Global Warming

GLOBAL WARMING….California is on the verge of passing a law that would mandate modest but meaningful reductions in greenhouse gases:

Leaders of the state legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced a deal yesterday under which California will mandate a reduction in the state’s emissions of gases contributing to global warming to 1990 levels by 2020….California, the world’s sixth-largest economy, accounts for only about 2% of the world’s annual global-warming emissions. But California leaders made clear their intent is to spur other states, and ultimately the federal government, to follow the state’s lead. That has happened with a string of past environmental regulations, notably restrictions on automotive pollution.

….The Bush administration ? which has rejected the international Kyoto Protocol emissions-reduction treaty ? reacted tepidly to word of the California push. “The states are free to make their own decisions about their policies,” said Kristen Hellmer, a spokeswoman for the White House Council on Environmental Quality. But she reiterated the administration’s philosophical opposition to global-warming caps, saying a cap imposed in one state or country simply causes industry to move to another location. “They’re going to still produce greenhouse gas,” she said.

As usual, Bush has his head in the sand over this. As he knows very well, we could prevent industries from moving to other states by adopting national standards, something he’s dead set against.

Still, this is a good first move, and I’ll bet all comers that not only does it not have a negative impact on California’s economy, it will have a noticeably positive impact. It will spur R&D in new technologies, it will motivate businesses to become more efficient, and it will make California a better place to live. And as for businesses moving out, I’ll bet against that too. Moving heavy industrial plants to new states is a lot less appealing than it sounds, and if it does start to happen I’ll bet other states will follow California’s lead. After all, what state wants to be the dumping ground for all the poor corporate citizens who are moving out of California because they want to relocate somewhere that doesn’t mind them belching tons of pollutants into the air?

But liberals need to get on board with a few things too. California’s legislation allows the rulemaking authorities to implement a cap-and-trade system, and this is something we should embrace. It’s a system that works well for things like greenhouse gases that disperse widely (i.e., local hotspots aren’t an issue), and it allows the business community to adapt to new rules in the least painful and most efficient way possible. And that’s a good thing: “more efficient” means we get the biggest bang for our limited bucks; it means less resistance from the business community; and it makes it easier to create a consensus for more stringent rules in the future if we need to. There’s no reason to get upset about individual businesses buying their way out of the new regulations as long as we achieve our overall goals. We should take their money and run.

But the main reason this is good news is California’s well known role as a bellwether state. If California implements this new law efficently and fairly, other states will follow. And if other states follow, maybe other countries will too. Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.