Crosstalk on Climate Change

COMMENTARY Environment

Crosstalk on Climate Change

Apr 9th, 2017 5 min read
COMMENTARY BY
Katie Tubb

Policy Analyst

Katie Tubb is a policy analyst for energy and environmental issues in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies.
Embarrassing confusion reigned during the 10-minute conversation, spurring an interesting exchange between the right and left over the past few days. iStock

Key Takeaways

The very nature of global warming is still contested among accomplished scientists.

When broadcasters bring that debate into the nation’s homes, it’s important to get the issues straight and the facts right.

It’s worth going back to sort through at least some of the health issues brought up during Wallace and Pruitt’s conversation.

Earlier this week, Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace hosted EPA head Scott Pruitt to discuss the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan and President Trump’s executive order commanding a review of it. Embarrassing confusion reigned during the 10-minute conversation, spurring an interesting exchange between the right and left over the past few days.

It’s worth going back to sort through at least some of the health issues brought up during Wallace and Pruitt’s conversation.

Wallace began the conversation by touting the health benefits that Obama’s EPA projected would flow from the Clean Power Plan: 3,600 premature deaths averted, 90,000 fewer asthma attacks, and 300,000 fewer missed work and school days in 2030. “Without the Clean Power Plan,” Wallace asked, “how are you going to prevent those terrible things?” He followed up with: “You think that rewriting, in effect, doing away with the Clean Power Plan is going to improve air quality?”

Further pressing Pruitt, he hauled out an American Lung Association claim to charge that “there are 166 million [Americans] living in unclear air and you are going to remove some of the pollution restrictions, which will make the air even worse.”

Left unsaid was that the Clean Power Plan has one goal: to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. And carbon dioxide emissions have zero impact on asthma, premature death, or missed work and school obligations.

To the EPA’s credit, the fact sheet Fox pulled from clearly states that the health benefits come from a side effect of reducing carbon dioxide emissions, namely, reducing ground-level ozone, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide levels. But unlike carbon dioxide, all of these are legally regulated by the EPA as criterion pollutants under the Clean Air Act. Since measurements started in 1980, ozone concentrations have fallen 32 percent, nitrogen dioxide by 60 percent, and sulfur dioxide by 84 percent. In other words, we don’t need the Clean Power Plan to address these pollutants.

The reason that Obama’s EPA touted these side benefits of the Clean Power Plan is that the plan has so few benefits at all. And both Wallace and Pruitt seemed to have forgotten the damage the Clean Power Plan could cause.

Using the same model as the U.S. Energy Information Administration, a Heritage Foundation analysis estimates that, by 2035, the costs of the Obama administration’s climate agenda will be:

  • an average employment shortfall of nearly 400,000 jobs—200,000 of them in manufacturing;
  • an aggregate loss of more than $2.5 trillion (inflation-adjusted) in Gross Domestic Product (GDP); and
  • a total income loss of more than $20,000 per family of four (inflation-adjusted).  

It is no surprise that economic competitors like China would like to see the U.S. remain in the Paris Protocol, with the Clean Power Plan as a major component of America’s commitment made under the Obama administration.

But Wallace went on to press that “carbon pollution from the power sector would be reduced by 30 percent” compared with 2005 levels. The statement misleads by suggesting that carbon dioxide is “pollution” in the sense that most Americans understand—i.e., as billowing black smoke or hazy smog. But that kind of pollution is due to particulate matter. Carbon dioxide is colorless, odorless gas.

Wallace also seemed to assume that cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent would accomplish something meaningful on the global-warming front. It would not.

The same climate-sensitivity modeling used by the EPA shows that, if the entire industrialized world totally eliminated all CO2 emissions, only 0.278 degrees Celsius of warming would be averted by the end of the century. That’s not just some fringe skeptic’s claim. Former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, former head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies James Hansen, and former Secretary of State John Kerry have all said as much.

The conversation then turned to a confused understanding of the Paris Protocol climate agreement and America’s commitment vis-à-vis China’s. Wallace grilled Pruitt: “Are you comfortable seeing the roles reversed this week [at President Trump’s meeting with Chinese President Xi], where it will now be the Chinese president pushing President Trump to cut down on pollution?”

To draw a moral equivalency between the U.S. and China on this issue is absurd. China has serious air-quality issues (not from CO2), and Beijing has repeatedly falsified its coal-consumption and air-monitoring data, even as it participated in the Paris Protocol. The Economist reported particulate-matter levels in China around the New Year that were over 42 times higher than the average in U.S. cities. There is no environmental comparison between the U.S. and China. And as Pruitt said, staying in the Paris Protocol is a bad deal for Americans on multiple levels.

As a hearing in the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee last week again demonstrated, the very nature of global warming is still contested among accomplished scientists. When broadcasters bring that debate into the nation’s homes, it’s important to get the issues straight and the facts right. The debate over the Clean Power Plan and global warming are contentious enough as it is.

This piece originally appeared in The American Conservative