The economic cost of climate change legislation

April 23, 2009

 Diana Furchtgott-Roth– Diana Furchtgott-Roth, former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.  The views expressed are her own. —

Chairman Henry Waxman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee announced yesterday that his American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 “will create millions of jobs, revive our economy, and secure our energy independence.”

The 648-page bill, co-sponsored by Waxman and fellow Democrat Edward Markey, Chairman of the House Energy and Environment Subcommittee, has been the subject of four days of committee hearings this week.  It would set new limits for greenhouse gas emissions, and prescribe radically new standards for energy production and use.

The most surprising word in the 648-page bill is one that isn’t there, not even once.  That word is “nuclear.” To discuss clean energy and security without mentioning increased development of nuclear energy, now powering 20 percent of America’s electricity with no greenhouse gas emissions, shows that Chairmen Waxman and Markey are not taking the issue seriously. They’re just trying to raise taxes on Americans and enhance the power of Congress and the agencies it oversees.

Over 100 pages in the bill are spent on measures to reduce greenhouse gases.  The bill requires greenhouse gas emissions in 2012 to be no more than 97 percent of 2005 emissions, 58 percent in 2030 and 17 percent in 2050.  This last target, four decades into the future, is incompatible with our present standard of living—and illustrates the arrogance of politicians who think that they can micro-manage the economy far beyond anyone’s capacity to foresee events.

The mechanism for this is a “cap-and-trade” program, proposed by President Obama in his budget, under which allowances—the number and price as yet unspecified—to emit greenhouse gases would be issued by the Environmental Protection Agency.  If a firm’s emissions exceeded its allowance, or cap, it would have to purchase more allowances, either from the government or from other firms.

As allowed emissions decline over time, firms would have to buy more allowances, driving up costs that inevitably would be paid to consumers.  The Obama March Budget forecast that revenues of $646 billion over eight years would be collected from cap-and-trade.

Representative Joe Barton of Texas, ranking Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee, offered his version of candor at yesterday’s hearing.  “Ladies and gentlemen, if you like the idea of reducing your carbon footprint to the size that this legislation proposes, you can test drive these carbon emissions levels by living in Nigeria,” he said.

Cap-and-trade is only one part of the bill that would drive up prices.  Consider energy production.  The bill would require doubling in three years of the share of electric utility output that comes from renewable sources—wind, solar, geothermal, biomass—from three percent now to six percent in 2012.  In a further leap of central-planning arrogance, the bill would raise that standard in stages to 25 percent in 2025.

Sounds good? Maybe, but the technology to do it doesn’t exist. Nor do transmission lines to deliver wind energy from where it is likely to be produced,  in the central states, to the population centers on the coasts, where it would be consumed.

Solar energy might be produced in the southwestern desert and California, yet exporting it to Rhode Island and foggy Washington State is practically impossible.  The bill could address this problem by giving the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission additional authority to site transmission lines, yet it does not do so.

Or, take energy efficiency. If people don’t conserve energy voluntarily, the bill would require them to do so.  Existing federal energy efficiency standards for commercial and residential buildings would rise by 30 percent until 2016 for new buildings, and 50 percent thereafter. EPA would set by next year new emissions standards for cars, trucks, trains, and aircraft. Electricity distributors would be required to achieve energy savings beginning with one percent in 2012 and reaching 15 percent in 2020.

If this bill would create millions of jobs and revive our economy, why not make the standards tougher and create even more jobs?

With the global economy in the depths of the worst recession since the Great Depression, according to the International Monetary Fund, now is not the time to raise the cost of energy and consumer goods.  Chairmen Waxman and Markey should reconsider.

56 comments

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

I think one should distinguish between standard of living and cost of energy usage. Yes this legislation will increase the cost of energy, that’s the point of it. To maintain our standard of living we must live in a manner that consumes less energy or generates energy in a carbon free manner.And really, what are the alternatives, continuing along our current path will certainly affect our standard of living. The changes cause by global warming will be tremendously costly. Just ask the insurance companies who pay to clean up the increasing number of once in a hundred year storms.

Posted by MIchael | Report as abusive

Thin-film solar with solar concentrators and next generation mini wind-based power generators have the potential to replace 100% of the energy needs of a home and about 30% energy needs of industries. Nuclear option is not feasible in this regard.If job creation is the real issue, then go about -a) first instituting equal grounds in terms of a fair Value-Aadded-Tax of 15 to 17.5% on all foreign imports into U.S to begin withb) require all trading partner countries abide by an international entity to adjust currency values fairly andc) administor fair and equal regulations on ecological-friendly practicesShort of the above, current free-trade practices are bound to deplete jobs for current educated youth U.S population, polarize the country into haves and have-nots, that is the hallmark of a developing country.GOD help US.Chandra

Posted by Chandra Moturu | Report as abusive

Potential, next generation, tarrifs, class envy, government power, taxes. That will save the world from US! Right?

Posted by David | Report as abusive

The government charging people for polluting! How outrageous! Or is it….?Isn’t that what we did 40 years ago with the Clean Water Act to make sure our rivers and streams didn’t turn into industrial waste dumps?I know I’m pretty thankful that I can turn on the tap and the water isn’t brown and cancer-causing. I’m also pretty thankful that my ancestors cared enough to think about preserving the planet to vote for that legislation.Business needs incentive to not pollute. The government needs to provide that incentive, because if they don’t, much of the coastline will be underwater in a few decades, and it will be too late.

