Vermont Business Magazine reports that “Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions estimates in Vermont continued to rise for calendar year 2015, increasing from 9.45 million metric tons CO2 equivalent (MMTCO2e) in 2014 to 9.99 MMTCO2e in 2015. This increase puts Vermont approximately 16% above the 1990 baseline value of 8.59 MMTCO2e and adds to the difficulty of reaching the statewide goal of 50% below 1990 emissions levels by 2028.”
So, what? Even if Vermont reached the goal of 50 percent below 1990 (two arbitrary by nice-sounding round numbers), what impact would that have on global climate change? None. If we scrapped the whole plan tomorrow would the world be worse off? No.
United States District Judge William Alsup recently dismissed a case brought by two California cities, Oakland and San Francisco, against several oil companies regarding their role in climate change and the impact it has on rising sea levels. Some of the judge’s statements deserve consideration in how we look at global warming vs. fossil fuel policies. In the first of two decisions, Alsup concluded:
With respect to balancing the social utility against the gravity of the anticipated harm, it is true that carbon dioxide released from fossil fuels has caused (and will continue to cause) global warming. But against that negative, we must weigh this positive: our industrial revolution and the development of our modern world has literally been fueled by oil and coal. Without those fuels, virtually all of our monumental progress would have been impossible. All of us have benefitted. Having reaped the benefit of that historic progress, would it really be fair to now ignore our own responsibility in the use of fossil fuels and place the blame for global warming on those who supplied what we demanded? Is it really fair, in light of those benefits, to say that the sale of fossil fuels was unreasonable.
In a later ruling he points out, “Nowhere do plaintiffs assert that sea rise would not have occurred had any defendant reduced or refrained from fossil fuel production in California (or elsewhere in the United States).”
Taken together, these two statements encapsulate the fact that mankind has benefited immeasurably from fossil fuel energy, and that even if all these oil companies suddenly stopped producing and distributing fossil fuels, it would have no mitigating impact on global warming. To follow through on the plans of the environmental activists, we would be giving up benefits, inflicting punishment and achieving nothing as a result. Stupid. Gavel smash. Case dismissed.
Vermont should evaluate our greenhouse gas initiatives in the same way. What are the concrete benefits of reducing our emissions by so much over the next 10 years? What are the costs? Is the benefit worth the cost? If not, maybe we shouldn’t worry about the fact that we missed the goal. Maybe we should scrap the plan entirely.