As the science underpinning anthropogenic (man-made) global warming steadily erodes in light of new data and in the midst of scandal, the public policy rationale has also shifted. The proponents of Kyoto-type legislative proposals now claim that it is vital to invest in renewable energy sources and green technology to keep pace with international competitors.
Fortunately, for U.S. taxpayers, the political class is not going unchecked and unchallenged in its drive for greater government control, regardless of how their schemes are packaged.
Over 70 climate scientists, economists and policy experts are convening in Chicago this week for the fourth Annual Heartland Institute International Conference on Climate Change just as "cap and trade" has been reintroduced in the U.S. Senate. Chris Horner, a senior fellow with the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) is among the many participants.
"The issue is never the issue," he has observed. "This is not about the environment. It is about wealth transfers and lifestyle restrictions."
In the aftermath of the "climategate" scandal, it is worth examining the motivations not only of public officials, but of the business interests and green groups that continue to lobby for anti-emissions regulations. A corporate spokesman who responded to criticism said that imposing a price carbon would create the right incentives for a more sensible approach to energy policy.
On this point, there is vociferous disagreement.
Corporate officers who continue to advance "cap and trade" schemes under the auspices of the United States Climate Action Partnership (USCAP) are not just wrongheaded, they are unpatriotic, the CEO of a private coal company has argued.
While China and Russia snatch up oil and gas resources that have economic and military value, U.S. policy makers are limiting access to the most abundant and reliable sources of energy at the behest of USCAP and other green groups, Robert Murray, the CEO of Murray Energy, a mining company based in Ohio, has warned.
"I don't consider them to be good Americans," he said in an interview. "They have a responsibility to the country not just their companies and they have not told the truth. The electrical utilities are all jockeying for some kind of benefit for themselves but it has nothing to do with what's good for America."
Murray is particularly critical of Exelon Corporation and General Electric.
"These CEO's have abrogated their responsibility to lead American in the right direction," he argued. "Meanwhile, Russia and China are expanding their oil contracts."
Paul Elsberg, a spokesman for Exelon disagrees.
"Exelon supports legislation that places a price on carbon, because it will result in cleaner energy, greater security and more jobs - all at the lowest cost," he wrote in an email statement. "Nothing else will ensure we do the cheapest things first, including regulation of carbon emissions by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)."
But whatever the merits may be of renewable technology over the long term, there is no denying the strategic fallout to the U.S. that is now in motion. Unlike fossil fuels, so-called clean energy sources are expensive, intermittent and unavailable on a commercial scale. Even if corporations have laudable motives here, they should consider rebalancing their approach in light of some telling statistics that the Institute for Energy Research (IER) has circulated.
While the U.S. stands still, China has spent nearly $200 billion on oil deals that include 19 countries in the just the past few years, according to the IER. There's more.
"Between 2004 and 2008 China added 346 gigawatts of generating capacity, of which 272 gigawatts were conventional thermal power (mostly coal) and 66 gigawatts were hydroelectric power. This compares to a total installed US hydroelectric capacity of 77 gigawatts," IER reports.
Russia is also moving aggressively to secure its strategic interests. With its traditional sources of natural gas steadily eroding, the Kremlin has sought to make the most of substantial gas fields in Yamal Peninsula located in northwest Siberia. Russia has also claims ownership over a portion of the Arctic continental shelf that is equal in size to France, Germany and Italy combined.
Moscow is not standing still.
In fact, Russia has joined with Iran and Qatar to form what the Heritage Foundation describes as a "gas OPEC" that meets quarterly in an effort to exercise control over almost two-thirds of the word's natural gas reserves.
The debate over energy policy and its relationship with environmental predilections must be viewed within a larger context.
Over the past few decades, green activists have worked with great effect to undermine America's geopolitical standing, economic well being and national security interests. Even after 9/11, well-funded environmental groups persisted in recruiting teams of lawyers and waves of demonstrators to block weapons testing, halt naval exercises, short-circuit missile defense and undermine border security.
Remarkably, no less than the U.S. Defense Department now sees fit to resuscitate the cause of global warming alarmism as the idea loses traction with the public. Shrinking glaciers, extreme weather swings, rising sea levels, temperature change, food security and water scarcity are all identified as key factors that could fuel instability and conflict around the world, the Pentagon claims in the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR).
But the threat comes not so much from climate change per se as it does from costly, interventionist climate change policy proposals, Marlo Lewis, a senior fellow with (CEI) points out in a recent report.
"In the Afghan and Iraq wars, U.S. strategy plays to our comparative advantage in mobile forces," he wrote. "Today's U.S. Army is the most fuel-intensive in history and the Defense Department is the nation's largest consumer of fossil fuels. Therefore it should interest DOD that cap-and-trade programs are designed to make fossil fuels more costly."
The QDR misses the mark by fixating on ill-conceived policy prescriptions unattached from the actual risk of climate change, Lewis argues. Contrary to what is now being peddled in the Pentagon, new research actually shows that "cooperation rather than conflict" characterizes the international response to shared water resources, according to the CEI report.
"Human activity has nothing to do with global warming, it is a natural phenomenon," said Murray, the mining CEO. "But efforts are still being made to destroy our global competitiveness and harm our economy. USCAP has done a tremendous disservice to America and to the American people."
James Taylor, a senior fellow with Heartland who is overseeing the conference, did say that a concerted effort was made to include researchers who favored the theory of man-made global warming. Unfortunately, he did not receive a substantial response.
USCAP members who genuinely believe their approach will best serve the long-term geopolitical interests of the U.S. should consider some form out outreach to the experts gathered in Chicago this week who relish the on-going debate over energy policy.