Niello’s April Foolery

Assemblyman Roger Niello

Appropriately for April Fool’s,  Republican California Assemblyman Roger Niello’s editorial appears in the Sacramento Bee protesting California’s public policy response to climate change (AB32). As evidence that AB32 is misguided, he cites the discredited Varshney study and the similiarly biased California Manufacturers and Technology Association (CMTA) oil-industry-funded study of AB32. (See this for a discussion of the studies.)  How good are these studies? The Legislative Analyst’s Office calls the Varshney study “unreliable” and “essentially useless.”

An April Fool’s editorial was not a stretch for Niello. He previously wrote one of his district’s publications (the Orangevale View) to tell us that we should be grateful to pay double for prescription medications because those profits fund world-class research and development. The truth: Big PhRMA spends 55% of its gross profits on marketing, and only 15% on R&D — and most of that to extend the patent life of drugs they already produce (think “time-release Viagra”). (See here for the footnotes.)

Setting aside Niello’s bias, does the opposition to AB32 have a leg to stand on? Several common memes appear in this discussion:

1. Climate change is a hoax.

Assuming 99% of climate scientists are wrong, the remedy for climate change is the same as for the completely uncontroversial fact of peak oil. U.S. domestic oil production peaked in the early 1970′s and has declined ever since. In the early1970′s the U.S. imported 30% of domestic consumption at less than $2 per barrel. Currently we import 70% at $40 – $140 per barrel, and no amount of drilling in Alaska or offshore will ever return us to that peak. Notice a trend?

Not even the American Petroleum Institute (the oil lobby) disputes the peak in U.S. production has long since passed never to return. The Federal Energy Dept. says that drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge would have a nickel-a-gallon impact in a decade.

The remedy is exactly the same for peak oil as for climate change: conserve more, consume less.

2. It’ll cost too much to remedy .

Seldom heard: How much will it cost not to remedy? What benefits accrue from conservation, or keeping our dollars rather than sending them to the Saudis?

Certainly Niello omits mention of the enormous amount of subsidies we give petroleum now. The World Resources Institute estimated our petroleum subsidy at $300 billion annually, and that was in 1989.

3. We should just ignore climate change because a job now is worth any number of lost jobs in the future.

Really? And if we cut down all the forests so the timber industry terminates in a few decades, is that “wise use” too? There’s a meaning to the word “unsustainable.”

4. We’ll have to give up all modern conveniences and start living in yurts.

As fun as yurts can be, this is not widely perceived as a benefit of a more sustainable lifestyle. The truth is that the Europeans and the Japanese have roughly half our energy consumption per dollar of GDP, and live first-world lifestyles.

But let’s say, despite his obvious bias, that Niello has a point, and proponents of AB32 “lowball” its costs.  Unforeseen costs are probably inevitable if we revamp public policy to accommodate a more sustainable, lower-energy-consumption future. What is the alternative? Continued resource wars so we can buy Mr. Niello’s automobiles (his family sells cars)? The desertification of U.S. croplands? Continuing to give billions to oil producers who fund terrorists?

When are Niello and his fellow “conservatives” going to find something other than private profit that is worth cooperating about? And when are we going to start calling them “consume-atives”?

Adam Eran

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