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  • Writer's pictureTom Mast

Greenhouse Gas Conundrum: Do we Choose Rancor or Victory?

Introduction


Greenhouse gases (GHGs) accumulate in the upper levels of the earth’s atmosphere. They reduce the amount of heat the earth can radiate back into space, thereby causing the global temperature to increase. This effect is gradual and minor, but over years and decades it can cause very significant changes in climate and living conditions. The GHGs are shown in the EPA chart below; their effects come primarily from the industrial revolution of the past couple of hundreds of years and the huge increases mankind has made in the uses of energy.





What needs to be done? The nations and peoples of the world must make great reductions in the greenhouse gases going into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is a natural product of the combustion of hydrocarbon fuels including coal, petroleum-based fuels, and natural gas; methane is the basic ingredient of natural gas but even unburned is a long-lasting GHG. The GHGs have very long lives in the atmosphere, so the amounts there are cumulative; they don’t fade away as fast as we are creating them. We need to make changes throughout our lifestyles to almost eliminate creating GHGs. The graphs below show that we are not winning this battle.




USA - EPA

For CO2 at the rate of reduction since 2005, it will take over 120 years from 2019 to get to zero.


Why aren’t we doing well?

  • This project is huge. It absolutely dwarfs the building of the Panama Canal.

  • It is global. The USA must show solid evidence that it is making adequate progress before it can expect to influence other nations.

  • It will cause disruption and change in people’s lives, but if executed well, much less disruption than not controlling GHG emissions. Being honest and transparent about this is important.

  • There is no blueprint for what is needed over the years and decades to come. This is despite all the high-level climate conferences that have been held. For the most part, promises made have not been honored.

  • Elected officials and others have not educated citizens on the basics of GHG warming and its mitigation, allowing “merchants of doubt” to disrupt focus on solving the problem.

  • Decisions are imposed from above. Every one of them hits a different small part of the problem and a portion of the public in a different way. Rancor and resistance follow naturally.

  • It hasn’t helped to have had obstructions and interruptions including the Pandemic, the Ukraine war, excessive spending and growing debt, etc. A good blueprint must be able to survive such events.


Status Quo in the U.S.


  • The federal government drives most US GHG-mitigation efforts.

  • It does this by statute, by regulations issued from agencies empowered by congressional statutes, and by executive orders.

  • Some of these actions are in the form of requiring or prohibiting certain actions.

  • Many are regulated by unelected agency personnel who have wide latitude.

  • Others rely on financial incentives that are expensive and long-lasting. For example, the taxpayers give someone money to buy an electric car or install solar panels. Some incentives are continued past the time needed to jump-start a new technology.

  • Climate Change legislation is exacerbating an acceleration of spending and debt. The level of the USA debt is very troubling even without adding trillions more mitigating GHGs. See the article and chart below to understand that our country can spend itself into a disaster that could be worse than global warming.


“In an attempt to save their economy, Soviet officials did whatever it took to pick up the slack so that their people wouldn't starve, and it worked (temporarily). After a huge rise in their economy, the Soviet Union saw one of the harshest economic crashes in history: the Soviet people lost their homes, starved to death, and were desperate for any change that would relieve them from starvation and poverty. The USSR not only lost economic dominance, but it also lost the population's faith in the government which led to their imminent downfall.” WorldAtlas.com



Treasury.gov


  • The results of our present approach to mitigating the emission of greenhouse gas emissions are not only that the task is costing too much while not getting the job done, but that it is not impacting all businesses and consumers to influence them to reduce emissions in effective ways. They respond primarily to incentives that put money in their pockets and ignore other needed actions to reduce GHG emissions.

  • It is important to establish priorities, efficiencies, interrelationships, and other financial and project management tools to get the best results in the shortest time and at the lowest practicable costs. This is not happening. For example, while the pressure seems to be on to electrify everything possible (transportation, home and business heating, etc.), too little attention is being paid to creating the infrastructure needed to distribute this additional electrical energy. Despite the tremendous attention and expense directed to solar and wind, together they only provide about 12% of electrical energy generation in the US, not of all energy, just the electrical portion. Also, their intermittency requires energy storage, a problem yet largely unsolved. Nuclear energy is basically emissions free but is not being supported well. The recent dust-up over kitchen electric stoves is at the other extreme, irritating the populace mightily by threatening to force unpopular actions down their throats while ignoring much larger problems. Extremists gain control of the bully pulpit in America including Congress and use “Climate Change” to promote ever-increasing spending without regard to the consequences - which may be just as bad as global warming and come sooner.



What to do?


