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June 19, 2014

Science is science, but math is math

For people who use the word "science" as a bludgeon and trumpet their strict commitment to fact and reason, the Obama administration and its supporters are strangely incapable of rational analysis of new climate-change regulations.

President Barack Obama's Environmental Protection Agency recently released draft rules to create a vast new regulatory apparatus with no input from Congress — in other words, to govern in its accustomed highhanded, undemocratic manner. The goal is to reduce carbon emissions from existing power plants, in particular coal-fired plants, to 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

The rhetoric around the rules has involved self-congratulation about how they are the inexorable result of taking climate science and the reality of dangerous global warming seriously.

"Science is science," President Obama said in an open-and-shut tautology about global warming during an interview with New York Times columnist Tom Friedman.

By the same token, math is math, and the new regulations make no sense.

While the regulations are stringent enough to impose real economic costs — especially in states that produce coal or heavily use coal power, or whose economies have grown relatively robustly since 2005 — they have almost no upside in fighting global warming. That's because the U.S. is only part of the global carbon-emissions picture, and a diminishing one at that.

We account for roughly a sixth of global emissions, and our emissions have fallen the past few years more than those of any other major country. In fact, we've already achieved about half of the administration's 30 percent goal, in part through the boom in natural gas, which produces half the carbon emissions of coal.

The regulations aim to cut carbon emissions by 700 million tons by 2030. That sounds like a formidable number only if it is abstracted from the context of the rest of the world. As Robert Bryce of the Manhattan Institute notes, carbon emissions increased worldwide by about 700 million tons in 2011 alone. China increased its emissions by 3 billion tons from 2006 to ‘12.

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