Posted by Mark | Report as abusive

this article is full of opinionated misinformation.the most important part being :”Sounds good? Maybe, but the technology to do it doesn’t exist”This is obviously not the case many other countries better access to fossil fuels or less natural renewable energy resources have by far exceeded those figures.the technology is there, has been there for some time and is improving at an astounding rate.all that is missing is the will to make the change.

Posted by eoin | Report as abusive

Chandra Moturu, above, says “Thin-film solar with solar concentrators and next generation mini wind-based power generators have the potential to replace 100% of the energy needs of a home and about 30% energy needs of industries. Nuclear option is not feasible in this regard.”Oh? As I type this, it is raining and the wind is calm; this has been the case for the last 24 hours. Where I live, the electricity grid does not have enough capacity to import any more electricity of any kind. How, might I be so bold to enquire, am I to get any of my energy needs today, now, from either wind or solar? I know. Stupid question.Fortunately, however, where I live 40% of my electricity does come from nuclear power. I do wish it were more. If (and I doubt it will ever happen) I could get all my electricity that way, and someone squelched the NIMBYs who oppose additional power lines in this state, I would cheerfully heat my house and barns with the stuff (no greenhouse gasses) and use an all electric car (say, for instance, a Chevy Volt — hurrah for General Motors!).But no… sigh…

Posted by Ian | Report as abusive

I cannot find anything new in this article; the same old rant.Talking about nuclear energy, she should inform herself of the problems derived from the U.S. approach to nuclear energy compared to that of, say France. And even in France -where nuclear policy was left in the hands of (HORROR!!!) bureaucrats that ruled on reactor design and a monopoly to operate the plants- nuclear waste was a problem that got solved by replacing “waste repository” for “temporary storage” until one may find out how to reuse it.But still, there is a more serious problem. This is the old conservative rant of “we’re going to charge consumers” with its variant that inducing energy conservation will leave the U.S. like Nigeria (hey, do you really need your SUV to go to your office? why don’t you catch the bus or ride a compact car?), or the more general that “global warming is still being debated”That reminds me of a concept in inferential statistics (hypothesis testing) Type I errors and Type II errors.Type I errors consist in rejecting a null hypothesis when the null hyp. was true.Type II errors consist in accepting a null hypothesis that should have been rejectedIf this seems too complicated, I’ll illustrate it.Null Hypothesis (H0): there is NO global warmingAlternative hypothesis (H1): There IS global warmingLet’s assume that we are in a “Type I error” situation: we reject H0 and assume that global warming is true so we spend resources in curbing emissions. It seems obvious that we can compute those costs v. the current situation of “doing nothing” in terms of lower economic growth or lower life quality although the meaning of both may be subject to debate and therefore yield to different estimates. Still, we may operate under some guise of certainty.What about a “Type II error”? Basically we accept H0 (no global warming) and do nothing when in fact we should have done something about it. But since we do not know the full extent of the costs that global warming may impose we implicitly assume that those costs are negligible or nonexistent.Case in point: DDT. We use (and abuse it) for anything from treating crops to children’s heads to get rid of bugs. Back then, we were told that DDT was safe; sadly, time proved otherwise.So, the writer wants us to get into a “type II error” situation… good!. But make sure that you reflect about the consequences… think DDT: you want some?

Posted by enronsaurus | Report as abusive

Such important issues as climate change and transition to Alternative Energy requires balanced constructive approach, free from sensationalism and political-ideological bias.It must be clearly stated, that Energy consumption cycle includes not only Generation (where most of debates concentrated), but also STORAGE, Transmission and Conversion. TRUE SCIENTIFIC/ENGINEERING solution should NOT be just focused on and limited to the first stage (which is Energy Generation), but also take into consideration other parts, in particular Energy STORAGE.Green Electricity (GEL) Initiative, topping the Google™ search list for many years, is addressing these issues and proposing the comprehensive systemic solutions, including the replacement of the Batteries with Ultracapacitors (A.K.A. Supercapacitors) in conjunction with Alternative renewable energy. See the details at: http://www.alexanderbell.us/Initiative/G EL.htm

These plans always sound good and look good on paper but i have a feeling the government will not put up enough money to finance these environmental projects over the long run and they will stay unfinished. Unless the individuals making these decisions stay in power indefinitely, i can’t see these projects being completed especially if the power shifts to another group with different priorities. i guess i am too optomistic!

Posted by jason ruiz | Report as abusive

While the pending legislation is far from perfect, the question before us is clear. Do we want to be a major producer of wind turbines and solar cells or do we want the Chinese and Germans to build them all? We need something big and long-lasting to replace our auto industry. This bill is the first step. If we don’t pass it, we fall further behind and have fewer industries that can help us pay our debts. It’s that simple.

Hi Ray, Maybe Lewis needs a new calculator!This seems like something done on a napkin over lunch – with drinks!The article is correct on the point that the technology doesn’t exist today – ethanol & biomass which greens love are a bad, sad joke.New technology will be available because people are working on it – companies are working on it. Now if the government just doesn’t help too much!!!!!!!!

