Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), a co-sponsor of the bill, has called it “the world’s most far-reaching program to fight global warming.” It is indeed policy on a grand scale. It would slow American economic growth by trillions of dollars over the next half-century. But in terms of temperature, the result will be negligible if China and India don’t also commit to reducing their emissions, and it will be only slightly more significant if they do. By itself, Lieberman-Warner would postpone the temperature increase projected for 2050 by about two years.
Politicians favor the cap-and-trade system because it is an indirect tax that disguises the true costs of reducing carbon emissions. It also gives lawmakers an opportunity to control the number and distribution of emissions allowances, and the flow of billions of dollars of subsidies and sweeteners.
Many people believe that everyone has a moral obligation to ask how we can best combat climate change. Attempts to curb carbon emissions along the lines of the bill now pending are a poor answer compared with other options.
Consider that today, solar panels are one-tenth as efficient as the cheapest fossil fuels. Only the very wealthy can afford them. Many “green” approaches do little more than make rich people feel they are helping the planet. We can’t avoid climate change by forcing a few more inefficient solar panels onto rooftops.
The answer is to dramatically increase research and development so that solar panels become cheaper than fossil fuels sooner rather than later. Imagine if solar panels became cheaper than fossil fuels by 2050: We would have solved the problem of global warming, because switching to the environmentally friendly option wouldn’t be the preserve of rich Westerners.