Five Denier Myths about the Climate & Energy Bill

Originally appeared on Huffington Post

Like the summer weather outside, the fight over a strong climate bill is heating up. The next three weeks will reveal which Senators are serious about fixing the world's biggest crisis, and which are worried about short-term political advantage.

At stake is whether the Senate will consider a strong bill that caps America's carbon pollution and ends our over-dependence on oil and other fossil fuels. Or whether the Senate will pass yet another energy-only bill that won't solve the problem.

Predictably, the "No Can Do" climate action naysayers continue to oppose to setting hard limits on America's climate pollution. And they're trotting out the same worn-out old arguments they've been using to oppose action for the last decade.

As we approach the Senate endgame, we want to use this opportunity to respond forcefully and directly to these scare tactics. Here are five reasons climate action opponents are wrong:

1) They claim a strong cap on America's carbon pollution will wreck our economy.

FALSE: This is the bogeyman of every effort over the last century to protect our environment and defend public health and safety. Power companies said limits on acid rain pollution would wreck the economy. Oil refineries said taking lead out of gasoline would wreck the economy. Car manufacturers said installing seat belts would, you guessed it, wreck the economy. History has shown that in every case, America's economy has not only survived but thrived under tougher environmental and public health and safety standards.

On this one, our opponents aren't just wrong. They're dead wrong. A cap on carbon didn't cause the current economic disaster. A cap on carbon didn't lead to one billion dollars a day going overseas to oil exporters. A cap on carbon didn't raise electricity rates for the average American home 42% or increase the average cost for a gallon of regular gasoline 138% over the last 20 years. A cap on carbon didn't slash American manufacturing jobs over the last half century.

It's the status quo that got us into this mess.  The best way out is to jumpstart the new green economy by ending our addiction to oil and other fossil fuels with a strong limit on carbon pollution.

2) They claim a strong cap on America's carbon pollution will undermine our economic recovery.

FALSE: They've got it backwards. Many notable economists, including Nobel Prize-winning New York Times columnist Paul Krugman and White House Economic Council Director Larry Summers, argue that strong climate action is the key for promoting economic recovery. It will encourage economic and entrepreneurial innovation and finally clarify how America will proceed with carbon limits. Without strong legislation, the uncertainty of EPA regulation and the threat of litigation will continue to freeze much-needed investments to modernize our energy infrastructure.

If you don't believe these economists, remember this: even if we pass a strong cap on carbon pollution this year, it won't go into effect for a couple years. That's how long it will take before the regulatory rules are written. This is one of the most compelling reasons for passing a bill now so we can set the regulations and begin cutting emissions in time to meet the 2020 limits.

We should also note that most short-term emission cuts will come from the "low hanging fruit" of promoting energy efficiency and investing in carbon offsets. Indeed, the House-passed climate and energy bill earned the support of a wide range of businesses, including several power companies, because it made environmental and economic sense.

3) They claim that America can transition to a cleaner energy future without limiting carbon pollution simply by passing an energy-only bill.

FALSE: This is the popular, easy-out position for politicians — just throw money at the problem. But, there are several major flaws with an energy-only bill.

Congress has passed 10 energy bills over the last 40 years, and none of them have even come close to launching the energy revolution we need to end our over-dependence on fossil fuels and transform our energy economy.

The math simply doesn't add up. Unleashing our clean energy future will require trillions of dollars in new investment in our energy infrastructure and technologies over many years. Such a large-scale transition will only be possible when private investors are given a clear market signal that the days of treating our atmosphere like an open sewer for unlimited carbon pollution are over. Without a strong cap on carbon pollution, we will remain addicted to the dirty energy of the past.

Finally, those in favor of promoting clean energy technologies without a carbon cap typically support taxpayer investments in handpicked energy technologies and programs. There are two main problems with this approach:

1) There is no way we can subsidize our way out of this problem — we are already running huge deficits, but even if we could find billions of dollars in taxpayer funds for clean energy subsidies, it will not come close to transforming our energy economy; and

2) This is a top-down, command-and-control, federal-government-picks-winners-and-losers approach that many legislators object to, and it will fail to achieve the most efficient clean energy investments.  A carbon cap will unleash the ingenuity of America's entrepreneurs, and they will find the most cost-effective technologies for reducing global warming pollution.

4) They claim this is nothing but an energy tax that will limit freedom in America.

FALSE: A cap on carbon is a pollution limit, not a tax. It is a proven way to ratchet down pollution in a cost-effective, efficient, sensible way. As pollution levels decline and we begin to end our addiction to fossil fuels, new, cleaner, more efficient technologies will fill the void.

Think of it this way — let's say you're a smoker. One way to help you end your tobacco addiction would be to tax cigarettes and increase the cost of smoking. If smoking cigarettes gets more expensive, you may smoke less. Then again, you may just pay the extra amount and find other ways to save money. This is how a carbon tax would work, and it's not what we're advocating.

A better way to ensure that you stop smoking would be to set a declining limit on number of cigarettes you can smoke each day so that over time you gradually kick the habit. This is how a cap on carbon would work.

As for limiting freedom in America, this may be a popular claim by Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and the Tea Party crowd. But this flips the issue on its head.