Posted by russ | Report as abusive

I wonder if forcing companies to adopt environmentally friendly technology is the way to go the way it is being done right now: with unrealistic legislation, far beyond the capabilities of companies to adjust and adapt, and without considering a do-able time frame to phase out older, more polluting technology with minimum impact to productivity and profit… and employment levels.

Posted by Van Dan | Report as abusive

It is unfortunate to see once again an economist taking a short-term view. There is nothing in this article about the costs of taking no action on global warming (e.g. flooded coastlines, changes in rainfall patterns and heat waves lowering crop yields, etc.). Instead, the emphasis is only on the upfront cost of reducing pollution (a cost which is frequently exaggerated). Didn’t the global economy get into the current mess because people looked only at the short term benefits of financial transactions without taking into account the long terms consequences of too much debt, too much risk, and opaque financial instruments? If this financial crisis teaches us anything, it is that we should look at the long term affects of our actions. That starts with thinking about our planet and protecting its environment.

Posted by Dan from Canada | Report as abusive

If we don’t clean up our atmosphere, there will be no consumers, except maybe a few cockroaches (and they’re not concerned about cost.)

Posted by spud | Report as abusive

REF your “Maybe, but the technology to do it doesn’t exist. Nor do transmission lines to deliver wind energy from where it is likely to be produced, in the central states, to the population centers on the coasts, where it would be consumed.”Suspect same was told to the Wright brothers, “Why you two messing aabout with airplane thihgs? Any fool would know even if they do fly, there ain’t no airports built so why bother?”Amusing on how a TX, can you spell “O-I-L” political hack is designated as new “expert”. But one way or other the emissions are going to get cut, by us or ole Mom Nature as she is VERY not very partisan, she’ll warm this place up to a point where even the fools now dodging reality will notice it.. is seems ole Mom is already starting.. amazing how some “not a problem” folks rational ranks right up there with the dinosaurs about the coming conditions on this planet..But least we forgot, many pf the “ain’t a problem are those highly educated lawyers and journalists, not those ole woosey wimpy science folks.I mean these folks were English or Com majors, not that ole boring “Sciences stuff”. Gees folks, what can 99.9% of science know that our lawyers and political and their hacks do not already know, they aren’t even elected, just educated!

Posted by chuck | Report as abusive

Outstanding article Diana! The lunacy of these green initiatives concerns me greatly because government leadership (past and present) is non existent and the current proposals will economically hurt all the poor and most of the middle class. Anyone that doubts this need only look at consumer spending from early 2007 when already high energy prices began rising until 2008 when energy prices dramatically dropped. People that don’t see this correlation are simply out of touch with the poor and middle class.Think about it, people aren’t buying cars now especially the poor and middle class. This is not because they are waiting on a green alternative, it’s because they can not afford it! So what makes these congressional elitists think the poor and middle class will be able to afford a $30k hybrid or a $50k electric car? It is elitist to think it will all work simply because a few environmental zealots say so and it is elitist to claim moral superiority simply because of a faulty consensus not based in scientific fact.

Posted by Les Opp | Report as abusive

Ian above says – “Oh? As I type this, it is raining and the wind is calm; this has been the case for the last 24 hours. Where I live, the electricity grid does not have enough capacity to import any more electricity of any kind. How, might I be so bold to enquire, am I to get any of my energy needs today, now, from either wind or solar? I know. Stupid question.Fortunately, however, where I live 40% of my electricity does come from nuclear power. I do wish it were more. If (and I doubt it will ever happen) I could get all my electricity that way, and someone squelched the NIMBYs who oppose additional power lines in this state, I would cheerfully heat my house and barns with the stuff (no greenhouse gasses) and use an all electric car (say, for instance, a Chevy Volt — hurrah for General Motors!).But no… sigh…”Nuclear in terms of clean energy generation is indisputable until we start considering its limited supply and reprocessing. Solar and wind by themselves are not reliable as properly pointed by you, however, these issues can be worked around by alternative energy storage schemes.

Posted by Chandra | Report as abusive

It’s ridiculous to think that every household would have telephones or cable television. How on earth would we get lines to everyone?! And people just wouldn’t stand for having unsightly telephone lines strung across streets and houses. Won’t ever happen. Oh, wait. Sorry I forgot I lived in the United States of America. We’ll do it in spite of the naysayers.

Posted by Steve | Report as abusive

Let’s define green technology as any possible way to generate electricity or heat that doesn’t generate CO2 emissions, or highly problematic waste.This leaves us with an abundance of alternatives, and ethanol and other bio-fuels aren’t the best candidates.All around us there are energy – some obvious and readily available candidates are:Hydro power: dams and turbines – well known technologyGeothermal power: it’s right there under your feet. Drill deep enough and things get real hot, if you don’t care to drill that deep use more sophisticated heat exchangers. Easily done in places like Iceland http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geothermal_ power_in_Iceland, but really not limited to areas where the crust is thin – it just gets a wee bit more expensive, but we are never going to exhaust this energy source.We need no new technology to make use of this energy source, and many people are able to reduce their electrical bill, nearly 50%, by drilling a shaft of about 150 to 300 feet and installing a heat exchanger.Solar power – it’s getting betterWind power – a windmill and a turbine – real simpleAs for the old electrical grids: Transmission and distribution losses in the USA were estimated at 7.2% in 1995, and that’s the mean value, older grids are far worse. Upgrading electrical grids will be beneficial

Posted by Emanon | Report as abusive

The views by this Lady are the reflection typical “90 day” thinking of too many in charge in politics/ government.Never mind US style consumerism took the world to this dire state of environmental exploitation and global warming. Just keep on consuming she says only worry is higher cost to her. ??? It is ridiculous how short sighted are some “leaders” to the problems faced by the world today. Its a shame too…I am not a treehugger just an economist taking a view of my children’s future.After all what does she think the Nigerians should cut back consumption first???

