February 16, 2009 - Cap and Trade Flunks Triple Bottom Line

A basketful of legislation is being pushed across the country this year with the plea that we must do “Something” in the face of climate change. Susan Solomon, a respected climatologist speaking on NPR on January 27th (and widely quoted in the main stream newspapers) said that based on her most recent research on climate change, global warming and carbon/greenhouse gas impacts are irreversible and inevitable, and “Nothing” can be done to reverse them. Yet there is still a very human instinct to want to do “Something” when we are told there is a problem, and Ms. Solomon expressed that very human instinct when she said “I guess if its irreversible, to me it seems all the more reason you might want to do something about it.”

Not every issue is a problem with a solution, sometimes an issue is a dilemma to be managed. Climate change is inevitable, whether affected by human actions or not. It is a dilemma to be managed with reasonable actions that do not add to the dilemma with unintended social, environmental and economic consequences. I am enclosing two quotes below to explain why we should not take drastic action such as instituting cap and trade programs in the name of doing “Something” about which “Nothing” can be done:

From “A Brief History of Time,” by Stephen Hawking

“Any physical theory is always provisional, in the sense that it is only a
hypothesis: you can never prove it. No matter how many times the results of
experiments agree with some theory, you can never be sure that the next time the
result will not contradict the theory. On the other hand, you can disprove a
theory by finding even a single observation that disagrees with the predictions
of the theory... Each time new experiments are observed to agree with the
predictions the theory survives, and our confidence in it is increased; but if
ever a new observation is found to disagree, we have to abandon or modify the

From a peer-reviewed article “Solar Modulation of Little Ice Age Climate in the tropical Andes,” published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, June 1, 2006, by University of Massachusetts Professor P.J. Polisar et al. A summary of the article indicates that research results show man is not the culprit in the melting of the Andean glaciers, and argues that “climatic change in the Venezuelan Andes is linked to changes in solar activity during the Little Ice Age” and says the data “suggest that solar variability is the primary underlying cause of glacier fluctuations.”

According to Stephen Hawking, when a new observation disagrees with a theory, it is necessary to “abandon or modify the theory.” Human caused global warming is a conclusion based on climate change theory, and there is both supporting and contradictory evidence for the underlying theory. Science is science, and it ceases to be science when it ceases to consider contradictory evidence or to allow questions. Climate change is not a sound theory to use as the basis of drastic social, environmental and economic policy.

The unintended consequences of basing policy decisions on an unexamined belief in global warming are far reaching. For example, cap and trade systems such as the one proposed as HB1819 in the Washington state Legislature seem quite simple. The reality is much more complicated and open to market manipulations. The only people guaranteed to make any money off this will be the brokers, with no guarantee of decreased emissions. This should a serious concern whether you believe we need to reduce emissions or not. We need to look at the lessons of Europe, where there are concerns about unintended increased emissions and serious economic repercussions resulting from current European Union cap and trade systems (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/08/AR2007040800758_pf.html and http://www.businessgreen.com/business-green/news/2213702/europe-cap-trade-scheme-hand )

In addition, Washington HB1819 is broad and vague in its scope and powers. The state Department of Ecology is given enormous discretionary power, and required to enforce strict adherence to the Western Climate Initiative (WCI) decisions. The WCI advisory council is largely made up of unelected bureaucrats, thus negating the basic principle of our country’s longevity – representative government by the people, for the people and of the people. Washington would be abdicating its responsibilities and rights as a state to this unelected regional coalition. There are no checks and balances in this proposal.

In a biennium where Washington is facing a budget deficit of more than $6 billion (last I heard will be $8 billion after the next economic forecast), we are not in a position to be the first state in the nation to take this giant step. We have no capacity to accommodate unintended consequences. Even if the science were without question, such a political decision fails to adequately pass the triple bottom line test of balancing environmental, social and economic responsibility.