  • Institute Carbon pricing. Emissions Pricing – often called Carbon Pricing – with the monies returned to the consumers has worked well in various spots around the world and in some of our states; read up on Sweden’s success. The government sets fees on emissions-producing substances near their source (well head, mine, etc.) in proportion to the GHG damages these substances will cause when they are used by the ultimate consumer (gasoline, electricity produced by burning hydrocarbon fuels, etc.). The company that pays the fee increases its prices to pass along its extra costs. Almost everything people buy will cost more, and the consumer pays. To prevent the government from keeping all the fees collected and to reduce the pain on consumers, the government will return the monies to the populace.

  • With this all-inclusive program in effect, the federal government no longer will need to have various expensive incentives and laws in place, eliminating the multi-hundreds-of-billion-dollars expenditures and having positive effects on federal deficits and debt.

  • The consumers will likely be out some money, but they will be making their own decisions as to whether to trade for an electric car or install a new heating system and whether to buy frozen or fresh spinach. They will make all these decisions stimulated by pricing in the marketplace.

  • Changing from centralized decisions to delegating them to the people is the way to move from Rancor to Victory!



How to do it


  • Combatting GHG emissions is not only a gigantic task, but it is extremely complex. Additional challenges come from its being a decades-long project and from the fact that virtually every step to mitigate emissions can affect consumers’ daily lifestyles and comforts as well at their pocketbooks. For those of you wanting to take a deeper dive into these topics, read these excellent sources:

    • The Climate Casino; Risk, Uncertainty, and Economics for a Warming World, by William Nordhaus, Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences – 2018.

    • How the World Really Works; The Science Behind How We Got Here and Where We’re Going, by Vaclav Smil, distinguished professor emeritus and author of over 40 books on energy, environmental and population change, food production and nutrition, technical innovation, risk assessment, and public policy.

    • The Economist, climate issue with cover title “Say Goodbye to 1.5 C; Why Climate Policy is Off Target”, November 5-11, 2022.

  • Congress and the Executive Branch have been tackling various individual aspects of the emissions problem, but as discussed above, the results have been expensive and not very effective. This isn’t too surprising since the issues are very complex and because both branches have many, many other important topics on their agendas.

  • Also, the US Supreme Court in June 2022 issued an opinion in the West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency that curtailed the EPA’s power under the “major questions doctrine” from making major regulations that weren’t specifically authorized by Congress. This ruling may be extended to other agencies in the future. The point is that if Congress wants specific actions to be required, it must be specific in writing its statutes. It is easy to arrive at the conclusion that Congress does not have the expertise, the time, or enough paper for such specific statutes covering every decision regarding GHG mitigations to be made in Washington.

  • Step One of How to Do It is creating a well-crafted Blueprint. This is a task requiring the best expertise available.

  • Step Two for Congress of How to Do to enact the Emissions/Carbon Pricing Blueprint, thereby delegating the detailed GHG mitigation decisions to the people.



Congressional Commission


Please pay close attention. Those of you readers following global warming topics have been exposed to much of what was written above. Establishing a Congressional Commission to craft a professional Blueprint for Congress to use in enacting Emissions/Carbon Pricing is a crucial step and may be new to you.


What are the reasons for creating this Congressional Commission?

  • The expertise required to create a multi-decade Emissions/Carbon Pricing Blueprint is both very deep and broad. It requires people who have focused their professional lives on the relevant fields including climate and other sciences, economics, and project planning.

  • These people must be able and willing to concentrate on creating the Blueprint to get it completed in a reasonable time. Members and staff of Congress cannot devote all their efforts to a single topic.


What is a Congressional Commission?

We are fortunate to have an excellent reference for answering these questions. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) is a nonpartisan shared staff to congressional committees and Members of Congress. It has written an informative paper updated January 22, 2021 and titled Congressional Commissions: Overview and Considerations for Congress, by Jacob R. Straus and others. Important excerpts from it follow:


  • Congressional advisory commissions are formal groups established to provide independent advice; to make recommendations for changes in public policy; to study or investigate a particular problem, issue, or event; or to commemorate an individual, group, or event. While no legal definition exists for what constitutes a congressional commission, in this report a congressional commission is defined as a multimember independent entity that (1) is established by Congress, (2) exists temporarily, (3) serves in an advisory capacity, (4) is appointed in part or whole by Members of Congress, and (5) reports to Congress.


