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Joel Kotkin: At The Mercy Of The Climate Jihadists

Joel Kotkin, The Orange County Register

California is about to wage a war of increasing intensity on climate change, surely not at the expense of depriving Google executives and other oligarchs their private jets, but certainly down to the last affordable single-family house or decent factory job.

To satisfy the gentry’s urgent need to feel noble and better than others, we are embarked on an ever-more extreme jihad to battle global warming, with the state of California, pursuant to an executive order from Gov. Jerry Brown, committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 – and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 – versus the previous mandate of reaching 1990 levels by 2020.

Symbolic Gestures, Little Impact

Of course, environmental problems need to be addressed, but one has to wonder if current policy will actually impact global climate change. Indeed, as explained in a new report by the Chapman Center for Demographics and Policy, our current green jihad is likely to do little to nothing toward cutting global emissions – unless nations with far greater emissions adopt similar measures. The report suggests that an extreme goal of an 80 percent reduction could, ultimately, make things worse.

The report, authored by attorneys David Friedman and Jennifer Hernandez, carefully analyzes the projected impact of California’s Draconian climate change legislation. Simply put, in the most basic measurement, our greenhouse gas emissions simply don’t matter much. In 2011, California accounted for less than 1 percent of global CO2-equivalent emissions, and less than 0.065 percent of the worldwide annual CO2e emissions increase during 1990-2011. Given that California is already a low-emitting state, in large part due to its mild climate, even if California cut back to zero greenhouse-gas emissions, it would have almost no measurable affect on climate change risks.

The increase in GHG emissions comes mostly from elsewhere, even within the United States. But most emissions growth is linked to increases in developing countries, such as China and India. From 2000-11, global CO2e emissions increased by more than 40 percent. Over the same period, California’s CO2e emissions rose by 2 percent and declined by approximately 10.7 percent from 2007-11. Despite population increases and economic growth, California’s total emissions rose by roughly 8 million metric tons while global emissions increased by almost 13 billion metric tons.

Unintended Consequences

Ever the realist, at least when it comes to politics, Gov. Jerry Brown recognizes that California’s efforts are, almost by definition, largely symbolic. “We can do things in California” to fight climate change, Brown recently observed, “but if others don’t follow, it will be futile.”

The problem is that not many of our competitor states are following California’s lead, except, notably, Oregon, where the governor has been embroiled in a seamy scandal over green energy. Meanwhile, our biggest competitors – Nevada, Texas, Utah, North Carolina – do not seem anxious to join the party. They regard California’s regulatory regime as a perfect spur to lead both companies and residents out of the Golden State.

Since 1990, 3.8 million former California residents, or about equal to the populations of Oregon or Oklahoma, have moved to other parts of the country where per capita GHG levels are 50 percent higher than in California. Each job or resident that moves from California boosts net GHG levels. The cumulative net CO2e emission increases generated by the unprecedented migration of the state’s former residents has already nearly offset the GHG reduction achieved by California’s emission-reduction mandates.

Why continue?

Like any major policy initiative, the state’s climate change offensive will producers winners, although, in the short run, at least, many more losers. For one thing, the fixation on carbon-free energy has led to much higher electricity prices, 43.5 percent above the national average in December 2014 according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency. This is bad news for industries that need electricity, and is one reason why many manufacturers go elsewhere.

It’s not too great for commuters, either. As of May 12, California’s average cost per gallon of regular unleaded gasoline was $3.73, the highest in the country – including even Hawaii and Alaska – and more than a dollar higher than the national average, $2.66. Gas prices on average are still about 21 percent lower than a year ago in the U.S., but 11 percent lower in California.

The state’s climate policy, particularly in its new, more militant form, also is likely to reduce California’s job creation. Although enjoying a brief resurgence, California employment has consistently underperformed other states over the longer term.

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