In the last four sections I discussed whether global warming/climate change is a real problem with serious consequences. I believe I have shown that the answer to this is most likely no. For this section, though, we will assume that I am totally wrong and that this is a serious problem with potentially devastating consequences. I also showed that, if this is a serious problem, the United States government does have the responsibility to act. The next question is whether actions by the United States government would be effective in reducing global warming.
In June 2014, the EPA issued new regulations to combat global warming. A key provision of these regulations is that the electricity sector must cut carbon emissions by 30% from 2005 levels by 2030. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that by 2030 these regulations will cause consumers to pay $289 billion for electricity, cost 224,000 jobs, and lower household disposable incomes by $586 billion. The EPA disputes these numbers. It says that the regulations will create new green jobs. It also states that the costs of climate change would be much greater.
The Obama administration also stated that the stimulus would create green jobs. This didn’t happen. The statement that the costs of climate change would exceed the costs to the economy of the regulations assumes that the regulations would have a significant impact on global warming. If there is no impact, there are no cost savings due to the impact.
What impact does the EPA say these regulations will have on global temperatures? Actually, the EPA does not say anything in its regulations to predict the impact. Opponents state that the impact would be approximately .03 degrees by 2100, but I have not been able to locate an impartial source to back this claim. On the other hand, I also have not found anything by the EPA to suggest that the impact would be greater. In September 2013 on page 346 of a 463 page report the EPA stated “The EPA does not anticipate that this proposed rule will result in notable CO2 emission changes.” Also in September in 2013 EPA administrator Gina McCarthy stated in hearings before the House Energy and Commerce Committee that the EPA could not measure if its policies are decelerating global warming or if they have any affect at all. In short, if the EPA has any idea of how its regulations will affect global warming, it is not publishing this data.
The main reason that the United States cutting back on greenhouse gasses would be ineffectual, however, is that reductions in carbon emissions in the United States will be dwarfed by increased emissions from developing countries, most notably China and India. In 2007 the United States emitted more carbon dioxide than any other country. Now China is the top emitter with 25% of global emissions and the United States now emits 17%. In 2012 the Scientific American reported that by 2015 China would emit 49% more carbon dioxide than the United States. This trend is expected to escalate.
Carbon emissions in the United States have actually been decreasing. This chart shows actual United States carbon emissions from 1990 to 2012:
This decrease can primarily be attributed to fracking, which has greatly decreased the cost of natural gas resulting in many areas switching from coal to natural gas to produce electricity. In 1997, half of the electricity in the United States was generated from coal. By 2012 this decreased to 36.7%. Due to fracking the United States may reach President Obama’s 2009 environmental goal to reduce emissions by 17% from 2005 levels by 2020.
Since the environmental movement continually states that global warming/climate change is the greatest threat to the earth, one would think that the environmentalists would be embracing fracking. Instead, the environmentalists are fighting to ban fracking. They state that chemicals from fracking can seep up through thousands of feet of rock to contaminate drinking water, despite a lack of evidence that this happened or could happen. A report from MIT found that only a handful of 20,000 wells drilled in the last decade caused any contamination, and when this occurred it was primarily due to surface spills.
In summary, there is no evidence that the current regulations proposed by the United States government would do anything to impact global warming/climate change. With growth in carbon emissions in the developing world, any potential impact of these regulations would be dwarfed by increased emissions elsewhere. With this in mind, is it worth the potentially heavy costs of these regulations? The one thing that the government can do to reduce carbon emissions is to remove burdensome regulations restricting fracking, keeping only those regulations truly needed for it to be done safely. That of course is the one thing our government won’t do.