Yesterday the U.S. Senate began what it insists on calling "debate" (more like serial dopey speeches designed for home consumption) on the worst piece of legislation introduced into that body in the new century. Perhaps worse than anything in the last century as well.
There's nothing good to be said about the disingenuously named Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act of 2008. A better name would be the Let's Destroy the Economy by Turning it Over to Left-Geek Bureaucrats in 2008 Act.
The heart of Lieberman-Warner is a cap and trade system that would turn decisions on how much and what kind of energy to use in the private sector over to government. This is the approach, you'll recall, that worked so well in the Soviet Union that that dismal country's first five-year plan lasted 74 years before the whole sorry business caved-in on its own command and control butt. If adopted, this would be the most fundamental change in the nature of this country in the country's history.
Perhaps we could call this the New New Deal. The first New Deal, cooked up by a lot of smart but impractical professors and hack politicians in FDR's administration, succeeded in making the Great Depression deeper and longer than it otherwise would have been. The current plan, more ambitious than all of FDR's alphabet soup groups, could put paid to the entire economy, and thus to America as we've known it.
THE REASON A CAP and trade system is such a horrible idea, other than the fact that it would turn America's dynamic and complex economy over to the kind of folks who directed the Katrina relief effort, is that it sets very low levels of use of fossil fuels, the only relatively inexpensive, reliable, and available energy we have in large amounts. The boutique sources of energy like wind, solar, and biomass, the ones that excite environmentalists, just aren't available in more than trifling amounts. And aren't likely to be for years. Restricting the use of fossil fuels for energy would drive the price of everything -- not just gasoline or power to light homes, everything -- up dramatically.
We've already seen increases in the price of food thanks to our insane policy of trying to grow our fuel through ethanol and other bio-fuels. If we're daft enough to cap our use of fossil fuels, as environmentalists and their political enablers want us to, we'll first see increased prices, then severe shortages, and finally unavailability of everything else as well. Choking off the use of carbon-based fuels could and would make an utter dog's breakfast of the American economy, which has been the most powerful engine of wealth the world has ever seen. (To be sure, this legislation would solve our illegal immigration problem -- no one would want to come here anymore -- and, oh yeah, we could pretty much quit worrying about obesity too as the food supply dwindled.)
At least in the past when the Congress passed terrible legislation that made problems worse, there was actually an underlying problem. The Great Depression, for example, was quite real. In the current case, Congress is considering (just how seriously we've yet to learn) altering the essential nature of America, replacing the free decisions of the marketplace with Soviet-like energy commissars, in the name of saving us from something that almost certainly isn't even a problem at all. (And if it were a problem, it would be one that Man's puny efforts could do little or nothing about.)
We've allowed casuists, left politicians, gullible and sensationalist journalists, and a few dodgy, grant-hungry scientists to stampede us into hysteria about global warming, or in the new preferred phrase "climate change" (which is intellectually incoherent -- climate is always changing), on the basis of nothing more than wild speculation dreamed up by computer jockeys who couldn't tell us whether or not it will rain tomorrow if their lives depended on it. An increasing number of scientists are coming forward to pin the tail on the global warming donkeys, but no one much seems to be paying attention.
WE'VE REACHED the "Do something even if it's wrong" phase. The Senate is seriously considering (seriously as these things are measured in Washington) creating a Department of Not Using Energy and saddling a dynamic and remarkably clean economy with it. The only comfort we can take is that there is no companion bill to this Senate monstrosity in the House (though Michigan Democrat John Dingell's House Energy and Commerce Committee is thinking of cooking one up), and Dubya has promised to veto the legislation if it arrives on his desk in its current form.
But something is almost bound to get through at some point. John McCain and the two Democrat contenders all say they want cap and trade systems. The major business organizations have almost given up the fight against the global warming superstition. Bill Kovacs, VP for environment, technology, and regulatory affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told me his group is convinced that some kind of climate change legislation will be adopted. He just wants it to be the least harmful he can get.
"If you try to argue against global warming, you're just not part of the conversation," Kovacs said.
So we have yet another case where the truth doesn't matter, and no one much is pursuing it. No one on the side of the angels seems to believe victory is possible. We're following what could be described as a policy a detente with the hysterics. Maybe we should call Henry Kissinger out of retirement.
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