The “Social Cost of Carbon” Scam

The “social cost of carbon”(SCC) is a computer-generated artifice that puts a dollar figure on the alleged environmental and economic damage caused by carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels. This number is supposed to allow bureaucrats to offset the alleged damage through regulation and taxes, i.e., it will increase the cost of electricity. The computer models fail to take into account the benefits of carbon dioxide, such as making our crops more robust and more water efficient. Also, there is absolutely no physical evidence that our carbon dioxide emissions have any significant role in controlling global climate.

To read the grisly details of this scam, I recommend three articles:

Marlo Lewis, Hearing Shines Light on Social Cost of Carbon Sophistry

Ronald Bailey, The Social Cost of Carbon: Garbage In, Garbage Out

Paul C. “Chip” Knappenberger, Obama’s ‘Social Cost of Carbon’ Is at Odds with Science

To read about the benefits of carbon dioxide, see:

Craig Idso: The Positive Externalities of Carbon Dioxide: Estimating the Monetary Benefits of Rising Atmospheric CO2 Concentrations on Global Food Production

Lewis succinctly reports the basics of SCC:

The social cost of carbon (SCC) is the present discounted value of cumulative damages allegedly inflicted on society by an incremental metric ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions over a period of decades to centuries.

Discernible in neither meteorological nor economic data, carbon’s social cost exists in the virtual world of “integrated assessment models” (IAMs) — computer programs that combine speculative climatology with speculative economics. By fiddling with non-validated climate parameters, made-up damage functions, and below-market discount rates, SCC analysts can get almost any result they desire.

What they typically desire is to make fossil fuels look unaffordable no matter how cheap, and renewables look like a bargain at any price. However curious as an academic exercise, when used to make or influence public policy, SCC analysis is computer-aided sophistry.”

Lewis also notes: “Agencies have an incentive to periodically increase SCC estimates to make their regulations look more beneficial.”

The computer models fail to fully consider the positive side of rising carbon dioxide and a warming climate. Idso notes that the results of a wide-ranging study found that the aerial fertilization effect of carbon dioxide on crop production was substantial. “The results indicate that the annual total monetary value of this benefit grew from $18.5 billion in 1961 to over $140 billion by 2011, amounting to a total sum of $3.2 trillion over the 50-year period 1961-2011. Projecting the monetary value of this positive externality forward in time reveals it will likely bestow an additional $9.8 trillion on crop production between now and 2050.”

The Idso study also found that “With respect to human health, several studies have shown that the net effect of an increase in temperature is a reduction in sickness and death rate. A warmer climate, therefore, is less expensive in terms of health care costs than a colder one.”

The House Committee on Natural Resources recently held a hearing on the process and development of the Obama Administration’s Social Cost of Carbon. Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) commented:

“The Obama Administration has given itself – and future administrations – a mammoth blank check to stop any project based on a radical fantasy. The Social Cost of Carbon is exactly that – a social restructuring of the way Americans live their lives. This unprecedented authority, disguised as an innocuous guideline for regulatory analysis, is a dangerous ideological weapon for the Administration. The numbers can be so easily manipulated that it simply allows any Administration to pick winners and losers, but the American people and the American way of life will be the ultimate losers.”

In testimony before Congress, Dr. Judith Curry (Georgia Tech School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences) said that Obama’s proposed reduction of U.S. emissions of 28% “will prevent 0.03 C in warming by 2100.”

Billions of dollars of economic disruption for barely discernable climate result.

Dr. Curry goes on to say (source):

“…these estimates assume that climate model projections are correct; if the climate models are over sensitive to CO2, then amount of warming prevented will be even smaller.

“The economic argument is rather dicey; economic impact models are far more uncertain even than climate models. The social cost of carbon estimates made by the White House require assumptions out to the year 2300 for drastic CO2 reductions to be cost effective.

“The public health arguments are even weaker. CO2 has absolutely nothing to do with asthma. Extreme weather events are not increasing with increased CO2; extreme weather events are dominated by natural climate variability. Particularly in the U.S., extreme weather was substantially worse in the 1930’s and 1950’s.”

SCC is another example of what H L Mencken warned us about: “The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule.” And “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed — and hence clamorous to be led to safety — by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”

See also:

Renewable energy causes electricity cost to skyrocket

EPA’s Clean Power Plan would disproportionally hurt the poor

Evidence that CO2 emissions do not intensify the greenhouse effect