Posted by non US resident | Report as abusive

Might I just say, the ideas put forward in the responses to this article are more informative, more thought provoking, and certainly more balanced than the ideas of the author.Perhaps Reuters, you should just ask your readers for ideas and base articles on our collective knowledge!

Posted by Michael | Report as abusive

Have we learned nothing? Since the dawning of the industrial age, Western economies have been built on the false belief that dumping waste and squandering resources has no cost. It has a terrible cost, and we are only just beginning to see how big that bill will be. The so-called cost to the consumer of adopting a green economy is nothing more than the piper asking to be paid. It’s not the cost of greening up that will destroy our way of life and throw us back to the Middle Ages. It’s the loss of water, of clean air, of arable land. Those losses will happen. They are happening now, just not mostly in the US. When they do, they will bring on the mother of all “reduced lifestyles.” Your commentator may thank her stars for being old enough that she will probably not have to watch it happen. But what about the grandkids?

Posted by LH | Report as abusive

What typical Republican nonsense. Why is it that Republicans, who believe we can continue to dominate the globe militarily, do not believe we have the technical know how to innovate when it comes to energy. To say “you can test drive these standards by living in Nigeria” assumes that we are no better equipped or organized than the Nigeria and ignores everything that makes America great. Our government, or entrepreneurs, and the resourcefulness of the average citizen. Thank you Emanon for providing a list of alternatives. Geothermal energy in particular gets too little attention.

Posted by david | Report as abusive

God forbid Americans sacrifice any of their standard of living for the benefit of black people in Nigeria or millions of brown people living in soon-to-be inundated coastal cities. How despairing! What will the richest people in the world do if they can’t sip their frappuccinos as often when their SUV’s are sitting in grid-lock traffic?

Posted by brian | Report as abusive

Everyone that is for nuclear power to help solve GW, do you realize that 104 plants heat up over 1 Million gallons of water per minute to cool them? also, as water becomes more scarce or rivers get heated up, they have to shut the nuclear plants down. The reason some of arizona has little water for the residents is because the nuclear plant uses most of the water.god forbid we conserve.

Posted by Mike | Report as abusive

Ms. Furchtgott-Roth has degrees in economics, not engineering, physics, manufacturing, or any other field that would give her some insight into technological innovation.She did, however spend four years working for the American Petroleum Institute, not to mention the Reagan and Bush administrations.These facts can be creditably classified as ad hom attacks on her background rather than a challenge to the facts she presents. Unfortunately, she doesn’t actually present a single fact in the whole article that would support her assertions.Sure, she mentions how many pages the bill has and some relevant dates and cost figures. But to support her main contentions, that the technology to do it doesn’t exist, or that it would be too costly, she only asserts that the goals of the bill are “central-planning arrogance”, or that the targets are “incompatible with our standard of living”, whatever that means.Nowhere does she support her contentions. So there is no fact to challenge in the piece. Not one.Given this, it’s only fair to point out that her oily background and her complete lack of technical or scientific knowledge are hardly the traits one would look for if one was seeking impartial advice on energy policy.

Posted by Alonso Perez | Report as abusive

Great article. My biggest concern with this initiative is that it does not provide any solutions. I find it slightly curious that they have all of the tax and other money collection schemes in place, and yet there is hardly mention of how this money is supposed to stop global warming. I want clear answers. X number of dollars will remove Y tons of pullutants. I have not seen anything of the sort. Why? Because no real solution has been proposed, only schemes to burden the depressed economy with another unecessary tax for another unneccesary service.

Posted by Jake | Report as abusive

Also, for the people bringing up the water issue, remember that the earth is 70% water. Desalinization is much closer to its coming than some of the other technologies mentioned.

Posted by Jake | Report as abusive

Mike, do you realize the reason some of Arizona has little water for its residents is because it is a desert and has already become over populated? Sorry, I’m not trying to be argumentative, but Diana was right when she said the technology isn’t there yet. We don’t have the materials, infrastructure or man power to replace 30% of power from the existing fossil power plants or 20% of power from the existing nuclear power plants. Those kind of massive projects take time and money. Right now, we have a lot of theories that will take 5-10 years before they become viable (Like electric car batteries being energy storage devices when they are fully charge but still connected to the grid, not my idea, but a good concept). How many people can afford an extra $40,000 investment in a wind turbine for their home? If you can, great, do it. But instead of blaming ‘the Government’ for not doing enough, why not blame your local zoning committee for zoning strip malls that require 15 min commutes for daily groceries. Or blame yourself for living 35 miles from your work. For every conscionable person, there is a person more worried about how large his TV can be and not how many BTu’s it gives off.

