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Burning the Greenbacks to Save the Greenhouse

by Mytheos Holt, published

The Los Angeles Times reported Friday that California would adopt "the most sweeping curbs on greenhouse gas emissions in U.S." According to the story, the state air board has ordered that a 15 percent cut in emissions be achieved over the next 12 years, which will supposedly bring our emissions down to 1990 levels.

What an original idea! That is, if you consider a nearly verbatim restatement of a ten-year-old toothless international treaty new or innovative in any way whatsoever. Of course, the "inconvenient truth" that this proposed model has already failed at the global level can't be expected to stop the overzealous California legislators from engaging in the sort of self-congratulatory back-patting that one could only expect from politicians.

According to the Times, the regulators responsible for this most recent swan dive into the clutches of crisis-entrepreneurship have "characterized as a model for President-elect Barack Obama, who has pledged an aggressive national and international effort to combat global warming." For their sake (as well as for the country's), one hopes the president-elect will do what he apparently always does to people with an exaggerated sense of their own self-importance: pat them on the head and then move on.

For my part, I'd like to keep this bit of "we can change the world" nonsense confined to one state. If possible, it would also be nice to get that one state liberated -- something Schwarzenegger could do with his new found emergency powers. And not only can Schwarzenegger do this - he ought to do so, considering that his overriding concern over the next few years is to keep California's budget solvent, something which will undoubtedly not be helped by having to spend millions of dollars for granola-crunching regulators to sniff cow derriere ("I think there's a little excess CO2 here, Johnny!") and otherwise poke and pry in industries that cannot afford to be subjected to inquisitorial meddling, not the least of which is California's farm community, which is probably already reeling from the blow it was dealt by Proposition 2! First the eggs, then the cows...I wonder if we'll get bread rationing next. After all, these regulators do want us to go back to 1990.

But of course, none of this would convince those who support state-mandated meddling in the marketplace. After all, when the market is left to its own devices, we all know it's a voracious, evil thing that swallows up entire rain forests in the pursuit of measly dollars. Well, that's at least according to some people. So what about the environmental consequences of this plan? Surely, if those are good, then at least those who proposed the plan will have some cause to celebrate!

Actually, any way this plan goes, it will only end in tears. As of now, one can see two possible routes. One possibility is that the plan will go the same way as the Kyoto protocol, in which case it will simply be a mask for more of the same industrial "attacks" on the planet, and will actually set back the environmental movement that is responsible for it. This would be the preferable route for California's economy, but would totally destroy the political capital of California's regulators where environmental activists are concerned. Or, and this seems more likely since this plan can be enforced, unlike Kyoto, the plan will work too well and exacerbate California's financial situation to such an extent that backlash occurs.

Before you dismiss this possibility, consider this: according to Cato Institute Senior Fellow Patrick Michaels, an expert in environmental science, "As economies suffer increasingly from global warming taxes and regulation, nations can descend from first-world energy infrastructure and supply to banana-republic like conditions, even without the current economic contraction." It would be absurdly Manichean to assume that all environmentalists believe in a return to stone-age conditions, so long as the critters aren't hurt. As such, one imagines that the prospect of reducing California to a banana republic would be just as unattractive to those members of her population who have been seduced by environmental crusading spirit as to those without.

But for those few oddballs who do wish to see industrialization brought to a screeching halt, it would be the height of tactical folly to introduce a plan like this now, considering that the opportunities for backlash are so admittedly profound. Thus, given that the only options for this plan will both end in disgrace for environmentalists and (possibly) for California's economy, it should be obvious that the regulators responsible ought to be censured immediately before they try and codify more hot air.

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