Lieberman's Legacy: Good Man, Terrible Climate Policy

Recently Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut announced he will retire after his current term is up in 2012. This is nothing but good news for climate realists and the national energy policy future.

Don’t get me wrong. Joe is a “good guy,” and certainly the mainstream media thinks so. After his announcement, there was nothing but bowing and accolades for Joe’s time in office. All of the media in his home state, and across the country, proclaimed his accomplishments. Yes, in many affairs of state, Joe has made wise decisions -- especially in matters of national security. Yet when it comes to matters of the environment, Lieberman was -- and still is -- blinded by the warmists and the environmental movement. In this realm, he has made some terrible decisions.

It is easy to see how this could happen.

The environmental movement sends messages urging us to save the planet from ecological disaster. The message is everywhere, all the “go green” images that permeate everyday living. The myth of drowning polar bears is a favorite of theirs, hand-in-hand with the message that humans are fundamentally to blame for everything that negatively impacts nature. It doesn’t matter how obscure or insignificant the impact, or that no proof exists that the damage was caused by human activity in the first place. Like so many others, Lieberman completely bought this sales pitch. In this area, he led us down the wrong path.

Lieberman, along with many other scientifically illiterate leaders, was swept up in the global warming hysteria that has inundated popular culture for more than a decade. Call it collective guilt for our amazing success, or a psychological need to appear morally superior to the masses, the message of the movement is that you must be a terrible person if you don’t want to “save the planet.” Who could be so selfish? Who could have the nerve to think independently about such a matter?

Lieberman couldn't. In keeping with the laudable intention to save nature from you and me, Senator Lieberman and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) came within shouting distance in 2003 of passing a bill that likely would have had very serious detrimental effects on the lives of all Americans. It was called the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act of 2003. It was close to passage, defeated by a vote of 55 to 43.

The bill would have required mandatory, economy-wide emissions reductions, the most significant involving the production of carbon dioxide. The implementation of the bill would have taken place on January 1, 2010. During the first six years under the bill (2010-2016), annual greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced to year 2000 levels. After that, the amount released would be reduced to year 1990 levels. At its proposed scale, this would affect 70% of all United States greenhouse gas emissions -- a huge percentage of our industrial base. How our economy was supposed to make up for this decrease in fossil fuels -- which powers 87% of our economy -- was apparently of little concern to the bill's authors. That annoying little detail, reality, was ignored.

A cap-and-trade system was a critical component of the bill's enforcement capability. The truly frightening part of the bill was how thoroughly it allowed government to command the economy, rather than allow the natural, successful, liberty-based system of supply and demand to run the show. It was another example of a mentality -- the government knows best, their chosen experts must run the economy. (I thought we learned our lesson 20 years ago, when a big wall came down in Berlin.)