March 30, 2004

Try, Try Again

Filed under: Climate Politics

The House introduces a companion to the Senate’s Lieberman-McCain Climate Stewardship Act. But neither bill would have a discernable influence on global temperatures.

On March 30, 2004, a companion bill to the Senate’s Lieberman-McCain Climate Stewardship Act (S.139) was introduced to U.S. House of Representatives by House members John Olver (D-Mass.) and Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.).

Recall that the McCain-Lieberman bill was defeated 55 to 43 in a vote back in late October 2003. At that time, Sen. McCain (R-Ariz.) promised that he would continue to reintroduce the bill as often as necessary to get it passed. The word is that this will be sooner rather than later.

Apparently not wanting the senators to have the monopoly on discussing vacuous climate change initiatives, Olver and Gilchrest decided that the House should get into the act. Their bill, like S.139, would require U.S. industrial greenhouse gas emissions in 2010 and thereafter to be no greater than the level of emissions in 2000.

Since the defeat of S. 139 back in the fall, no substantive new information has emerged to suggest that the need for the emissions controls Olver and Gilchrest now propose. Certainly there has been a lot of hype—suggestions of massive global extinctions and sudden climate shifts that would plunge the Northern Hemisphere into an ice age—but none of that nonsense stands up to close scientific scrutiny.

The fatal problem confronting McCain, Lieberman, Olver, and Gilchrest is that their legislation will result in no measurable impact on any future temperature change. That’s because the ratio of the proposed emissions reductions in the United States to the rate of total global carbon dioxide emissions is minuscule. For instance, by the year 2010—the target both bills set—the reduction in U.S. CO2 emissions result in a global reduction of CO2 emissions of less than 3% from where they would have been absent the legislation. That number continually declines with time as the emissions from developing countries such as India and China rapidly expand. The net result is that the impact on future global temperatures is far too small to measure.

Figure 1 shows the temperature savings that would result from the successful implementation of the proposed emissions caps (also assuming that the rest of the world adheres to the Kyoto Protocol). These savings are calculated using the same method that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) uses to produce its forecasts of future temperature rise. The small difference between the blue line (an extension of the observed trend from the past 25 years) and the red line (the impact of Kyoto and the Olver-Gilchrest measures) is virtually undetectable.

Future Warming

Figure 1. The impact of the type of legislation introduced by Reps. Olver and Gilchrest on future global temperature rise is exceedingly small. The blue line shows the global temperature trend observed during the past 25 years extended out to the year 2100, over the background (gray) of the range of projected IPCC temperature rise. The dashed red line shows the effect on the observed trend of full adherence to the Olver-Gilchrest proposal.

Of course, there is little hope for House passage of the Olver and Gilchrest bill, even if all evidence of its futility is cast aside. With gasoline prices already near their all-time high, few Representatives will be willing to go on the record as voting for legislation that would ultimately result in higher gas and energy prices.

Even John Kerry, whom the Bush Administration has accused of voting on 11 different occasions for hiking the tax on gasoline, is now backing away from those votes as gas prices continue to rise.

At this point, the Olver-Gilchrest bill represents little more than a hollow vehicle for a few House members to cast the illusion of being pro-environment.

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