The Bootleggers are the Baptists’ last hope for passage of global warming bill 

Three separate events late last year knocked the air out of international climate alarmism. Combined, they put the kibosh on global warming legislation in the United States for the foreseeable future. Now the only ones keeping such legislation alive are a handful of powerful special interests. Contrary to what you normally hear, big business is pushing, not opposing, climate legislation.

The first event was the scandal that became known as “Climategate.” A public release of emails between climate scientists, at the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit, showed clear evidence of collusion to subvert the scientific process for political ends. The emails also showed those scientists engaging in a cover-up in possible violation of Britain’s Freedom of Information laws. Polls following Climategate showed that it shattered public trust in climate science.

Climategate was followed by a series of embarrassing admissions that some conclusions in the reports from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change were based on unsupported assertions by some scientists and on claims from non-peer-reviewed (“grey”) literature.  As a result, climate alarmists' main argument—the appeal to scientific authority—no longer carries much weight. Attempts to whitewash Climategate have fallen flat and on deaf ears.

Finally, the U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen ended in failure. After years of touting the talks as the route to a bigger, better Kyoto Protocol, climate alarmists stood by helplessly as the developing world bypassed Europe and forced President Obama to agree to something very similar to the Bush administration's climate policy. Long before Climategate, major developing countries, including India and China, had rejected binding reductions in emissions as an unjust restriction on their poverty-fighting efforts. Any attempts to sign them up to this agenda were doomed to failure from the start.

The Copenhagen talks were a turning point for international negotiations, but not in the way  environmental advocacy groups expected. Previously, negotiations for a new global climate treaty had been driven by Europe, with the U.S. (and Australia in the Howard years) acting as a brake. The Kyoto Protocol was favorable to Europe, because it allowed it to bank emissions reductions that had already happened—as in, for example, Britain’s emissions reductions from its “dash for gas” in the early 1990s—well before Kyoto was signed.

Most developing countries backed the American position. So by the time of the Copenhagen summit, the gap between Europe’s position and that of the major developing countries had grown so large, that President Obama was forced to choose between them. Wisely, he chose the developing world, a decision that leaves Europe marginalized in climate negotiations. French President Nicolas Sarkozy seems to realize this, and figures the only climate policy options he has left is the threat of a carbon tariff—which could lead to a destructive trade war between North and South.

For America, the bottom line to all this is that the two strongest arguments for a global warming bill—scientific authority and international pressure—are gone. All that is left is an unseemly collection of environmental ideologues and their strange bedfellows in large companies hoping to profit from a global warming bill. For these companies and environmental groups—who joined forces in something called the U.S. Climate Action Partnership a few years ago—the various subsidies and other incentives in a global warming bill held the promise of a significant guaranteed income stream.

My organization, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), predicted this back in 2001. Professor Ross McKitrick, in a paper he authored for CEI, demonstrated how a cap-and-trade scheme for greenhouse gas emissions would actually create a “carbon cartel,” which would yield significant economic gains for the members of the cartel at the expense of consumers, taxpayers, and the economy as a whole.

Today, the only major constituency lobbying for greenhouse gas legislation is this cartel, which includes companies like General Electric, Dow Chemical, General Motors and Duke Energy. In the classic formulation of Clemson University economist Bruce Yandle, they represent the self-interested “bootleggers” to the environmental groups’ self-righteous “Baptists”—two groups that lobbied for prohibition, but for very different reasons. Whether the motive is salvation or profit, the practical result is the same.

The bootleggers are now the Baptists’ only hope. Not for nothing did Sen. John Kerry (D.-Mass.) boast that his American Power Act, introduced today, was largely written by the U.S. Climate Action Partnership. That’s worth keeping in mind the next time left-wing environmentalists criticize global warming skeptics for allegedly being backed by big business. In truth, big business is backing global warming legislation and skeptics are doing their best to stop them from inflicting further harm on America’s struggling economy.


Iain Murray is Vice-President for Strategy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (www.cei.org)

About The Author

Iain Murray

Bio:
Mr. Murray is a contributor to Examiner Opinion Zone and is Vice-President for Strategy at CEI. He is the author of the best-selling book on environmental policy, "The Really Inconvenient Truths," and specializes in energy, environment, finance, trade, and science and technology policy. He is also an expert on... more
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