Will Prop. 23 kill American troops?

SEPT. 22, 2010


You know a campaign is going ballistic when the terrorism threat is brought up, even in a context seemingly not connected. That has happened with Proposition 23, which would suspend AB32 until unemployment in the state — 12.4 percent in August — dropped to 5.5 percent for a year.

AB32 is the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. It would mandate that California reduce greenhouse gas emissions statewide by 25 percent by 2020. Backers’ usual argument is that it would save the environment globally while creating “green” jobs. Opponents insist that it will cut employment.

Prop. 23 is being backed largely by two Texas-based oil companies, Tesoro and Valero, which own gas stations in California.

The latest argument against Prop. 23 comes from retired Admiral Dennis McGinn, whom the Los Angeles Times described as “a former deputy chief of naval operations who was part of a group of senior military retirees who warned in an influential 2007 report that climate change was a threat multiplier, potentially provoking instability in volatile nations vulnerable to floods, drought and rising sea levels.”

The admiral charged:

This effort by Texas oil companies to repeal California’s clean energy law … will clearly threaten national security. We continue to send out a billion dollars every day to pay for our oil addiction. Some of that finds its way to the Taliban and Al Qaeda. We are killing our troops with petro-dollars.

We can expect similar charges, or worse, in the coming weeks — portraying a Mad Max future of battles over scarce oil.

“That’s nonsense,” Robert Michaels told me; he’s a professor of economics at Cal State-Fullerton, co-editor of the peer-reviewed journal Contemporary Economic Policy and an expert in energy policy. “This is fundamentally somebody who doesn’t understand international trade or even markets. The big news is that we get about 4 to 5 percent of our oil from the Middle East. It’s not going to matter what happens. If they [in the Middle East] don’t sell to us [America], they’ll sell to someone else. It’s a world market.”

Of the argument made by the admiral about terrorism, Michaels said, “They’re bring out everything they can. That also was Sen. John Kerry’s argument to promote renewables. He also trotted out some generals” to back his position.

A year ago, Kerry was joined by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., to introduce what RenewableEnergyWorld.com described this way:

U.S. Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, today introduced the Kerry-Boxer legislation to create clean energy jobs, reduce pollution, and protect American security by enhancing domestic energy production and combating global climate change.

Sen. Kerry himself said, “Our addiction to foreign oil hurts our economy, helps our enemies and risks our security.  By taking decisive action, we can and will stop climate change from becoming a ‘threat multiplier’ that makes an already dangerous world staggeringly more so.”

Even if Prop. 23 is defeated and AB32 is fully put into effect, greenhouse gases would be reduced by 25 percent. California’s economy is roughly 2 percent of the total global economy. So global greenhouse gases would drop by 0.5 percent.

Energy import reality

It’s worth bringing up two facts not commonly known about energy. The first is from whom America imports oil. Here is the U.S. Department of Energy’s list of top oil importers to the U.S., with my addition of their relation to America:

1. Canada — friendly neighbor.

2. Saudi Arabia — close ally in the Middle East. The U.S. government is working on a contract to sell them $60 billion in arms.

3. Mexico — friendly neighbor.

4. Nigeria — friendly country.

5. Venezuela — leader Hugo Chavez currently is unfriendly, but in reality a minor pest.

6. Iraq — occupied by the United States.

7. Russia — friendly, despite some problems.

8. Angola — friendly.

9. Columbia — friendly neighbor; close military ties with the U.S.

10. Algeria — friendly.

The most conspicuous country that’s not on the list is Iran, with whom relations currently are difficult.

Energy price stability

The second factor most people don’t realize is that oil prices have been remarkably stable since World War II, at an average of one ounce of gold for 15 barrels of oil. As I write on Sept. 21, 2010, gold is $1,272.40 and oil is 73.52 per barrel. So, the ratio is $1,.272.40 / 73.52. Which makes the ratio:  17.31 / 1.

That means oil currently is undervalued.  So its price might rise to restore the 15 / 1 ratio.

What causes confusion is that oil usually is quoted in dollars, even though the dollar’s has lost about 75 percent of its value in the last nine years, going from $275 an ounce to today’s $1,272.40.

