The “social cost of carbon” (SCC) is the foundation for numerous Obama-era energy policies, regulations and programs. Under complex SCC metrics, agencies calculate the “hidden costs” of carbon-dioxide emissions associated with fossil fuel use, assigning a dollar value to each ton of carbon dioxide emitted by power plants, factories, homes, vehicles and other sources.
Originally, in 2010, every ton of U.S. emissions averted was thought to prevent about $25 in global societal costs allegedly resulting from dangerous man-made climate change: less coastal flooding and tropical disease, fewer droughts and extreme weather events, for example.
Within three years, regulators increased the SCC to around $40 per ton, the better to justify the Clean Power Plan, the Paris climate agreement, and countless actions on electricity generation, drilling, fracking, methane, pipelines, vehicle mileage and appliance efficiency standards, livestock operations, carbon taxes, and wind, solar and biofuel mandates and subsidies.
The Trump administration is challenging this climate cataclysm edifice — prompting activists to launch campaigns asserting that the SCC is so rooted in solid science and economics that any attempted rollback would fail.
In reality, the social cost of carbon is little more than junk science and garbage in-garbage out forecasting. That’s why the House science subcommittees on oversight and the environment are holding an investigative hearing on the subject.
First, the supposed bedrock for the concept is the shifting sands of climate chaos theory. New questions are arising almost daily about data quality and manipulation, the degree to which carbon dioxide affects global temperatures, the complex interplay of solar, cosmic ray, oceanic and other natural forces, and the inability of computer models to predict temperatures, sea-level rise or hurricanes.
Meanwhile, as the 2015-16 El Nino dissipated, average global temperatures have fallen back to their 1998-2014 level, according to Britain’s Meteorological Office. That means there has been no measurable planetary warming for 18 years.
The very notion that U.S. emissions impose significant climate costs is increasingly indefensible — and developing nations are burning fossil fuels and emitting carbon dioxide at many times the U.S. rate.
Second, the SCC scheme blames American emissions for supposed costs worldwide. It incorporates almost every conceivable cost of oil, gas and coal use on crops, forests, coastal cities, property, “forced migration,” human health, nutrition and disease.
However, it utterly fails to mention, much less analyze, tremendous and obvious carbon benefits.
This violates a 1993 executive order signed by President Bill Clinton requiring that federal agencies assess both benefits and costs of proposed regulations. It is also irrational, completely contrary to human experience.
Fossil fuels created the modern world and lifted billions out of destitution and disease. They supply over 80 percent of the energy that powers the United States and other modern civilizations, and will continue doing so for decades to come. They generate up to $70 trillion in annual global gross domestic product.
Using readily available data on global living standards, economies, disease, nutrition, life spans and other benefits — and the government’s own SCC cost figures and methodologies — we estimate that carbon benefits exceed costs by orders of magnitude: at least 50 to 1 and as much as 500 to 1.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration forecasts that fossil fuels will provide 75-80 percent of worldwide energy through 2040 — when the total amount of energy consumed will be at least 25 percent greater than today. That means these notable benefit-cost ratios will continue.
Third, SCC schemes likewise impute only costs to carbon-dioxide emissions. However, as thousands of scientific studies verify, rising levels of this miracle molecule are “greening” the Earth — reducing deserts and improving forests, grasslands, drought resistance, crop yields and human nutrition.
No matter which government report or discount rate is used, asserted social costs of carbon dioxide are infinitesimal compared to its estimated benefits.
Fourth, government officials claim they can accurately forecast damage to the world’s climate, economies, populations and ecosystems from U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions over the next two to three centuries. They say we must base today’s energy policies, laws and regulations on those forecasts.
The notion is indefensible, even delusional. The rate of change in energy generation, communication, medical and other technologies has become exponential over the past several decades, but forecasting ability has not. Uncertainties over natural forces and climate change during the coming decades and centuries are colossal.
Amid all the other SCC assumptions, injecting such predictions into high-speed computer models simply paints scientific varnish over a phony endeavor.
Politicians, activists and corporate rent-seekers certainly welcome the intellectual special effects and facades, but taxpayers and consumers should be wary of the power that the SCC gives them over energy, economic growth, livelihoods and living standards.
Eliminating the social cost of carbon and programs implemented under its aegis requires little more than applying the same rules and standards that government regulators have imposed on Volkswagen, Fiat and Wall Street dishonesty.
However, rooting out this government deception is far more important, because the scope, impact and cost of the agenda-driven SCC chicanery are infinitely greater, affecting every aspect of our lives.
Congress, President Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt need to review, rescind and defund the scheme and replace it with honest, objective cost-benefit analyses.
• Paul Driessen is senior policy analyst for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow. Roger Bezdek is an energy analyst and president of Management Information Services, Inc.