Back to Basics: What the Greens Get Wrong, and How to Set Them Straight

Guest essay by Calvin Beisner

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency justifies its new climate regulations on the claim that the “social cost of carbon” is $40 per ton—i.e., that every ton of carbon dioxide does about $40 worth of harm to the world through the next 286 years.

That’s right, 286 years—to A.D. 2300.

Imagine trying to forecast the impact of any of your actions that far in advance.

Wondering how to get started at it? Try figuring out what your ancestors in 1728 might have imagined your life to be like today. They couldn’t have foreseen the discovery of electricity, or the Theory of Relativity, or nuclear energy, or computers, or the use of petroleum to power vehicles.

Think you’re any better equipped to imagine the world 286 years from now? When technological advances occur orders of magnitude faster than they did 50 years ago, at which time they occurred orders of magnitude faster than 50 years before that, at which time …. You get the point.

Nonetheless, EPA thinks it can predict that far into the future, despite the fact that the “science” on which its predictions are based is highly contested by some of the world’s top scientists.

But let’s assume EPA’s claims of catastrophic, anthropogenic warming are true. Even so, their forecasts of the effects of CO2 emissions are junk—plain and simple.

As David W. Kreutzer and Kevin Dayaratna demonstrated, if you plug into EPA’s economic models for forecasting harm done by CO2 just two factors—a more realistic discount rate (how much more you value $100 today than in the future) and a more realistic estimate of climate sensitivity (how much warming comes from added CO2), EPA’s estimates of the “social cost of carbon” fall by over 80 percent and can even yield the conclusion that added CO2 does more good than harm.

And that’s without even considering the well-known benefit of added CO2 to plant growth. On average, plant growth efficiency rises by 35 percent for every doubling of atmospheric CO2 concentration. From 1961–2011, increased atmospheric CO2 added $3.2 trillion in food value, and it can be projected to add $9.8 trillion more from now to 2050.

EPA’s arrogant assumption that it can predict the future three centuries from now, coupled with the assumption that free people do more harm than good to the environment and their neighbors unless saintly bureaucrats micromanage their lives, leads to its formulating, and rationalizing, burdensome regulations.

Those assumptions are common throughout the Green movement. Dr. Steven Hayward, a Cornwall Alliance Senior Fellow and for 14 years the author of the annual Index of Leading Environmental Indicators, refutes them in his clear, concise, well-reasoned book Mere Environmentalism: A Biblical Perspective on Humans and the Natural World.

And, having refuted those assumptions, he spells out a profoundly Biblical alternative understanding of humanity and the environment.

E. Calvin Beisner, Ph.D. is Founder and National Spokesman for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation. The original of this article was published May 2, 2014.

The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation seeks to magnify the glory of God in creation, the wisdom of His truth in environmental stewardship, the kindness of His mercy in lifting the needy out of poverty, and the wonders of His grace in the gospel of Jesus Christ. A coalition of theologians, pastors, ministry leaders, scientists, economists, policy experts, and committed laymen, the Cornwall Alliance is the world’s leading evangelical voice promoting environmental stewardship and economic development built on Biblical principles.

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