New UN Environmental Report Should End Debate: Swift Federal Action Is Urgent
By Michael E. Kraft
GREEN BAY, Wis. (McClatchy-Tribune News Service/MCT) – The past year has brought increasing and definitive evidence of climate change and the impacts it can have on the United States and the rest of the world. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its latest report, providing exhaustive details about the world’s changing climate and its causes. It concluded that warming of the climate system is “unequivocal.”
It found atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased to levels that are “unprecedented” in millennia. It also concluded that “human influence on the climate system is clear,” and that limiting climate change “will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.” To meet that goal means fundamentally shifting away from reliance on fossil fuels.
Climate-change skeptics dismissed this latest IPCC report as they have previous ones. Yet during the past year, other independent studies reached the same conclusions.
One is the National Climate Assessment, which told us that climate change already is having effects all over the United States, from torrential rain storms and flooding in the Southeast to heat waves, droughts and wildfires in the Southwest and West.
Another study, The Risky Business Project, with bipartisan leadership, concluded that if the nation continues on its current path, “many regions of the U.S. face the prospect of serious economic effects from climate change.”
However, it found that if we act aggressively to adapt to the changing climate and mitigate future impacts by cutting carbon emissions, we can reduce our exposure to these economic risks.
Any reasonable person reviewing these and other studies would conclude that it is very much in our own economic and national-security interest to take action now; not just at some indefinite future time. Yet elected officials show little enthusiasm for action, many Republicans continue to deny the reality of climate change and the fossil-fuel industry stoutly resists any change. Why is there such a reluctance to act?
For one thing, the American public demonstrates little sense of urgency. Recently, we have seen the United Nations Climate Summit, the massive People’s Climate March in New York City, and several thousand “solidarity” events in other cities in 166 countries.
Yet climate change was not a significant issue in the midterm elections. It needs to become far more salient to the public, and people must convey their concerns and support for action to public officials.
To his credit, President Barack Obama has achieved much through his executive authority. This includes setting higher vehicle fuel-efficiency standards, investing in new energy technologies and pushing for Environmental Protection Agency regulation of coal-fired power plants that account for a large percentage of U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions. Many states and cities also have taken action to reduce emissions and to plan seriously to mitigate the impacts of climate change. But we need to do much more.
Energy experts, economists, many business leaders and investors advocate use of a national revenue-neutral carbon tax as the most efficient way to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.
Such a policy puts a meaningful price on the use of carbon, and it could be used in combination with other steps, such as setting national renewable-energy goals for utilities, offering financial incentives for switching to non-carbon energy technologies and establishing regulatory standards as needed.
The higher price of carbon-based fuels should discourage their use, promote the search for alternative fuels and stimulate energy efficiency. Just as important, this policy relies on the market mechanisms that conservatives and Republicans applaud, which makes bipartisan cooperation at least plausible. Such a policy is good for business and good for the U.S. economy.
Much of the world already endorses such a shift. Some states already have acted. Now the nation needs to do so, as well – and now. We are running out of time.
Michael E. Kraft is professor emeritus of political science and public and environmental affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.
Market-Driven Clean Energy Trumps Ham-Handed EPA Rules
By Mark J. Perry
FLINT, Mich. (McClatchy-Tribune News Service/MCT) — Is there any doubt there are already too many environmental regulations?
A recent government report found that the total regulatory costs in the United States amount to almost $2 trillion annually, twice as much as all individual income taxes collected each year.
Consider the Environmental Protection Agency’s rule requiring states to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions by 30 percent, on average, by 2030: Compliance will cost a fortune, while destroying an untold number of jobs. The rest of the world isn’t imposing carbon regulations, so the EPA rules make America less competitive internationally, while the rest of the world benefits at our expense.
Technological innovation is already reducing emissions quicker and more efficiently than heavy-handed government regulation ever could. We must put climate action in the real world of strategies that are more effective and less costly than regulation, which usually results in time-consuming legal challenges.
Evidence shows that proper incentives combined with ingenuity, when manifest in companies competing for a share of the market in low-carbon energy, can drive technological advances of world-changing originality and scale. The textbook case is what’s been happening in the production of shale gas.
Thanks to the shale revolution, U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions have dropped sharply since 2007. Meanwhile, the dramatic increase in natural-gas production — which has happened as a result of technological advances in fracking combined with horizontal drilling — turned what had been a gas shortage into a surplus of cheap, low-carbon gas for electricity production, heating and manufacturing. New revolutionary advances in fracking have done more to reduce emissions than any other activity.
To grasp the advances taking place in drilling technology, consider the efficiency gains in natural-gas production. The amount of natural gas produced per rig in the Marcellus region has increased eightfold since 2009.
New rigs are capable of more lateral boring and drilling more wells per pad, resulting in greater production. Some boring devices can even “walk” short distances to drill a new well. The increased mobility eliminates the time that would have been spent disassembling and reassembling rigs.
Advances and efficiency gains in shale production could prove promising for the spread of the shale revolution overseas. Witness China’s eagerness to obtain U.S. assistance developing its own vast shale-gas resources.
How about solar energy? Ingenuity and capital are being focused on the development of solar energy, with promising results. The average price for a utility-scale photovoltaic project has dropped more than 50 percent over the last three years, according to the Department of Energy.
In fact, solar energy is now becoming competitive with average grid costs across the country. With enough breakthroughs, solar could eventually become a dependable source of electricity.
But solar currently accounts for only a tiny fraction of the nation’s electricity generation. Solar and other renewable-energy sources alone can’t get us where we need to be soon enough. We need other low-carbon sources, and one of the best options is nuclear power.
The environmental movement has done more harm with its opposition to nuclear power than anything else it’s done. This is the kind of irrational thinking that is hampering efforts to address climate change.
Zero-carbon nuclear power accounts for nearly two-thirds of America’s emission-free energy, and it’s reliable and affordable. Without nuclear power, it might be impossible to reduce greenhouse emissions significantly. Fortunately, five new reactors are under construction in the U.S., and more are being built and planned in other countries.
It is time to end the delusional thinking that moving faster in the direction of heavy-handed government regulation is the best and most cost-effective way to address climate change.
Instead, we need to start thinking more realistically about market-based technological solutions to our environmental challenges. In short, approaches that use market-driven innovative technologies would help both the economy and environment, and that’s an outcome that would benefit the United States and the world.
Mark J. Perry is a professor of economics at the University of Michigan-Flint and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.