California's Green Economy Failure

They protest far, far, far too much. The left-wing environmentalists for decades have used apocalyptic scaremongering as a tool with which to subvert political, regulatory, and legal processes in pursuit of ever-greater confiscation of others’ property. The Alar scare. The population bomb. Power lines and childhood cancer. The supposed hazards of Frankenfood. Global famine. The Northern Spotted Owl scam. The acid rain scare. The ozone hole (actually, a one-sixteenth truth, a stout demonstration of candor by the standards of the Sierra Club). Global cooling. Global warming.

Ad infinitum. Like so many human endeavors, scaremongering seems to be afflicted with diminishing returns, a subtle implication of the enviros penchant for conjuring up a new apocalypse-of-the-century every five years or so. In the case of the global warming mother-of-all-crusades, what is fascinating is how little actually has been done, particularly in contrast to the massive efforts directed by most governments in advanced economies against real pollutants and other such problems of the commons (air, water, etc.) that are undeniable.

That highly limited actual policy response to purported global warming is not surprising. The climate models cannot predict the past or the present; why should we believe their predictions about the future? The surface temperature data are shockingly bad, and the constant revisions are always upward, suggesting the presence of something other than random error. The satellite data are limited, inconsistent with the surface data, and suggest in important respects that the models are simply wrong.

The costs of the policy responses that dominate the conference soirees, to which the anointed fly in their private jets, are massive. And the actual temperature effects of these policies a hundred years in the future would be virtually unmeasurable, even if implemented by the entire industrialized world including China and India. For reasons both obvious and subtle, neither democracies nor autocracies are inclined to accept large costs in the near term in exchange for benefits tiny, uncertain, and distant.

Except, of course, for California.

Opponents of Proposition 23 can blather all they want about “green jobs,” but the larger reality is that such employment represents less than 3 percent of state employment even under an absurdly expansive definition. More fundamentally, without a dramatic change in the state’s industrial mix -- and, therefore, a hugely expensive replacement of the fixed nonresidential capital stock (over $200 billion for a replacement of “only” 10 percent) -- there is no evidence that the central employment/energy relationship is changing. It will be interesting to see if the voters in this deep-blue state will choose to turn away from a regulatory juggernaut promising enormous costs and, literally, no benefits.