Representatives Markey, Waxman, and Inslee released Principles for Global Warming for Earth Day. This press release includes a letter that they jointly sent to Speaker Pelosi today. While there is much tremendous and substantive material within this release, one has to wonder about some of the messaging. To this reader, it seems off-target and to miss core messages in some arenas. This post will take an initial look at this package.
In the letter to Speaker Pelosi, the Members highly four key goals as follows.
1. Reduce emissions to avoid dangerous global warming;
As a goal, this is basically fine even though the wording could be stronger/better. How about: “Avert catastrophic climate change.” In addition, “emissions” are not the only player in the equation (land use policy, reforestration, albedo factor, etc …).
2. Transition America to a clean energy economy;
Yes, again, reasonable but some quibbling. For example, why not: “Maximize economic benefits from America’s transition to a clean-energy economy.”
3. Recognize and minimize any economic impacts from global warming legislation; and
Okay, this is where there is a core problem of the messaging of this document. This seems, in the phrasing, to buy into the false framing from organizations like the National Association of Manufacturers that dealing with Global Warming will “cost”, that it will have a negative impact on the economy. In fact, dealing with Global Warming (if we do so efficiently) will likely have a positive impact, as long as we do holistic analysis that accounts for costs and benefits (with huge positive impact if we include benefits of avoided costs from catastrophic climate change). Environment Defense Fund just release a report examing multiple models of the economic impact of climate-change legislation and found, across all these models, very low impact. There is a major caveat calling into question the validity of these models’ results:
Importantly none of these models takes into account the damages from allowing global warming to build up unchecked and the value of avoiding them. THat is, they look at only one side of the ledger: the costs of acting, not the benefits. These “costs” o freducing emissions actually represent an investment that will pay enormous dividends– by creating a low-carbon economy filled with new opportunity, and by ensuring a livable planet for generations to come.
In other words, the models were constantly conservative in underestimating both the direct (new industries) and indirect (value of avoiding global warming damage) benefits from pursuing well-structured global warming legislation. This matters: Going Green will benefit, not hurt, the economy, businesses, and most households. To be honest, I truly think that Markey, Waxman, and Inslee fully get this. But, this framing matters. The words in goal #3 imply (no matter what they beleive / think) buying into a framing that dealing with Global Warming will have a cost and that the environment is set against the economy when in fact the framing should be the environment and the economy. And, again, these three Representatives almost certainly ‘get’ the holistic implications and benefits from doing Global Warming legislation right. This press release and letter to the Speaker do not, however, convey that understanding.
4. Aid communities and ecosystems vulnerable to harm from global warming.
Fine, again, with quibbling with words perhaps but words and framing matters.
Now, each of these goals have a reasonable amount of additional substance, yet these are the four bullets that are called out strongly, the “elevator speech” if you wish. And, most critically, item #3 is worded in a way suggestive of the NAM-false flag discussion (even though I know that these members know better than this and the material from Markey’s committee normally falls into these traps).
An alternative framing
- Scientifically sound
- Polluters pay
- Social equity
These can be translated into the “goals” outlined by the Representatives:
- Avoid catastrophic climate change via legislation guided by scientific knowledge/advice.
- Foster a prosperous, climate-friendly society by making it financially undesirable to be a polluter.
- Provide appropriate assistance to those unduly burdened by transition costs or Global Warming impacts.
Again, there is much of real value in this press release and in the letter to the Speaker. And, this is a set of principles and goals that are far stronger and more valuable than those embedded in the Lieberman-Warner Coal-Subsidy Act. Even so, better does not necessarily mean good enough, especially when it is material from three of the best members of Congress when it comes to energy and environmental issues. Perhaps, if this is to be revisited, the next round will take a more holistic view as to costs/benefits and judge judiciously the impacts of key bullets on conveying intended messages.