John Locke Update / Research Newsletter (Archive)

Get out your coats: Reduce all CO2 emissions in the US, cool off by .25 degrees F

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Allegedly the point of reducing carbon dioxide (often erroneously and sometimes maliciously referred to as just "carbon") emissions is to keep the planet from overheating — that is, to prevent global warming. CO2 reduction is not an end in and of itself. So if carbon dioxide taxes, cap and trade regulations, subsidies to the wind and solar power industries, or renewable portfolio standards won’t make a significant difference when it comes to future temperatures, then they are nothing but feel good measures with all costs and no benefits.

Well now the Cato Institute has produced a handy dandy calculator. This calculator allows you to plug in a certain percentage of CO2 reduction and then, using the IPCC’s own estimates for climate sensitivity, it spits out the amount of "cooling" you will get by 2050 and by 2100. And here you have it. If he United States were somehow magically able to eliminate all of its carbon dioxide emissions, by 2100 temperatures would be .137 degrees C (.246 degrees F) cooler than they would be if we had no CO2 reductions at all. In other words, temperatures would cool by an undetectable amount. This is an amount so small that if one walked from one side of a street to another and the temperature fell by this amount it wouldn’t be noticed.

And what if we included all industrialized nations in our calculations? In other words, what if not just the US completely eliminated its CO2 emissions, but so did all of the EU, Japan, Australia, etc. That surely would cool things off, right? Well, the number is .278 degrees C (.5 degrees F) lower than business as usual in 100 years.

Of course the idea of eliminating CO2 emissions completely is absurd, and no one is even coming close to proposing this. So here’s the truth of the matter. Reducing CO2 emissions in reality, as we can see, has nothing to do with reducing temperatures. First it is about promoting an environmentalist ethic of reducing energy consumption for its own sake.

As former US Senator Tim Worth of Colorado states it:

"What we’ve got to do in energy conservation is try to ride the global warming issue. Even if the theory of global warming is wrong, to have approached global warming as if it is real means energy conservation, so we will be doing the right thing anyway in terms of …environmental policy."

And for many on the left it goes even further. It is about destroying capitalism, which by definition means the destruction of liberty. As one progressive group is pointing out, "The really inconvenient truth is that it’s not about carbon [carbon dioxide] — it’s about capitalism."

They are so right. And the more quickly we who are in the business of advancing liberty understand this, the more effective we will be in defending it.

Click here for the Economics & Environment Update archive.

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In June 2019 Roy Cordato retired from his full time position as Senior Economist and Resident Scholar at the John Locke Foundation and currently holds the position of Senior Economist Emeritus at the Foundation. From January 2001 to March 2017,… ...

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