Right now, we import nearly 60% of our oil and are beholden to the whims of the petro-dictators. We sit on only about 2% of the world's proven oil reserves, but we consume nearly 20% of the world's oil. Drill Baby Drill won't change the basic math in this equation.

What freedom-loving American would choose to be dependent on Middle Eastern oil or while relying on the finite and dwindling resources of the world's fossil fuels?

5) They claim that the environmental threat from climate change is overstated.

FALSE!: This one needs an exclamation point. The National Academy of Sciences and the science advisors to the last four presidents of both parties have looked at the data and are unequivocal in their warnings that global climate change is a potentially catastrophic environmental threat to the planet.

The next time someone questions the science of global warming, ask whether he denies that carbon dioxide is a heat-trapping gas. Or whether she denies we are emitting billions of tons of it into our atmosphere every year. Or whether atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide are higher today than at any time in at least the last 2.1 million years. Or that we just completed the warmest decade on record and that 2010 is on pace to shatter the record as the warmest year.

Each of these facts are measurable, verifiable, and not in dispute.

As a result of our 100 years of unlimited carbon pollution, we are witnessing the first symptoms of a planet that is transforming before our eyes. And what we have already seen should be enough to demand action.  Polar sea ice melting at alarming rates, seasons coming earlier, migration patterns shifting, the oceans acidifying, corals bleaching, glaciers retreating, wildfires raging out of control, mega-floods and severe droughts – these early symptoms are becoming the norm.

And this is merely the opening act. Over the coming decades, the planet will get warmer and warmer and warmer. Without a strong cap on carbon, there is no reversing this devastating trend.

On these and many other claims, the "No Can Do" folks are just plain wrong. The time for a strong climate and energy action is now. Please email your Senators today and urge them to support the strongest possible bill.

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3 Comments

  1. Posted July 7, 2010 at 1:00 am | Permalink

    RE: #4 Sorry, but a cap is a way to let traders set and collect a hidden, volatile and regressive tax. A fairer. more effective alternative that avoids Wall St gaming is a direct carbon tax with revenue returned equally– it's been done (with popular support) for three years in British Columbia. They raised the carbon price and the amount of revenue return on July 1. See http:www/carbontax.org.

    A carbon price of say $20 would produce the same emissions reductions whether the price was set by traders in a carbon market or directly via a fee on fossil fuel producers. Under a cap with a $20/ton permit price, emitters would have no greater (and no less) incentive to reduce emissions than they would under a $20/ton tax. Reductions that can be made for up to $20 per ton will be made in either system because they will yield the same savings — as permits that wouldn’t need to be purchased under a cap, or as taxes that wouldn’t have to be paid under a tax. Similarly, reductions costing more than the set price won’t be made because it will be cheaper to buy permits. The difference is who sets and collects the tax and where the revenue goes.

  2. Posted July 7, 2010 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    David,

    Thanks very much for writing "Five Denier Myths about the Climate & Energy Bill." As I was reading the myths I wanted to flip them around so I could remember the Benefits of the Climate & Energy Bill. So, here are my take away points based on your article…

    A strong cap on America's carbon pollution will…
    1) Jumpstart the new green economy and end our addiction to oil and other fossil fuels.
    2) Promote economic recovery and help to position the USA as a global leader in clean energy.
    3) Give private investors a clear market signal that the days of treating our atmosphere like an open sewer for unlimited carbon pollution are over.
    4) Free Americans from dependence on Middle Eastern oil and end our dangerous reliance on a finite and dwindling resource of fossil fuels.
    5) Help to avoid the calamitous environmental threat to the planet that the National Academy of Sciences and science advisors to the last four presidents of both parties have warned about.

    Will people emailing their Senators urging them to support the strongest possible bill to cap America's carbon pollution make the difference? I agree with you. I think it's our best shot and time is running out.

    Cheers,

    Franke

  3. Jared
    Posted July 8, 2010 at 1:34 am | Permalink

    Hmm OK I will deal with 5.
    "ask whether he denies that carbon dioxide is a heat-trapping gas." It doesn't matter, it depends on how much, which no one knows (garbage in garbage out computer models aside).

    " Or whether she denies we are emitting billions of tons of it into our atmosphere every year". Yes we are, and? What is it 0.039% of the atmosphere. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_dioxide (or 319 ppm). This is measurable.

    "Or whether atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide are higher today than at any time in at least the last 2.1 million years." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_dioxide_in_Ea… "The recent period is located on the left-hand side of the plot, and it appears that much of the last 550 million years has experienced carbon dioxide concentrations significantly higher than the present day."
    Cheery picking data anyone. Why is the last 2.1 million years the number you choose? Why not 2 million as it's a whole number?

    "Or that we just completed the warmest decade on record and that 2010 is on pace to shatter the record as the warmest year." Even if it was which people seem to argue over, it is irrelevant as just because two things happen at the same time doesn't prove anything. This is a rather key point.

    "Each of these facts are measurable, verifiable, and not in dispute."
    And what, they prove nothing. If you want to steal billions of dollars of peoples money you need to do better than that.

    "And this is merely the opening act. Over the coming decades, the planet will get warmer and warmer and warmer. Without a strong cap on carbon, there is no reversing this devastating trend." Wrong again, even the IPCC don't see the current caps stopping the supposed warming.

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