Sacramento moves backward — again 

A necessity of responsible statecraft is to stay off political bandwagons, especially if you’re deluding yourself into thinking you’re driving one. Sometimes bandwagons seem to be powered by scientific consensus. They can be the most perilous of all.

With a legislative deadline looming, the state Senate appears ready to hop aboard the recently passed Assembly bill 32, which deludes Californians into thinking they’re about to assume global leadership in the fight against global warming. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, in an excess of bipartisanship, supports in principle Speaker Fabian Nùñez’s plan to cut emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020.

For Californians, whose economy qualifies as the world’s sixth largest, it’s tempting to think it’s possible to correct the climate as easily as shaping the world’s popular culture. But meeting these targets would mean muscling the state’s 35 million consumers into politically approved behavior.

It also would mean cutting back the state’s gasoline supplies by as much as 17 percent. That figure comes from the state Chamber of Commerce, but even if the business lobby exaggerates — which doesn’t appear likely if we’re talking about a 17-year reversal in fuel supplies — we doubt California’s commuters and high energy users will appreciate what the political class did on their behalf.

We know, the bill’s sponsors count on a 13-year phase-in to ease the pain. And some small businesses expect to participate in the vanguard of a new green revolution, courtesy of this new effort at political regulation. Some impressive economists, not to mention grant-happy scientists eager to herd themselves into trendy alarmism, have signed on to the plan.

Here’s where academic distinctions are necessary. Some economists derive purpose from lending their vast knowledge to political experimentation. Others, more humble, want public policy to reflect basic human activity. They prefer societies, not laboratories, in which people freely make their own life decisions.

As for the scientists, there remains among them — never mind what much of the media report — a lively debate on just how much human activity actually contributes to forever-fluid climate change. Public policy should not lock itself into one side of the debate.

If you’re among the latter category of economists and skeptical of the worst global warming scenarios, you’re unlikely to overlook — as the Legislature does — a perfectly predictable consequence of AB 32. What is that outcome? Traditional businesses, ineluctably, will flee to cost-friendlier states.

They may even flee to under-developed countries where emissions standards are exempt from the Kyoto rules on which AB 32 is based. Now, that would be an unintended consequence of cosmic proportion. Sacramento, in all its determination to stick it to the backward Bush administration, may end up causing even more global pollution.

So there goes the bandwagon again, this time doing the bidding of California’s global competitors.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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