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Dissecting President Obama’s Global Warming Speech

This morning [9/22/2009], President Obama delivered his climate change speech at a United Nations Summit on Climate Change. Stressing the need for urgent action, Obama told the Assembly that the United States, in his first eight months as President, is becoming a leader in the war against a warming planet.

Obama began his speech by declaring that the time to act is now:

"That so many of us are here today is a recognition that the threat from climate change is serious, it is urgent, and it is growing. Our generation's response to this challenge will be judged by history, for if we fail to meet it - boldly, swiftly, and together - we risk consigning future generations to an irreversible catastrophe."

The earth's average temperature has been increasing and decreasing for centuries, and many point to the recent period of warming as evidence of a dangerous human-induced warming. But temperatures have risen and fallen many times before that. The Medieval Warm Period (c. 1100-1450) and earlier periods were likely as warm or warmer than the present. The earth was cooling as recently as the period from the 1940s to the 1970s, giving rise to fears of a coming ice age.

Obama went on to say:

"No nation, however large or small, wealthy or poor, can escape the impact of climate change. Rising sea levels threaten every coastline. More powerful storms and floods threaten every continent. More frequent drought and crop failures breed hunger and conflict in places where hunger and conflict already thrive. On shrinking islands, families are already being forced to flee their homes as climate refugees. The security and stability of each nation and all peoples - our prosperity, our health, our safety - are in jeopardy. And the time we have to reverse this tide is running out."

Catastrophic predictions are poorly supported by evidence and often greatly exaggerated by the likes of Al Gore and other alarmists. But even "The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which Gore considers to be the gold standard of consensus science, projects an increase of 7 to 23 inches over the next century. The lower end of that range is about what has occurred - without serious consequences - over the last two centuries."

Moreover, natural disasters are just that: natural. Changing the weather to prevent hurricanes and other natural disasters is currently impossible, but adapting to them is not. For instance, countries and states have shown this by better preparing for hurricanes-building better levees, rebuilding sand dunes and upgrading building codes to withstand damage.  Adaptation to climate change, whether warming or cooling, will prove to be prudent; changing the weather through measures like cap and trade will not be.

Obama next turned his attention to what the United States is doing to combat climate change:

"And I am proud to say that the United States has done more to promote clean energy and reduce carbon pollution in the last eight months than at any other time in our history. We're making our government's largest ever investment in renewable energy - an investment aimed at doubling the generating capacity from wind and other renewable resources in three years. Across America, entrepreneurs are constructing wind turbines and solar panels and batteries for hybrid cars with the help of loan guarantees and tax credits - projects that are creating new jobs and new industries. We're investing billions to cut energy waste in our homes, buildings, and appliances - helping American families save money on energy bills in the process. "

Ah, so there is such a thing as a free lunch.

No, there's not. These renewable energy investments (read: subsidies) not only cost the American taxpayer but will also result in higher electricity bills since they cannot compete in the market without said investments. For many years, wind energy has been the beneficiary of generous tax credits and subsidies, but it still provides less than 2 percent of America's electricity. It is unreliable and will be costly ($80 billion) to build transmission lines to bring wind from where it is produced to where it is needed.

President Obama did mention getting rid of one subsidy: "Later this week, I will work with my colleagues at the G20 to phase out fossil fuel subsidies so that we can better address our climate challenge." This is commendable, but if the President wants a sound energy policy that will benefit electricity consumers, he should focus on removing all subsidies from the market. Any subsidy, whatever the source of energy or product, distorts normal market forces and encourages government dependence. By subsidizing a portion of the actual cost of a project through a loan guarantee, the government is actually distorting the allocation of resources by directing capital away from a more competitive project. Allowing all energy sources to compete absent of subsidies, mandates or tax credits will benefit consumers most.

Speaking about the mother-of-all environmental policies, cap and trade, Obama remarked:

"Most importantly, the House of Representatives passed an energy and climate bill in June that would finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy for American businesses and dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. One committee has already acted on this bill in the Senate and I look forward to engaging with others as we move forward."

The Heritage Foundation hosted 6 representatives from organizations, including three government agencies, that modeled the economic impact of cap and trade, and not one projected a net increase in income or employment from cap and trade. It was all about how big the losses would be. And the economic pain, no matter how big or small, would all be for no environmental gain as the current cap and trade bill would reduce global temperatures by only a fraction of a degree. The event can be found here.

The rest of the president's talk focused on working with other nations to combat climate change:

"Because no one nation can meet this challenge alone, the United States has also engaged more allies and partners in finding a solution than ever before. In April, we convened the first of what have now been six meetings of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate here in the United States. In Trinidad, I proposed an Energy and Climate Partnership for the Americas. We've worked through the World Bank to promote renewable energy projects and technologies in the developing world.

We also cannot allow the old divisions that have characterized the climate debate for so many years to block our progress. Yes, the developed nations that caused much of the damage to our climate over the last century still have a responsibility to lead. But those rapidly-growing developing nations that will produce nearly all the growth in global carbon emissions in the decades ahead must do their part as well. Some of these nations have already made great strides with the development and deployment of clean energy. Still, they will need to commit to strong measures at home and agree to stand behind those commitments just as the developed nations must stand behind their own. We cannot meet this challenge unless all the largest emitters of greenhouse gas pollution act together. There is no other way."

In a case of international cooperation, India, China and the rest of the developing world would likely have to revert to emission output levels that are pure fantasy. On a per-capita basis, China would backtrack to about one 10th of what the United States emitted in 2000. India and most of the developing world would have to drop to even lower levels. This is a de-developing strategy which no country will or should adopt. These countries should focus on getting electricity to all of their citizens before they worry about cutting carbon emissions.

Technology sharing, on the other hand, has merit. Opening up global markets can act as a means to transfer clean technologies and promote economic growth that will better enable these countries to adapt to climate change, if necessary. Capping carbon dioxide and transferring money from one government to another will do nothing to raise living standards and a lot to lower them.

In his concluding sentence, President Obama stressed that we should work to leave the world one "that is worthy of our children." But the suggested policies will leave us with lower economic growth, less income, higher unemployment, and more personal debt for energy that will be more expensive. It will reduce opportunity for growth all over the world. Our children should be more fearful of global warming policies than global warming itself. 

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