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The Trouble with False Gods

Politics is the art of making the possible difficult, and the impos- sible law. And in the case of California's decree that automakers must reduce CO2 emissions 10% by 2009, it also has the perverse effect of forestalling any innovation before that time. The only known way to reduce CO2 emissions is to decrease fuel consumption.

Politics is the art of making the possible difficult, and the impos- sible law. And in the case of California's decree that automakers must reduce CO2 emissions 10% by 2009, it also has the perverse effect of forestalling any innovation before that time. The only known way to reduce CO2 emissions is to decrease fuel consumption. Since there is a one-to-one relationship between the two, a 10% reduction in CO2 emissions requires a 10% improvement in fuel efficiency. So any fuel economy improvements an automaker makes before the law goes into effect will work against him as he will have to show a 10% improvement over his 2008 fleet.

But there's more. Congress may have given California the right to modify the EPA's pollution limits in order to address the state's unique pollution problem–which also opened the door for other states to adopt California's standards–but not to color outside of the lines. Carbon dioxide isn't covered under the Clean Air Act, and therefore California can't set CO2 standards on its own. Which may explain why the California Air Resources Board (CARB) never wanted this piece of legislation in the first place. This beauty was driven by the legislature, signed into law by Governor Gray Davis, and is so vague as to be unenforceable, much less easy to interpret. All are hallmarks of politicians running for cover. With the governor and many legislators up for re-election, rolling blackouts fresh in voters' minds, and an almost unquestioning belief on the part of voters that "something" must be done about "pollution"–especially since President Bush refused to sign the Kyoto Treaty or raise CAFE standards–it didn't take a genius to see this coming. And then there are the automakers falling over each other to be the greenest, and CEOs who have convinced themselves that it's either impossible to fight this trend, or that what their detractors say about them are true. Of course, given the industry's track record for crying wolf, anyone telling the truth or taking a leadership position on this subject would have to withstand massive attacks from both environmentalists and the media. And no one is about to put themselves in that position.

Even pollster Dick Morris–the fellow who took the electorate's temperature to see whether it was safe for Bill Clinton to lie about his dalliance with Monica Lewinsky–frames the climate debate in political terms. To him, the fact that people 40 years old and under are convinced there is a climate emergency is more important than the science which is–at best–inconclusive. He urges President Bush to "do something" about the problem, while bemoaning the "fact" that rain is falling "in the wrong places" and leading to drought and famine. The wrong places? The mind boggles to think what this political savant would have said about the decline in farming in Greenland over the past 1,000 years. [Note: It was warm enough in Greenland 1,000 years ago to farm successfully.]

Despite our scientific achievements, Western society has allowed itself to be held hostage by doomsayers and politicians eager to gain advantage. We live in a country where citizens live longer, healthier lives than ever before, pollution levels continue to decline despite greater economic activity, and yet we have convinced ourselves the end is near. It probably is, but only because we have chosen to chase false gods who will save us from an impending disaster that will never come. 

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