We can slow global warming and still grow the economy

By TED LEACH, a former state rep and REP member in New Hampshire

(written in collaboration with Chuck Henderson of Chuck Roast Mountainwear, Conway, NH)

AN HISTORICAL DOCUMENT: published in the Manchester Union Leader on May 4, 2008

The New Hampshire Union Leader’s Earth Day editorial follows a playbook we’ve been seeing since science first confirmed the dangers of climate change.

First the public was told that the Earth wasn’t warming. When the evidence became overwhelming, skeptics and deniers admitted it was getting hotter, but denied that human activity was to blame.

Now that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has concluded that humans — not sunspots, not 90,000 year orbital cycles — are the cause of recent climate change, skeptics have beaten a new retreat. The newest excuse for inaction: climate change can’t be solved. The critics went straight from “it’s not happening” to “we can’t stop it; and even if we could, it will cost too much.”

The pessimists are wrong. The truth is we can win this fight — and we can win it while growing the economy, reducing consumer energy costs, bringing more high-paying jobs to New Hampshire’s North Country and protecting our four-season recreation industry.

McKinsey & Company, one of the world’s top business consulting firms, recently found more than 250 existing cost-effective technologies for reducing emissions across the country today, enough to put the U.S. well along the path to the deep long-term emissions reductions scientists say we need to achieve.

In just a few weeks, the Senate will vote on the Warner-Lieberman Climate Security Act (S. 2191), climate change legislation that would spur the use and further development of those technologies needed to reduce global warming pollution through a “cap and trade” system.

Cap and trade puts a legal limit on pollution and gives businesses the flexibility and a direct financial incentive to find faster, cheaper and more innovative ways to meet the cap. It is a proven winner, successfully used to reduce acid rain under the Clean Air Act in 1990, and supported by former Gov. John Sununu, the first President Bush, and New Hampshire’s entire congressional delegation.

Not only was the program a success, but it met its pollution reduction goals more quickly than expected and for a quarter of the original estimated cost. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, companies actually over-complied by cutting emissions levels an additional 22 percent of their original acid rain requirements. Most importantly, cap and trade worked to protect lakes and rivers across New Hampshire from acid rain.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates we can implement the Warner-Lieberman cap and trade program without hurting our economy. The agency analyzed the legislation and found that economic output would increase by 80 percent over the next two decades — just one percentage point less than if we took no action at all. It’s a small investment that will pay huge dividends — in greater efficiency, cleaner air and a safer world.

New Hampshire stands to reap additional benefits from action on climate change. According to the Office of Energy and Planning, oil, gas, and propane provide over half of the energy used to run our homes and businesses. New Hampshire’s most typical home was built in 1974.

If Warner-Lieberman is fashioned advantageously — with pollution allowances sold, rather than given to polluters for free, and if proceeds are invested in energy efficiency and basic research into new energy technology — we will gradually replace our dependency on expensive imported oil. We’ll have more efficient homes and businesses, cost-competitive solar, cellulosic ethanol, and wind instead of job-draining oil imports.

The alternative is higher costs down the road as we try to manage the consequences of unchecked climate change: spiraling energy costs, agricultural losses from increased drought conditions, damaged public infrastructure from more violent storms, rising insurance rates, and new national security threats.

If we continue to delay action on climate change, by the end of this century, New Hampshire summers will swelter under three weeks of 100-degree-plus days, according to a 2007 report by the Union of Concerned Scientists. Our region would no longer be a viable habitat for our treasured spruce and fir forests, and even our iconic maple, beech and birch forests would be threatened. Our ski resorts would be forced to increase snowmaking by nearly 70 percent by 2050, and by the end of the century one of our favorite forms of winter fun would become a memory.

Cap and trade is the cure for climate change pessimists: a time-tested approach that harnesses American enterprise and innovation to deliver environmental results.

Global warming is a man-made problem, and it can be solved with human ingenuity. We need to clean up the problem we have created, and we need to start now.