Posted by Thompson | Report as abusive

A heavy-handed approach to anything can be dangerous including the implementation of green programs. Many special interests can jump on a bandwagon to get their share of the pie – or to take away shares of the pie from other people. For instance, it is possible to reduce consumption by raising taxes. So people who love taxes or more specifically the money they take from other people see a friend in the green movement.Myself I think companies run more smoothly and profitably when less waste is produced. I do not want to take money away from people. I want them to keep more of their money so they can implement green programs and make us all more competitive.One bureaucrat might think that we can reduce emissions by taxation. A company might see the increased cost as business expense that cannot be sustained. But if take the movement seriously, we should be giving companies tax credits for undertaking specific green initiatives. Because becoming green is expensive – the same way the implementation of computers in production was expensive.Real environmentalists should never rant. They should create added value and be compensated accordingly. One of the greatest gifts we can give to the green movement is to allow companies to go bankrupt. Green equates to sustainability and growth. GM and Chrysler should not get a dime. Let the market decide. Those left standing, the leaders of the future, will be the stewards of today. True capitalism is green. It should be the path to market domination. Governments should stop interfering.

Posted by Don | Report as abusive

YOU SAY: “To discuss clean energy and security without mentioning increased development of nuclear energy, now powering 20 percent of America’s electricity with no greenhouse gas emissions, shows that Chairmen Waxman and Markey are not taking the issue seriously.”I SAY: No. You are wrong for one simple reason: Nuclear energy isn’t clean.

Posted by Matthew Esler | Report as abusive

Brian,He is not saying that we need to reduce our standard of living to help Nigeria. He is saying that the cap-and-trade goals would require people to live like those in Nigeria. Most people in this country are not prepared to forgo refrigerators, central heating, all forms of motorized transportation (not just SUVs), television, clean water, warm showers, cooking appliances, and electric lighting. Most would not survive the first winter. Of course those who do survive the first winter could pollute all they wanted without having to worry about the consequences because there would be far less people. The point Ms. Roth is trying to make is that we need more information if our actions are to do any real good.

Posted by Pete | Report as abusive

Hello ALL,There are so many ways we can make a diference. 1st. we have to each measure our usage of electricty and garbage. Then we can set a goal for ourselves to lower it by 50%. We can then take that and sell it to either the gov’t or big business that will have this forced on them by the programs that are being implemented all over the world. This way we can help pay for the costs of implementing our green policy. One thing we should do is keep the cap and trade tax credits local. They should be forced to use them locally if they can. They say that they can’t transmit it to new york from california. Well that is simple, then create programs that are good for there area. No matter were you are we can use Geothermal. I do not like any proceses that creates waste. We MUST create power from sources that have as little or no waste as a process. I have thought about this for a long time. Why don’t we ring planet earth with a massive solar panels all along the equator. It will never be without the sun. Then in my final words to this forum. WE HAVE THE POWER TO CHANGE……Joel from montreal/Canada

Posted by Joel | Report as abusive

Another instance where people cannot be responsible enough on their own and must rely on the government to save the planet from carbon emissions. Yet there is no evidence that we as humans can even control this situation living in the Little House On The Prairie. Even still, I find it amazing that we are willing to allow our representatives to dictate this process that cannot promise a reduction in global greenhouse emissions necessarily, but will put a price structure on them. Perhaps with some of that hyper-inflated currency coming our way, we could afford some personal federal carbon permits. lol Carbon is a privilege and not a right! LoL ! Ok on to other things. Just wanted to say that Nigeria is 8th in global petroleum exports and China is the worlds largest producers of greenhouse gasses while the U.S. leads in consumption. Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, and Norway’s EPI is in the 90′s. The U.S.’s is in the 80′s and China coming in in the 60′s. With the U.S.’s ranking of 39th out of 149 countries in the EPI rating I’d say we’re doing worst than some and better than others. Nigeria’s ranking is 126th place, Egypt 71, Iran 67,Fiji 92, and India 120th. We can certainly do better in America and many people are making major changes in their greenliness as well as many others around the world. Just think how much less carbon would be in the air if people could just get along. Some solutions are quite simple. I have a feeling we are going to see quite a range of products and technologies emerging very soon that will make our impact on nature and each other much less than it is now. We all have a part to play in this and should solve it on our own because we actually give a damn and not rely on our federal government to solve/manage it for us.

Posted by jason | Report as abusive

We’re all in a bus running towards a steep cliff. Occupants are arguing whether we should slightly alter the direction of the bus, ease off the gas, or simply ignore that sign saying danger ahead because there is no proof.

Posted by Eddiey | Report as abusive

It is amazing to me that the religious zealots of “anthromorphic” climate change are so tolerant, kind, and intellectually honest to an author that offers an “opinion” of Waxman’s and Markey’s attempt to solve a science issue with political pandering and government intervention. The slander, mockery, and downright hate spewed by some of the bloggers is a good indication of lack of scientific objectivity and for that manner the lack of class of these folks. These religious freaks are doing their best to make it all the next great lie. Why not make it simple and just blame it on the Jews (it worked for Hitler).Science is full of examples where man in his infinite scientific wisdom went in to solve a problem and instead created a larger problem(s) with more complicated side effects. Simply, there are no silver bullets for climate change – we just aren’t that smart to really know what we don’t know (but we may be that arrogant to think we do) – that being said there are a lot of real environmental issues that people can actually positively affect without going to a place of hate.

