One of the most important votes in this most interesting of elections doesn’t offer a choice between two candidates for office. Instead, it’s a policy referendum that gives voters the chance to decide between two competing visions of government. The vote on California’s Proposition 23 will decide whether the state’s government can impose a draconian tax on all economic activity in response to activists’ dreams, or, instead, recognize that public policy must first acknowledge reality.
If that sounds like a microcosm of the issues that are driving voters to the polls–Obamacare, the bailouts, cap and trade, etc.–it’s because that’s precisely what it is. Prop 23 would delay imposition of draconian, job-killing state regulations passed in 2006. California AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act, is about to impose a whole slew of regulations on Californians, including a cap and trade system, in order to force a 25 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the state by the year 2020.
Of course all human activity–including respiration–tends to produce greenhouse gas emissions, so AB 32 is correctly seen by many as a recipe for a huge economic contraction.
AB 32 is scheduled to go into effect in the coming year. Prop 23 would suspend implementation of AB 32 “Until Unemployment Drops to 5.5 Percent or Less for Full Year,” as the ballot’s official title states it. It’s a simple proposition: a law passed when unemployment in the Golden State was 5.5 percent doesn’t make sense when unemployment is 12.5 percent, as it is today–if it ever did make sense. Under the proposition, AB 32 simply wouldn’t go into effect until the state could afford it.
Supporters of the bill claim that it will create green jobs, but this is actually only an oblique way of acknowledging that it will contract the state’s economy. After all, if the green projects that the AB 32 supporters are expecting were in areas that are wise and effective uses of human and economic capital, they’d already be happening, because people would be able to make a profit off of them. Thus any jobs that are “created” by AB 32 can only come at the expense of jobs that have much greater economic value.
Certainly greater efficiencies in economic production are possible, with reductions of CO2 emissions being one of these, and the United States’ ongoing transition to a postindustrial economy is a very good thing in this regard. Our production of CO2 is stable, whereas it’s still on the rise in the European Union, other developed nations, and developing countries such as China and India (and rapidly rising in the latter two nations). National CO2 reductions in the United States would have negligible or zero effect on overall greenhouse gases, and reductions in one state, even one as big as California, would have correspondingly less effect. Carbon dioxide constitutes only 4 percent of the greenhouse gas envelope, and mankind’s contribution to greenhouse CO2 is a meager 3 percent of the total. Hence the entire contribution of human activity to the greenhouse gas envelope is a mere .12 percent, obviously not nearly enough to create a catastrophe even if we wanted to.
Whereas the alleged danger from human CO2 production is an absurd phantom, the effects of brutal regulatory regimes such as the one to be instituted by AB 32 are well-known and awful. AB 32 would suppress economic growth in California and stall the state’s transition to a cleaner economy and purer environment. A report in March of this year by the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office concluded that AB 32 “will result in the near term in California job losses.”
As for the longer term, the report concluded the effects are unknown, which seems an overly charitable assessment, if not entirely wanton. The state’s Air Resources Board acknowledged last year that the law would cut into businesses’ profits. Those profits, of course, are what people invest in businesses that create more jobs. Reduce profits and you reduce the production of new jobs. That’s got to be the long-term effect of AB 32.
That’s what proponents of Prop 23 are trying to prevent, at least until the state’s economy is out of its current disastrous funk.
Their argument is based on two simple factual premises: one, that manmade CO2 emissions have not been shown to be a cause of imminent, catastrophic global warming (or global climate change of any kind), and two, that the California economy is currently in a catastrophic state.
Given California’s grotesque unemployment rate and overall economic stagnation, AB 32 is an unaffordable luxury at present, and any discussion of whether it makes sense to implement it somewhere down the road certainly can wait. I think that AB 32 is an entirely misguided, unnecessary effort to change something humans have little effect on, and that it will destroy economic activity, the very means by which we keep ourselves alive and make our lives easier, longer, and pleasanter.
That, not climate change, is what the global warming alarmists behind AB 32 will really end up stopping if the bill goes into effect.
AB 32 is a classic example of progressives’ insistence on micromanaging things in the name of preventing a never-ending litany of imaginary horrors. As such, it will be an interesting test case: if even the cutting-edge voters of California are beginning to reject utopian schemes from the progressive playbook, a national political transformation may really be in full swing.