The Nation's Pulse

Religious Blessings for Cap and Trade

When the Religious Left testifies about global warming, even sympathetic congressmen don't much care to listen.

By 4.1.09

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Global Warming alarmists, especially on the Religious Left, love to cite the purported impact of catastrophic climate change on the poor. In the favored apocalyptic scenario, rabid heat waves will scorch the crops, evaporate the water, and fan the diseases prevalent among the Global South's impoverished millions. Selfish consumers in the industrialized West must drastically reduce their consumption or, literally, millions will die.

Early in March, the U.S. House Subcommittee on Energy and Commerce convened hearings on "Consumer Protection Provisions in Climate Legislation." A spokesman for the National Council of Churches tried to steer the committee away from the impact of mandatory carbon reduction on consumers and instead on the supposed "devastating impact of inaction."

"Rising sea levels, more intense storms, floods, droughts, and spreading disease vectors affect those living in poverty, communities of color and other vulnerable communities first and hardest," warned John Hill of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society. "The Gulf Coast hurricanes of 2004 demonstrated all too painfully the devastating consequences that occur when storms of nature interact with the storms of poverty and racism that batter communities in the United States and around the world."

Hill cited the feared impact of "inaction" about Global Warming on "brothers and sisters in Africa," such as a Ugandan farmer friend, who claimed to him that her growing seasons are shifting because of climate change. "For most of us, if the rains fall a few weeks late there is little impact on our lives," Hill bemoaned. "For Rosemary, that shift means crop failure and famine." He emphasized that the National Council of Churches supports "mandatory emissions reduction targets in order to prevent catastrophic impacts for the people and planet we are called to serve."

Unmentioned by Hill or most Global Warming activists who claim to defend the Global South is the further impoverishing of already poor nations if climate alarmism compels foreswearing economic growth and its inevitable carbon emissions. Hill's "brothers and sisters" in Africa can have no hope of refrigeration, electric lighting, air conditioning, or heat not generated by burning wood or cow dung under the scenarios that Global Warming activists insist are necessary to "save" the planet.

Hill eventually acknowledged the congressional hearing's focus, which was the impact of a potential federal emissions trade and cap plan on American consumers. He suggested saving American families from being pushed "deeper into poverty due to higher energy-related costs" by offering an "electronic benefits transfer card and an expanded earned income tax credit" to offset increased energy prices that carbon caps would necessitate. He emphasized government subsidies for low income consumers without recognizing the economic impact of higher energy costs on middle and high income Americans.

Apparently none of the listening congressmen had any questions for Hill after his testimony. They were much more interested in Steven Hayward from the American Enterprise Institute, who pointed out that proposals to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050 would involve returning to levels of usage not seen since about 1875. He also noted that estimates about the potential cost of emissions trading range from about $600 to $1,500 per American household. Hayward warned that rebate programs to compensate consumers for their increased energy costs would lead to an "income transfer from high energy using states to low energy using states, and especially from high carbon energy states to low carbon energy states."

States that already rely on hydro and nuclear power would probably not suffer higher electricity costs under mandatory emissions trading, Hayward pointed out. Meanwhile, states that rely heavily on coal would pay much higher costs under a cap and trade regime. A simple rebate scheme would result in massive income transfers from high coal using states, like Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky, to low coal using states like California, Oregon or New Jersey. The low coal using states already tend to be higher income states, who would potentially be further subsidized by lower income states. Efforts to ameliorate these disparities will result in additional bureaucracy and may ultimately stifle the "capital formation necessary for technology upgrades," Hayward warned. "If our goal is to replace fossil fuel energy rapidly," he concluded, "emissions trading with equity protection may not deliver satisfactory results."

A representative from one of those coal reliant states was more blunt. Michael Carey of the Ohio Coal Association told the committee that coal fuels 50 percent of America's electricity, 90 percent in Ohio. By 2025, America's electricity needs will increase by 40 percent. "Some climate change legislative proposals would force us to limit the use of coal and yet, there is no source of power that can replace coal at the same cost," Carey said. "The same groups who oppose the use of coal also oppose the use of nuclear power." Natural gas is three times as expensive as coal. And renewable energy has "limited capability and high costs." He closed: "This is a human issue as well as an environmental one."

Despite ostensible concerns about the poor, Religious Left protestations about Global Warming almost always prioritize environmental concerns over human ones. Claims that human activity will warm the planet to apocalyptic levels almost always demand reductions in human consumption that would keep poor people poor and reduce living standards for the non-poor. This potential vast erasure of human wealth is itself a moral and religious issue that groups like the National Council of Churches and the United Methodist Board of Church and Society would prefer not to address.

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About the Author

Mark Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C. and author of Methodism and Politics in the Twentieth CenturyYou can follow him on Twitter @markdtooley.