Posted by jack | Report as abusive

The cost of these (and other) measures should be compared to the cost of not reducing carbon emissions. Should the Greenland and Antarctic glaciers melt (this would take a long time, but would definitely follow if nothing is done) the low-lying state of Florida will be submerged. As aquifers on the West Coast fail, Los Angeles and San Francisco would also have to be abandoned, and agriculture in California will have to cease. Those effects are not cheap.You will only have to forgo motor transport if you don’t want to replace your car with public transport or an environmentally friendly vehicle such as a battery-powered car, where the power is generated from wind/solar/nuclear.

Posted by Jussi | Report as abusive

“The reason some of arizona has little water for the residents is because the nuclear plant uses most of the water.”Mike, you are funny. Arizona is in the desert, that’s why there is no water. You make me chuckle and clutch my side. Gigglerama.

Posted by Charles H | Report as abusive

It’s always worth checking who talking and who’s paying for the opinions expressed:The Hudson Institute is supported by donations from companies and individuals. Corporate contributors include Eli Lilly and Company, Monsanto, DuPont, Dow-Elanco, Sandoz, Ciba-Geigy, ConAgra, Cargill, and Procter & Gamble. So big chemistry, pharma and food companies. It’s positions are closely associated with neoconservatives.The reason that hardly any nuclear power plants were built over the past decades is that they’re simply too expensive. A current estimate is USD 7000 per kW installed Without exception, all recent additions had massive cost-overruns and construction delays. If you start planning now, you may have a plant or two in 10 years. By that time one of the following (but probably more than one) is likely to have happened.1. A kWh from wind combined with backup capacity (dams, batteries, pressurized air, long-distance direct-current electricity lines) is cheaper than a kWh from a new nuclear plant (it probably already is cheaper)2. Solar energy (including backup capacity as above) is cheaper (this will take a bit longer, but not 10 years)3. No solution is found for the waste4. Another nuclear power plant blows up (most operating plants are getting really creaky, and that includes the US and European ones)If only one of these predictions comes true, nuclear is dead, and deserves to be. But the main hurdle now is it’s simply too expensive.

Posted by Jan van Beilen | Report as abusive

I wonder why there’s such heated debate about limiting carbon dioxide when the most common greenhouse gas is dihydrogen monoxide, which is 17 times more previlant in the atmosphere?

Posted by Drewbie | Report as abusive

This sounds like the old Soviet 5 Year Plans of old:”doubling in three years of the share of electric utility output that comes from renewable sources—wind, solar, geothermal, biomass—from three percent now to six percent in 2012. In a further leap of central-planning arrogance, the bill would raise that standard in stages to 25 percent in 2025.”This can only believed with a giant leap of faith.

Posted by John | Report as abusive

Dear Mdme Diana,2009 is a decisive year for the future of the climate change regime. The US is aiming to take the lead, herefore the rest of the world is willing to witness that. A leadership manifested with concrete actions not with words. Many countries in Europe have adopted measures to reduce their GHG emissions and did not complain, their populations have faced increase in energy bills and have started to modify their behaviour, to learn more and to be proactive and save energy o use it efficiently ¿why can not US population do that?

I agree with your opinion about the expensive effects this proposal would have on our citizens who are already in economic hardship. I hope the bill fails.

Posted by Sunny | Report as abusive

The proposed legislation sponsored by Messrs. Waxman and Markey is the equivalent of an act of economic self mutilation. Inebriated with power and a sense of personal infallibility, these folks do not care to bring our current economic distress to the limit. Our only hope at this time is to enact congressional term limits to bring such grandiose thinking, disregarding the consequences for our grand children, to a halt.

Climate Change is not the most dangerous threat to mankind, it is the American citizen.Bankrupt, overweight and dirty-fuelled, the american citizens consumption of resources is destroying the planet. This is a bigger threat to the world than any genocidal dictator or mass-murderer.The Republican on teh E&C committee equates reducing emissions to living in Nigeria. Now, the habits of the American citizen emits twice as much carbon as a European. Europe is not a 3rd world region, and can reduce emissions much greater, yet still manages to be half of what America emits.People think that global increase in population in the developing world is the root cause of climate change – the world has too many people to support it. Yet, if the poorest half of the world’s population were to be wiped out, the rest would still have to reduce emissions by 80% by 2050 to avert climate change disasters. This is a rich-world problem and needs changes in the rich-world to solve it. America is the biggest part of this.Through mis-informed BS, Ms. Diana manages to cloud the ability of America to change in order that the world may still survive. The technologies do exist, the will does not.She is right about one thing though, nuclear may be the answer to these issues. Not in energy production, but in terms of a holocaust of the east coast, and middle america in order to rid the world of this black carbon tumour.Diana

Posted by PO | Report as abusive

As foreigner with interest in US energy policy, I would recommend to the editor of this article to read the Stern Report, i.e. the cost of not-acting. Sure, the short term costs would be low but your children and their children will have to pay. You should start understanding that climate change is an opportunity for the whole industry to become competitive in a sustainable way. Your country has parts of the infrastructure already in place and accomodates the companies that can deliver ‘green’ products to the whole world. Comparisons with Nigeria are nonsense but if you miss this opportunity, your distant future might look similar….

