Global Science Report is a weekly feature from the Center for the Study of Science, where we highlight one or two important new items in the scientific literature or the popular media. For broader and more technical perspectives, consult our monthly “Current Wisdom.”
We and our apparently few friends tend to shriek with horror when governments try to centrally plan economies because, of course, planning places arbitrary prices on things and dictates how much of what will be made during the next five years. But we should be equally horrified when government tries to invent costs and then impose them upon us.
Such is the case with the “social cost of carbon” (SCC), a completely mis-named concept which purports to accurately estimate damages associated with global warming caused by pernicious fossil fuel-fired economic activity.
First of all, “carbon” has nothing to do with global warming. In its purest crystalline form, a gram will set you back about $50,000—a.k.a. a 5-carat diamond. Other allotropes include graphite and buckyballs–geodesic-dome like molecules composed of 60 carbon atoms. Combusted (oxidized) carbon-containing compounds are the materials that produce carbon dioxide (CO2). Uncombusted methane (CH4) along with carbon dioxide can slightly enhance the earth’s natural greenhouse effect.
Further, there are two sides to the industrial coin, not just negativity (i.e., social costs). It’s obvious that the combustion of carbon-containing compounds has driven a lot of civilization—a byproduct is the fact that you aren’t dead yet (life expectancy, pre-industrial revolution in Europe was around 35) and the fact that—in real dollars—you’re about ten times richer than your great-grandparents were.
So, what the government (e.g., the EPA) is really talking about is “The One-Tailed Effect of Oxidizing Carbon-Containing Compounds,” acronymed OTEOCCC, which just isn’t as catchy as SCC, which sounds like a Division I Football conference.
Currently, there are several proposed legislative amendments floating around Congress that are aimed to limit how the EPA can use the government’s assessment of the social costs of carbon.
Limiting the EPA’s use of the SCC in considering regulations would be a wise move since the government’s SCC calculations are incomplete, subjective, and seriously lagging the science of climate change.