Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Walters on Warming

Good analysis of this strange bill.

An excerpt.

Dan Walters: Global warming bill is political symbolism with consequences
By Dan Walters -- Bee ColumnistPublished 12:01 am PDT Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Politicians -- especially those seeking re-election -- love symbolic acts that send attractive messages without, or so they hope, any political or financial cost.

Assembly Bill 32 is, in the main, a symbolic act by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his newly found friends in the Legislature's Democratic leadership that aligns California with the cause of fighting global warming -- in effect ratifying the Kyoto greenhouse gas treaty that the Bush administration has shunned.

AB 32 is, however, a symbolic act with potentially major economic and social consequences, which puts it in a different category and explains why it has become the most contentious issue of the legislative session's final week.

The guts of the bill, rolling back California's carbon dioxide emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, implicitly would require California industry to make immense investments in equipment -- if they choose to remain in the state rather than move to Nevada or some other state without carbon emission controls. Schwarzenegger and other advocates contend that the carbon-reducing transition can be made without adversely impacting the state's economy. Business critics call it a "job killer."

Let's assume that global warming is a fact, that it represents a real threat to humankind's future and that it's essentially a human-caused phenomenon. If so, a global commitment to carbon emission reduction would be urgently required, but while many words have been spoken, the commitment so far exists mostly on paper. The huge, rapidly developing industrial economies of India and China, for example, are exempted from the Kyoto treaty's emission standards -- as if Mother Nature would somehow distinguish between Chinese carbon and California carbon.

The lack of a true global commitment is what makes AB 32 an essentially symbolic act. Even if the state's carbon emissions were reduced to 1990 levels as decreed, it would mean nothing if other major economies didn't join the effort.

Perhaps California should join the global warming crusade, or perhaps not. But even if it should, what's the big rush? We're talking, after all, about standards that wouldn't kick in until sometime in the next decade, so why is there this frantic effort with all sorts of last-minute amendments aimed at making the measure a little more palatable?