  • Throughout American history, Congress has found commissions to be useful entities in the legislative process. By establishing a commission, Congress can potentially provide a highly visible forum for important issues and assemble greater expertise than may be readily available within the legislature. Complex policy issues can be examined over a longer-time period and in greater depth than may be practicable for legislators. Finally, the nonpartisan or bipartisan character of most congressional commissions may make their findings and recommendations more politically acceptable, both in Congress and among the public.


  • The temporary status of congressional commissions and short time-period they are often given to complete their work product make it important that legislators craft statutes creating congressional commissions with care. A wide variety of options are available, and legislators can tailor the composition, organization, and working arrangements of a commission, based on the particular goals of Congress. As a result, individual congressional commissions often have an organizational structure and powers quite different from one another.


  • Congressional commissions can generally be placed into one of two categories: policy commissions and commemorative commissions. Most congressional commissions are policy commissions, temporary bodies that study particular policy problems and report their findings to Congress or review a specific event.


Throughout American history, Congress has found commissions to be useful tools in the legislative process. Commissions may be established to, among other things, cope with increases in the scope and complexity of legislation, forge consensus, draft bills, promote inter-party communication, address issues that do not fall neatly within the jurisdictional boundaries of congressional committees, and bring together recommendations.22 These goals can be grouped into five categories: expertise, political complexity, consensus building, solving collective action problems, and visibility.


Obtaining Expertise

Congress may choose to establish a commission when legislators and their staffs do not currently have sufficient knowledge or expertise in a complex policy area, or when an issue area is sufficiently complex that engaging non-congressional experts could aid in policy development. By assembling experts with backgrounds in particular policy areas to focus on a specific mission, legislators might efficiently obtain insight into complex public policy problems. Further, a commission can devote itself to a particular issue full time, and can focus on an individual problem without distraction. Overcoming Political Complexity Complex policy issues may also create institutional problems because they do not fall neatly within the jurisdiction of any particular committee in Congress. By virtue of their ad hoc status, commissions may circumvent such issues. Similarly, a commission may allow particular legislation or policy solutions to bypass the traditional development process in Congress, potentially removing some of the impediments inherent in a decentralized legislature.


Overcoming Political Complexity

Complex policy issues may also create institutional problems because they do not fall neatly within the jurisdiction of any particular committee in Congress. By virtue of their ad hoc status, commissions may circumvent such issues. Similarly, a commission may allow particular legislation or policy solutions to bypass the traditional development process in Congress, potentially removing some of the impediments inherent in a decentralized legislature.


Consensus Building

Legislators seeking policy changes or requesting a congressional investigation may be confronted by an array of political interests. The normal legislative or oversight process may sometimes suffer politically from charges of partisanship. By contrast, the nonpartisan or bipartisan character of most congressional commissions may make their findings and recommendations less susceptible to such charges and result in further credibility both in Congress and among the public. Commissions may also give competing viewpoints space to negotiate compromises, bypassing the short-term tactical political maneuvers that may accompany public negotiations in a congressional markup or oversight session. Similarly, because commission members are often not elected, they may be better suited to suggest unpopular, but arguably necessary, policy solutions.


Solving Collective Action Problems

A commission may allow legislators to solve collective action problems, situations in which all legislators individually seek to protect the interests of their own district, despite widespread agreement that the collective result of such interests is something none of them prefers. Legislators can use a commission to jointly “tie their hands” in such circumstances, allowing general consensus about a particular policy solution to avoid being impeded by individual concerns about the effect or implementation of the solution. For example, in 1988 Congress established the Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) as a politically and geographically neutral body to make independent decisions about closures of military bases. The list of bases slated for closure by the commission was required to be either accepted or rejected as a whole by Congress, bypassing internal congressional politics over which individual bases would be closed, and protecting individual Members from political charges that they didn’t “save” their district’s base.


Raising Visibility

By establishing a commission, Congress can often provide a highly visible forum for important issues that might otherwise receive scant attention from the public. Commissions often are composed of notable public figures, allowing personal prestige to be transferred to policy solutions. Meetings and press releases from a commission may receive significantly more attention in the media than corresponding information coming directly from members of congressional committees. Upon completion of a commission’s work product, public attention may be temporarily focused on a topic that otherwise would receive scant attention, thus increasing the probability of congressional action within the policy area.



Almost all the above information was copied directly from the CSA’s report – with specific permission given at the end of the report.


When one reads the goals above for a Congressional Commission, it would be easy for one to find himself believing that they were written just for this one issue, mitigating greenhouse gases in America.


A conundrum is: something hard to understand or explain, per Merriam-Webster.


It seems very evident that a Congressional Commission is perfectly suited to the task of moving America on the Conundrum of Greenhouse Gas emissions reduction from Rancor to Victory!


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