‘The stakes here are high,” Justice
claimed in her dissent from the Supreme Court’s climate-related ruling last week. But the stakes aren’t high. They are the opposite of high unless you imagined the court had interrupted a concerted international effort to do something about CO2 emissions.
The Environmental Protection Agency, whose plan was scuttled last week, was never going to affect the climate with its scheme to usher a few more coal plants into retirement. President Biden and his climate czar
have said as much: Nothing the U.S. government does, both have acknowledged, matters if China and others don’t reduce their rapidly growing CO2 releases.
The hysterical headlines do testify to a real problem, however—the press. An outlier in vulgarity but middle-of-the-pack in shrillness was Gizmodo’s “The Supreme Court Just F— the Planet.”
This illustrates a paradox of our times: Even as algorithms and AI are coming for the jobs of journalists, journalists are turning themselves into algorithms—and not clever algorithms either.
To a thinking human, the Supreme Court decision was a yawn. The political system continues to have nothing useful to say about the possibility that fossil fuels might be influencing the weather. But the carbon tax deal that’s been on the table for decades is also still on the table.
This political compromise has always been the obvious meeting point of Democrats and Republicans, in a trade for pro-growth tax cuts. Such a bargain would be a tonic for the economy whatever its climate benefits. But now it seems, unanticipated by its champions, it might also have been a way to forestall the destructive and nihilistic tendencies of America’s greens coming to fruition in the current energy crisis.
Under a carbon tax, the oil and gas industries, and even more crucially their infrastructure suppliers, would have been free to invest to bring us all the energy we want at the prevailing, after-tax price without running a gantlet of environmentalists trying to shut them down.
The price mechanism would do the work of limiting emissions and pernicious activists in and out of government could stop trying to sandbag a drilling project here, a pipeline investment there, as if this were having any impact other than metastasizing fragility through the energy system.
What’s hurting America today is not a lack of resources. It’s a lack of pipelines, a lack of refinery capacity, a lack of liquefaction capacity, ships and other supporting infrastructure to move energy supplies to meet booming demand.
With their mau-mauing of energy investments, activists do nothing to reduce emissions, which continue to grow globally. They only shift U.S. emissions offshore. As a political strategy, it’s self-defeating. The public tolerates these hijinks only when energy prices are low. The strategy goes boom whenever gasoline prices rise and a Joe Biden—or
—suddenly becomes a cheap-energy enthusiast because he likes winning elections.
We would have a sounder economy. We would have a stable, predictable incentive to produce less CO2 while satisfying our energy needs more reliably and cost-effectively than under the prevailing confused and politicized energy policies. A carbon tax is a technocratic, hardly revolutionary proposal if you think or suspect CO2 is a problem. Unfortunately, it’s become swamped in the culture war. Blame the media, which long ago lost interest in science and economics in favor of name-calling and catechizing the unholy.
This is fine with various “green” businesses that flourish in the hothouse of direct government handouts and suspect they might not fare so well under a general incentive to cut carbon in the most efficient way possible.
It’s fine with many green activists who have turned hostile to a carbon tax because it undercuts the magical, all-embracing green socialism that they have lately talked themselves into.
Contrary to Justice Kagan, nothing in the air suggests our corrupt climate politics was soon going to give way to rational climate policy. The Supreme Court’s decision, while valuable for setting boundaries for the administrative state, is irrelevant to the unfolding puzzle of atmospheric CO2 and the terminally irrational politics that surround it.
Those who rely on the media could also be forgiven for not knowing it, but climate change is not the end of the world, and the science never said it was. And fortunately so, because despite the on-paper possibility of humans taking steps to lower their CO2 emissions, the world provides no evidence they will.
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Appeared in the July 9, 2022, print edition as ‘Is a Carbon Tax the Only Way to Stop the Greens?.’