I was surprised by the strident tone of the June 8 editorial which discussed the president’s recently announced goal to cut carbon pollution from power plants by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.
Described as being based on an “onerous policy aimed to please one special interest,” the editorial suggested that this 25-year goal would “devastate our economy” and unless we’re ready to “take society back to the Stone Age,” we must accept the fact that something has to be burned to create power for electricity and vehicles.
Given this language, one would think that it is a radical proposal with impossible goals. But the fact of the matter is that this is a modest proposal that calls for cuts of an average of 1.2 percent per year of fossil carbon emissions from power plants. It is one that will give states flexibility, likely using free market tools, to design their own plans.
Over the past 15 years, an industry shift toward natural gas and away from coal has already helped make carbon emissions from power plants 23 percent lower than they otherwise would have been, and with no discernible negative effect on the economy. While we don’t know the details of the proposed regulation, it is likely that there will be some job losses in the fossil fuel industry. But these losses will ultimately be offset by free market growth incentives for businesses and innovators in designing and building better and cleaner ways to generate electricity.
Growth of the natural gas industry will be encouraged, a useful bridge creating more jobs and allowing us to capitalize on our abundant resources. Although electricity bills may rise slightly in the short term, improved energy efficiency tactics could lead to lower costs overall.
In any event, none of this will “devastate our economy” and nobody is suggesting actions that will “take society back to the Stone Age.” Although the United States follows only China as the second worst carbon polluter in the world, this goal, even if achieved, will not stop climate change. But most importantly, it has the power to send a strong message to the world that we are taking action. Before we can have the moral standing to goad and encourage other nations to act responsibly, we must act responsibly ourselves. It’s past time for us to show that leadership.
We have reached the point where our climate is no longer entirely the work of nature, but is instead affected by our habits, our economies and our ways of life. Our children, grandchildren and the unnamed future will live in a world we have created for them. Will they be thankful to us?