California Dreamin’

This article appeared in the New York Daily News on September 10, 2006.
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Ever since the Gold Rush, Californians have taken credit for leading the nation and the world with their dynamic culture and responsive politics. But that’s hardly the case for their much‐​vaunted new law restricting the emissions of carbon dioxide to 1990 levels by the year 2020.

How sooo 1990s. The California Global Warming Solutions Act is a watered‐​down version of the 1996 UN Kyoto Protocol, which mandates that most industrial nations reduce their emissions a tiny bit more by 2008–2012. Only one or two major nations may meet Kyoto. The rest failed. California will fail at Kyoto‐​lite, and New York shouldn’t follow in its footsteps.

The world will fail Kyoto because the technology to reduce emissions simply isn’t there or isn’t politically acceptable (i.e. nuclear power). Californians can’t simply wish it into existence by driving their SUVs to Big Sur and singing Kumbaya. Their law requires a 25% reduction in overall emissions while, thanks to all kinds of immigration, population growth rises rapidly.

The entry‐​level cars for these entry‐​level Californians are going to be quite used, not the $30,000 hybrids that are chariots of the chi‐​chi. Thanks to a largely snowless climate, old beaters last a long time out there, and so will current emissions trends.

But let’s dream that California does lead the nation and even the world, and that every nation that has any obligations under Kyoto magically achieves a California reduction in emissions. According to scientists from the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, the amount of warming these reductions would prevent by the year 2060 is 0.05 degrees Celsius. That’s right, one‐​twentieth of a degree. But that nothing will cost something.

The biggest cost is going to be people’s faith in environmental policy. California’s law (and some upcoming federal ones) are being couched in a climate of hysteria. Hurricanes have gotten worse from global warming, we hear. Greenland’s ice is disappearing. We’re all going to die unless we do something STAT.

Yet the frequency of category 4 and 5 hurricanes is the same today as it was 50 years ago. In fact, Greenland was cooler in its last decade than it was from 1910 to 1940.

But, thanks to this hysteria‐​driven policy, people will expect severe hurricanes to become rare and Greenland to somehow go back where it wasn’t. That’s simply not going to happen.