Even If Carbon Taxes Could Reduce Global Warming, They Would Hurt The Planet

Even If Carbon Taxes Could Reduce Global Warming, They Would Hurt The Planet

What do discussions about the Paris Climate Treaty, the furor surrounding President Donald Trump’s executive order rolling back the Clean Power Plan, and the debate over the claimed scientific “consensus” on global warming all have in common? They all connect to the question of whether the United States should impose regulations or carbon taxes to limit climate change.

The so-called experts in this arena often focus on arcane details and fail to acknowledge three major points.

Climate Change Regulations Won’t Work

First, if implemented, climate-change regulations and carbon taxes would be ineffective. At best, they would have a microscopic effect on global warming.

This insight comes from one of the strongest and most sophisticated supporters of these regulations: the Environmental Protection Agency, acting at the behest of the Obama administration. In 2015, EPA administrator Gina McCarthy admitted that implementing the EPA’s signature climate change measure—the Clean Power Plan limiting carbon emissions—would reduce global warming by less than 0.02° C by 2050. In other words, this regulation would not meaningfully change the temperature.

The same is true for other regulations and taxes on carbon emissions. In 2012, climatologist Paul Knappenberger calculated that if the United States immediately eliminated all of its carbon dioxide emissions, it would only reduce global warming by 0.08° C by 2050. In 2013, climatologist Patrick J. Michaels similarly calculated that completely eliminating U.S. carbon dioxide emissions would only reduce global warming by 0.052° C by 2050.

Ending all carbon dioxide emissions would also, to put it mildly, be more than uncomfortable. Since humans all exhale carbon dioxide, we all would have to stop breathing.

Climate Change Is Not Historically Unusual

Second, climate change regulations and carbon taxes are unnecessary. NASA has posted online annual 1880 to 2016 global temperature data (Excel). The NASA data show that by 2016, the planet had only warmed by 1.19° C since 1880. An increase of 1.19° C over the course of 136 years does not make the case for draconian regulations or carbon taxes.

Global temperatures also both rise and fall. From 1880 to 2016, the NASA data show that year-to-year temperatures increased 72 times, decreased 59 times, and stayed the same five times.

The long-term trend, indeed, is not clear. Today, there is a great deal of hype about global warming. But from 1944 to 1976, global temperatures cooled by 0.36° C and went down 17 times year-to-year. In the 1970s, Paul Ehrlich, John Holdren, Stephen Schneider, and others who later highlighted the supposed dangers of global warming expressed strong concern about global cooling. We do not know if or for how long the recent very modest warming trend will continue, or when the next cooling period will begin. It could already be underway.

Global Warming Is Probably Good

Third, and perhaps most inconvenient for the so-called experts, global warming probably is beneficial, and climate change regulations and carbon taxes that reduce global warming probably would harm us.

Danish statistician Bjorn Lomborg notes in his book “Cool It” that seven times more people die of cold in Europe annually than of heat (1.5 million versus 200,000). Global warming may save lives by reducing far more premature deaths from cold than it causes by heat. Warming also may extend the agricultural growing season in Canada, the United States, Europe, Russia, China, and other places with long winters.

Most regulations and taxes have negative economic effects. There is no reason to believe that climate change regulations and carbon taxes would be any different. But apart from these expected negative economic effects, if climate change regulations and carbon taxes somehow could significantly reduce global warming, they could have far more serious negative consequences: more premature deaths and less productive agriculture and food for the world’s growing population.

David M. Simon is a Chicago lawyer. With his father, the economist Julian L. Simon, he co-authored articles concerning the economics of state liquor distribution systems. He also has authored several articles concerning legal issues. The views expressed in this article are his own and not those of the law firm with which he is affiliated.
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