Doubts About Ritter's "Climate Action"

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Doubts About Ritter's "Climate Action"

by Ari Armstrong, November 6, 2007

Yesterday Governor Bill Ritter released a press release titled, "Gov. Ritter Releases Climate Action Plan." But I wonder whether Ritter's "ambitious call to action" will accomplish much, other than to force Coloradans to spend more money for cars and electric bills.

The release states, "The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that global temperatures could increase 3.6 to 10.4 degrees [Fahrenheit] by the end of this century under a 'business as usual' scenario."

Yet the degree to which human activity contributes to modern global warming is uncertain. The globe has often warmed and cooled, and obviously this was caused entirely by factors other than human activity.

But, even assuming that the temperature will rise by a few degrees over the next century and that this is primarily or largely caused by human activity, would Ritter's "Action Plan" make any difference?

Colorado's "Climate Action Plan, which includes an agricultural carbon sequestration and offset program, establishes two greenhouse-gas reduction goals: 20% below 2005 levels by 2020 and 80% by 2050." But the only way that we could reduce our emissions by "80% by 2050," assuming that we are not prepared to descend into mass poverty, is to take advantage of yet-to-be-invented technology and/or nuclear power that is able to mass produce cleaner energy that is less expensive than the energy we now use. But if that technology is on the horizon (and I believe it may be), why do we need the government to do anything whatsoever?

The best way to encourage technological innovation is to restore free markets, repeal existing political controls on the economy, massively reduce government spending and cut taxes accordingly, and restrict government to the protection of property rights.

People need to be able to act independently, defy conventional wisdom, and work in freedom. The political response to possible climate changes places politicians and bureaucrats in charge. The political response is influenced more by special interests than by specialized science. The political response entrenches establishment thinking and discourages independent creativity.

Think back to the last round of political ads: are these the people you want setting the terms for scientists, business owners, and consumers? Consider the fact that lobbyists outnumber legislators in Colorado. Is political pull and favor-trading really the way we want to guide our economic future?

Besides, given the growth of industry in Asia, are we really going to have much impact in Colorado? The population of China is 1.3 billion. The population of Colorado is 4.8 million. Even assuming that Ritter's "plan" is remotely realistic, it will have hardly any impact. It's a bit like trying to empty a lake with a teaspoon, when the teaspoon has holes in it. If there is a technological revolution that enables the mass production of cleaner energy, then that will solve the problem that concerns Ritter. If there is no such revolution, then nothing Colorado does will have any significant impact.

The Rocky Mountain News asks:

If successful, an 80 percent reduction in Colorado could slow the accumulation of greenhouse gas emissions. But would that be enough to ease the anticipated global rise in temperatures by more than a tiny fraction of a single degree? And would the economic dislocation -- the slower growth, the higher unemployment, the lower standard of living that are almost certain in the absence of major technological breakthroughs -- be a worthwhile trade-off?

If there is no technological revolution in energy, then how does Ritter know that the best response is to reduce greenhouse emissions, rather than simply adjust to the slightly warmer temperatures? According to Ritter's release, possible global warming might impact Colorado by reducing snowpack, increasing droughts, increasing pine beetles in forests, increasing wildfires, and reducing the water supply. But these problems have relatively simple solutions. Over the coming century, ski resorts could slowly adapt their schedules and machinery. Fires can be reduced through better land management. Pine beetles will likely stabilize as more-resistant trees take over. And market pricing of water easily meshes supply with demand. These problems are potentially serious, but they're hardly apocalyptic in nature.

Ritter's plan will have essentially no impact on global warming, yet it could prove deeply destructive to the state's economy. Realistically, the only way that global emissions of greenhouse gases will be dramatically reduced is if productive advances allow the mass production of cleaner, cheaper energy. To facilitate that goal, the best thing that Ritter and all politicians can do is stay out of the way and stop interfering with the economy.

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