Posted by Max | Report as abusive

Why is it that no one considers the cost of inaction? What will the cost be to nations receiving the influx of hundreds of millions of refugees when their lands are under the seas or their rivers and wells dry up? How many armed conflicts will arise when nations close their borders to some of these refugees? What will that cost be?As arable land is consumed by flood or soil erosion, we will all bear the higher cost of food in short supply. Rain is already diminishing throughout the southern U.S. to the point of drought, and increasing in the midwest to the point of catastrophic floods. That pain and suffering will be in the pockets of some and famine for the rest.The philosophy of “It’s the economy stupid” is beginning to sound “stupid ” itself. President Obama is right about one thing. There is work to be done and too many people not working who could be doing it. The economic Wonks or going to have to accept that economic growth models of the past were unsustainable and the free market is ill suited for directing humanity where logic and reason should prevail.

Posted by Anubis | Report as abusive

No serious proposal for energy in the US can include nuclear because it isn’t a sustainable power option. Until we have something to do with the spent fuel rods, it wont be sustainable.If we can’t refine the fuel rods, and we don’t have anywhere safe to get rid of them, then we simply have to ignore nuclear until those problems are solved.The rest of the article, which rides the hype of “environment must bow to the economy” simply needs to be rethought. We are entering the age of consequences, regardless of the hyperbole and strawmen flung out by the far right wing.Likening reduction of emissions to living in Nigeria? How can this even be something that is mentioned in a serious article.If you want to have a mature discussion on the effects that reducing carbon usage and developing renewable energy will be, then go ahead. Just don’t rely on patently stupid arguments like saying that we would have to reduce our standard of living to that in Nigeria.

Posted by Travis | Report as abusive

I find forcing our reliance on fossil fuel to go down through legislation is a far better alternative then depleting, raping, and polluting our earths resources.The cost in the long run is cheaper to knock off unsustainable sources of energy rather then hoping our children will figure out how to clean up our present mess.If that means everyone has to suffer a little more, so what at least people can stick around and suffer longer then if we turn our only planet into a toxic wasteland.

Posted by Chris | Report as abusive

Below is a comment I made on one of Reuters Great Debate articles regarding the CO2 issues. The numbers are from creditable web sites. My point in the first paragraph is that there is a large disparity regarding how much is attributable to humans and within that there is a large disparity regarding how much to attribute to which industry. Given that here the “scientists” guess how much is from what to total 796.4GTs per year of CO2. I am not sure if the 796.4 is the starting number andthey know this one is pretty accurate and try to fit in their best guesses or what. All I do know it that it is pretty standard to attribute a small percentage for human activity. This is around 3%. That is total human impact. If we were to stop all of our CO2 output toinclude farting would it really have any significant effect?Mount St. Helens Is State’s Top PolluterPosted on: Thursday, 2 December 2004, 08:40 CSTNOT taking into consideration eruptions, one active volcano produces more green house gases than any state in the Union. According the Smithsonian Institute the combined days of eruptive episodes has increased seven fold within the last 100 years. That is eruptions which belches out huge amounts of green house gases. And whatI think is really funny is Global Warming propaganda outthere states because the warming can be correlated to the increase in volcanic activity then the increase in volcanic is due to the global warming that man has caused. You have to really sit their and do a double take. They will not in any way consider that some other force may be at work but humanity. One even tries to get you to believe that the increase in activity is do to ice melting which started after the increase in volcanicactivity began. Humanity’s impact can only change the amount of CO2 by no more than 3% yet we are the cause? I am not convinced!In the past 10 years our coal fired plants have improved CO2 emissions considerably from 200 million tons to 27 million tons per year. Where are the at-a-boys for dropping Coal fired power plant emissions by 86.5%?My comment:Of the man made CO2 about 14% to 32% is from transportation depending on whose numbers you want to use. No one really knows how much is man made verses nature made much less how much from what industry. Please keep in mind the following: _Consumption of vegetation by animals & microbes accounts for about 220 gigatonnes of CO2 per year. Respiration by vegetation emits around 220 Gt. The ocean releases about 330 Gt. Incontrast, human emissions are only around 26.4 Gt per year._ So, transportation is responsible for about 3.7 to 8.4 Gt per year. The only way to make this be more than a drop in the bucket is if we completely shift from an oil based transportation industry to a total electrictransportation industry. And, the problem with that is no one in Congress is looking at this kind of scenario. There are ways to do this. Here is a 1996 Discover article on a flywheel engine.http://www.mega.nu:8080/ampp/bitt erly.ht mlBut, the US auto industry and Congress has been controlled by big oil for so long the idea of such devices is avoided like the plague.If you were to couple affordable LED lighting for home and industry and advances in both portable solar energy and vehicle energy recovery, the increase to the power grids would be minimized while providing the populace with very affordable transportation and a reduction in the CO2 output.Of course with the increase in volcanism over the last 100 years this drop in CO2 is not significant. But we do not have to tell anybody that fact. I am all for cleaning up our pollution. I wish we would pay asmuch attention to water and land pollution as we do CO2. We pollute our land and water with so many hideous substances that nature cannot handle like it can handle CO2. I hope we don’t lose sight of these ecologicallydevastating substances just because it has become popular to jump on the global warming bandwagon. There are more dangers than just global warming and I am not sure I buy all the doom and gloom spread by the Global Warming industries.Anubus, you asked what the cost of doing nothing is. Well pollution is pollution. We should still be good custodians of the world. There are ways this can actually be a savings to the consumer but very big money isn’t keen on heading in that direction. The US is an energy hog. If we would just remove incandescent bulbs from the market we would save huge amounts of energy per year. Simple and doable but why hasn’t it been done. LED lighting uses so little power per lumen that if we were to convert our homes and industry to LED we would cut our power consumption by 1/3. But this means that these plants can’t sell as much meaning their income will go down unless they raise the rates for a gigawatt of power. In other words the cheapest (for the consumer) way for this industry to run is at full capacity. There has to be a paradigm shift in how we pay for energy. How can the powers that be expect the consumer to be penalized for conserving energy. There are ways but big business isn’t looking in that direction. Neither are the Global Warming industries.

