Global Warming Debate Reveals Common Ground Energy Policy

A mock trial last week involving some of the most prominent scientists in the global warming debate highlighted agreement on energy policy, regardless of one’s position on the science of global warming. Scientists on both sides of the debate acknowledged common ground solutions that can safeguard affordable energy, bolster free markets, and placate the concerns of people worried about global warming.

The mock trial occurred at FreedomFest, an annual gathering of conservatives and libertarians in Las Vegas. Although Patrick Michaels (climate scientist and director of the Center for the Study of Science at the Cato Institute) argued global warming is occurring at a very modest pace and William Happer (professor of physics emeritus at Princeton University) argued more atmospheric carbon dioxide benefits human health and welfare, the much-anticipated clash of science giants transformed into an agreement on common ground energy solutions. This occurred when MIT atmospheric scientist Kerry Emmanuel highlighted why the science is actually irrelevant to common ground (and common sense) energy policy.

Emmanuel, who frequently advocates for substantial cuts in carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming, emphasized during his testimony that he doesn’t want carbon dioxide reductions to harm the economy. Asked during cross-examination how this could be accomplished, he bolstered conservative policy priorities by calling for more natural gas, nuclear, and hydro power in our nation’s energy mix and eliminating wind and solar subsidies.

glacier Argentina pixabay 1Emmanuel noted other prominent scientists and global warming advocates also find fault in a global warming strategy that relies solely on wind and solar power. He specifically referenced that James Hansen, Ken Caldeira, and Tom Wigley, who joined him at United Nations climate talks in Paris last year, also make the case that nuclear power must be an available energy option.

Regardless of one’s views on global warming science, said Emmanuel, government obstacles to natural gas, hydro, and nuclear power can and should be removed. This squares global warming advocates’ desire for more low-carbon energy sources with conservatives’ desire to promote affordable and abundant energy.

Emmanuel noted free markets must account for environmental harms imposed on society, expressing that, “we have to take all businesses, and as a free-market principle make them pay for the cost of doing business that they are passing on to other businesses and other groups of people.” This assertion parallels an energy policy study I completed, which advocated environmental impact fees: compensation for harm done to the environment. Full-spectrum environmental impact fees would significantly raise the price of coal and wind power, which harm the environment more than other power sources. Cost-competitive natural gas, nuclear, and hydro power would fill the gap left by appropriately priced coal.

Overall, the event emphasized why climate science disputes are becoming largely irrelevant to the pursuit of common ground, bipartisan energy policy. Policymakers should eliminate preferential subsidies and punitive obstacles to energy sources, instead allowing competition in a free and fair market. Conservatives will be encouraged to see free markets protected and affordable energy prevail, while global warming advocates will be pleased by large reductions in carbon dioxide emissions.

This article first appeared at Forbes.com.

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