Today’s syndicated column from Reason’s Jacob Sullum, excerpted below from the Washington Times:
“We need more than the same old empty promises,” President Obama declared Monday. He therefore offered new empty promises, most conspicuously a vow to create “a new energy economy that puts millions of our citizens to work.”
As he did during his campaign, Mr. Obama presented his plan to ameliorate global warming as a way of stimulating the economy, with the first steps — money for weatherizing buildings, boosting alternative energy production and improving power transmission — incorporated into his American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan. Thus he continues to ignore the enormous cost of dramatically reducing carbon dioxide emissions, falsely portraying the economic burden as a boon.
Mr. Obama still officially intends to “help create 5 million new jobs by strategically investing $150 billion over the next 10 years to catalyze private efforts to build a clean energy future.” Exactly where that projection comes from is a mystery. . . .
To see the fallacy here, consider this: If Mr. Obama could snap his fingers and make global warming disappear tomorrow, should he do it? By his logic, no, because then we would lose all those wonderful green jobs that will help pull us out of the recession.
The justification for a cap-and-trade system (or a carbon tax, which likewise aims to shift the economy away from fossil fuels by making them more expensive) lies not in the jobs it will “create,” which will be more than balanced by the jobs it will destroy or forestall, but in the bad consequences it will prevent. Mr. Obama alluded to those in his speech, saying, “The long-term threat of climate change could result in violent conflict, terrible storms, shrinking coastlines and irreversible catastrophe.”
To know whether Mr. Obama’s cap-and-trade proposal makes sense, we need to know how likely those outcomes are and how costly they would be. We also need to know how likely it is that his plan actually would prevent the dire results of which he warns and, crucially, at what cost.
Critics such as Bjorn Lomborg, author of “Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming,” argue that adapting to climate change is much more cost-effective than trying to prevent it, an effort they say is unlikely to have any measurable impact. Presumably Mr. Obama thinks these skeptics are wrong. I would like to hear why.
But that would require the president to be more candid about the sacrifices demanded by his plan to create “the new energy economy.” It is difficult to perform a cost-benefit analysis if you refuse to admit there’s a cost.