Posted by B.Free | Report as abusive

Once again, you are changing the argument into purely economic terms. Certainly any switch to alternative energy is going to cost money. Is the status quo ‘cheaper’? Would a world 30 years from now, with submerged seaboards and an end to peak oil be ‘cheaper’? Imagine a hurricane like Katrina every couple of years due to warmer ocean waters. Now that’s a small bill to pay, correct? But since the climate argument seems to be over (Ms. Furchtgott-Roth doesn’t argue those points), she seems to feel that nuclear can somehow ‘solve’ the problem. But even if we were to go full-bore on nuclear (driving up the price of fuel material), we still need to replace the 100+ reactors that are nearly 30 years old, and then have to deal with the policial realities of handling the nuclear waste. Alternative energy isn’t relegated to solar and wind, either…I’m sure the 0 emmission hydroelectric Washington State uses more than covers their fewer solar days, and Rhode Island’s wind and wave power would suffice for their needs. But the salient point remains…we have an environmental energy problem. We need to fix it. We should do it in a cost effective manner. So, Ms. Furchtgott-Roth, knowing it must be fixed, what’s your fix?

Posted by Mike | Report as abusive

Why is Diana only calling for a nuclear “holocaust” against the US East Coast and Middle America? Why not the West Coast and Hawaii as well? After all, they’re also part of the “Black Carbon Tumor”. While she’s at it, why not just exterminate all industrialized humanity, leaving a scattered population of nomadic hunter-gatherers overseen by a select few treehugging whackos like herself?

Posted by Jim | Report as abusive

“Solar photovoltaic panels placed on just seven percent of the roof area currently covered by cities and residences could generate all of America’s electricity needs, significantly mitigating the effects of global warming.” — National Renewable Energy Lab studyWe have the need, the technology, the business case, and we have the public will to switch to clean and renewable energy sources today.Conversion costs off of fossil fuels and the benefits are all too apparent to those who see the big cost picture and can connect the dots of environmental and security consequences resulting from no or inadequate half measures towards carbon emissions mitigation.A honest perspective on the business-as-usual consequences of our historic energy policies source options is something the vested energy interests within the Republican party have consistently failed to consider, or demonstrate when the GOP leads.

Posted by Clean Tech | Report as abusive

Jim,the topic of the article is the economic cost of climate change legislation. a holocaust of the main sources currently responsible for carbon emissions would seem the most ‘economically cost-effective’ option to me given people think that investing in clean energy is too costly.Hawaii and west coast, and certainly not the rest of the world, don’t fit in with this criteria of world’s biggest polluters. California is basically an independent nation in these matters anyway.This criteria doesn’t discriminate against nationality or religion – just your life choice. Why should the rest of the world have to suffer to support the overweight, morally and financially bankrupt lifestyles of the world’s worst polluters? The rest of the world, including other industrial countries with perfectly adequate standards of living, can go back to enjoying the lords bounty without destroying it.Diana

Posted by PO | Report as abusive

¿Who defined that USA is the only in charge of the climate change legislation? This change is a worldwide concern.USA and some countries of Europe burned huge Terawatts of energy per hour, during 24 hours per day, during 365 days per year.Now is the time for pay to the world this crazy economical system.Each of your habitants must reduce the use of energy via laws that increase the cost of the energy in accordance with the range of consumption, more energy, more pay, but establishing as base line the standard consumption of a native habitant in a development country, as Colombia, living in one of the most rich natural regions, the few last cleaner system for the sustainability of the nature, responsibility of all in the land.

Posted by Roberto Navarro | Report as abusive

Unforunately, it seems Obama and the US government have no leverage Internationally and can do nothing but kiss and make-up with the rest of the world for the last 8 years. If we are going to get serious about our economy, and our environment, then we’re going to need much more courage and leadership from Washington. We need to stand up and claim our world leadership and call the bluff of every other world “leader” resisting their own responsibilties to their region, and to humankind.