat, air conditioning, motive power for all transport modes, and the thousands of uses of electricity. When people tell you that we must sharply reduce emissions, what they are really saying is that we must reduce our use of these energy services, or switch the production of energy services to new sources that are much more expensive and less reliable than the ones we have been using. 

When you realize that reducing emissions is really about reducing the availability and increasing the cost of energy services, you are well on your way to another insight. Consumers are the ones who determine which energy services will be used, and eighty per cent of the emissions occur at the point of final use (combustion). 

But wait, you might say, “Isn’t this all about ending oil, gas and coal production and penalizing the evil oil companies?” Actually, no, in the US all of the oil, gas and coal production combined produces less than seven percent of GHG emissions. Producers invest in new production because consumers demand it.

Pay attention to the distribution of advantages and disadvantage of climate policy measures.

Who gains and who loses from climate policy measures depends on differences of geographic location and income. In Canada, almost half of the emissions occur in two provinces, Alberta and Saskatchewan, because their industries are highly emissions-intensive. The result is that harsh measures to penalize emissions have a disproportionate regional effect there. It is less well known that measures to penalize emissions production would also have disproportionate regional effects in the US. More than a third of all emissions occur in just five states: Texas, California, Florida, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania. The most emissions-intensive (emissions per unit of GDP) states are Wyoming, North Dakota, West Virginia, Louisiana and Alaska; people who live there are more vulnerable to the harm done by climate policy.

Measures that increase the cost of energy always have a disproportionate impact on poorer people, because they must spend a higher share of their income on necessities. Most climate policies are notoriously regressive in their effects, especially when they involve increased taxes. At the other end of the income spectrum, about 80 percent of the subsidies given for purchasers of electric cars go to people in the highest income brackets, who use them as second cars.

Politicians who set “net zero” or “decarbonization” targets are not being serious.

Canadian politicians have been setting ambitious targets for GHG emissions reduction since 1992. Not one target has ever been met, but after each miss, a more stringent target is set. Canadians may generally be a gullible, well-intentioned lot, but it has become clear to many of us that the objective is not to meet the target.  Rather, it is to give environmental groups the moral high ground so that they can continue to have more influence. 

President Biden in April 2021 set a new target for the United States – that it would reduce GHG emissions by 50 to 52% below 2005 levels by 2030 and attain “net zero” by 2050. Let us consider what that would mean. 

US emissions are now divided among six sectors: transportation (29%); electricity generation (25%); industry (23%); agriculture (10%); commercial (7%); and residential (6%). Let us say that in the next nine years you could, at great cost, cut coal use for power generation in half; that would result in a reduction of emissions by about 10%. Then, to please all the people who hate private transportation, one could eliminate every car, SUV and pickup truck in America; highly unpopular, I suspect, but that would reduce emissions by 15%. Then, to please all the people who hate oil companies, one could close down every oil and gas well, every pipeline, and every refinery, so that Americans would rely 100% on imported oil and gas; that would reduce emissions by 8%. By all these measures, one could reduce emissions by 33%. You would still have to find ways to cut 17 to 19% of emissions. Doing so means, at a minimum, sharp reductions in industrial activity and potentially cuts in food production. None of this takes account of the possibility that emissions might rise due to increases in population or economic activity. 

Ultimately, “climate policy” is not about the climate at all.

During the 30 years that countries have been setting GHG emission reduction targets, global emissions have risen by 60%. More recently, from 2009 to 2019, emissions rose from 29.7 billion tonnes to 34.2 billion tonnes, a 15% increase. During the more recent period, the countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reduced their emissions. However, non-OECD emissions grew by almost 10 times the reduction in emissions achieved by the OECD countries. The non-OECD region now produces 65% of the world’s emissions. The United States, with less than 15% of global emissions, is at best a bystander, while China accounts for 30%.

According to the best analysis available from international governmental and private organizations, the global population and economy will rise steadily over the next three decades. The countries of Asia, where the fastest growth is occurring, will continue to emphasize investments that improve the incomes and living standards of their people, including those that increase the use of more affordable and secure fossil fuels. 

In these circumstances, climate policies that impair western countries’ economies will succeed only in accelerating their deindustrialization, as the affected firms move their investments and operations to more welcoming countries in Asia. Emissions growth may be slowed but they are very unlikely to decline. Activists may welcome this as enabling a redistribution of global income and wealth, promoting what they consider social justice. That has little to do with the climate.

To make this simpler, when someone insists that the US must incur enormous costs to “save the planet” ask them to show how many degrees of warming will be avoided by the US expenditures. The correct answer is “none, or almost none”.

I hope I have given you plenty to think about.

Best regards,

Your Canadian Friend,
Robert Lyman

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Dr. Jay Lehr is a Senior Policy Analyst with the International Climate Science Coalition and former Science Director of The Heartland Institute. He is an internationally renowned scientist, author, and speaker who has testified before Congress on dozens of occasions on environmental issues and consulted with nearly every agency of the national government and many foreign countries. After graduating from Princeton University at the age of 20 with a degree in Geological Engineering, he received the nation’s first Ph.D. in Groundwater Hydrology from the University of Arizona. He later became executive director of the National Association of Groundwater Scientists and Engineers.

Tom Harris is Executive Director of the Ottawa, Canada-based International Climate Science Coalition, and a policy advisor to The Heartland Institute. He has 40 years experience as a mechanical engineer/project manager, science and technology communications professional, technical trainer, and S&T advisor to a former Opposition Senior Environment Critic in Canada’s Parliament.

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