What has happened is not that oil has risen, but that the dollar has declined in value due to faulty policies by the Federal Reserve Board. So, our seeming increased dependency on oil, domestic or foreign, is a mirage.

Oil and gas production is one of the oldest and most mature industries around. Minor changes such as whatever happens with AB32 are bubbles on the surface of a tar pit.

Threat multiplier?

The influential report in which Admiral McGinn took part is “National Security and the Threat to Climate Change.” It warned:

Climate change can act as a threat multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world, and it presents significant national security challenges for the United States. Accordingly, it is appropriate to start now to help mitigate the severity of some of these emergent challenges. The decision to act should be made soon in order to plan prudently for the nation’s security. The increasing risks from climate change should be addressed now because they will almost certainly get worse if we delay.

“Even if all California cars were removed from the road, it would not change global temperatures at all,” Marlo Lewis Jr. told me; a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, where he writes on global warming, energy policy, and other public policy issue, he also has served as staff director of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on National Economic Growth, Natural Resources, and Regulatory Affairs.

He added, “Climate change as a national security threat is greatly exaggerated. I know of no one in the literature who says it will cause wars. At best, ‘threat multiplier’ countries are at risk of civil war, or regional conflict,” not with attacking the United States.

Lewis warned that “the real weakness” in the “threat multiplier” argument is that policies such as AB32 could retard economic growth in Third World countries, thus making it more difficult to deal with global warming and other changes in climate — should they actually occur. He pointed out that climate change in North America or Europe, the two most economically developed areas of the world, would be met with technological and political responses to deal with the crisis, not with war.

Thwarting development

Lewis  pointed to a recent study of his on this issue, “The Department of Defense Should Assess the Security Risks of Climate Change Policies.” He found:

Approximately 90 percent of the growth in global emissions for the remainder of this century is projected to occur in developing countries. Absent breakthroughs that dramatically lower the cost of zero-emission energy, there is no way to achieve the 50 percent global emissions reduction target without suppressing energy consumption and economic growth in the world’s poorest countries. Needless to say, thwarting developing countries’ aspirations for a better life would not promote stability and peace.

Even if developing countries successfully resist pressure to ban coal plants, they might still be harmed by the spillover effects of industrial-country climate policies. Climate policies that chill growth in industrial countries would reduce imports from, and investment in, developing countries.

Another paper on this subject is by Cato Institute scholar Indur Goklani, “Trapped Between the Falling Sky and the Rising Seas.” Lewis summarized its contents as showing that…

[E]ven the most pessimistic assessment of climate change impacts (the UK Stern Review) assumes that developing countries will be much wealthier in 2100 than we are today even after accounting for economic losses due to climate change. They will also have access to superior technologies not available to rich countries today. Consequently, their capacity to adapt to climate change will be significantly greater than ours is today.

A national AB32?

What if the dream of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Admiral McGinn and other opponents of Prop. 23 came true, and AB32 not only survived, but led the way to the adoption of similar legislation at the national level? Similar legislation already has been introduced, the Waxman-Markey Climate Bill, by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. and Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass. It is named, tellingly, the American Clean Energy and Security Act.

Lewis pointed to a study by climatologist Chip Knappenberger, “Climate Impacts of Waxman-Markey (the IPCC-based arithmetic of no gain).” The study found that, if the bill reached its goal of cutting U.S. emissions by 85 percent by 2050, global temperatures (assuming there is global warming) would drop by nine-hundredths of one degree Fahrenheit.

Knappenberger wrote:

We have calculated only the climate impact of the United States acting alone. There is no successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol to bind other countries to greenhouse gas emissions reductions. But, truth be told, the only countries of any real concern are China and India. The total increase in China’s emissions since the year 2000 is 50 percent greater than the total increase from rest of the world combined and is growing by leaps and bounds. And consider that India carbon dioxide emissions haven’t started to dramatically increase yet. But it is poised to do so, and an Indian official recently stated that “It is morally wrong for us to agree to reduce [carbon dioxide emissions] when 40 percent of Indians do not have access to electricity.”

Wrapping up all these studies, Lewis told me:

To put this another way, even if climate chnage were a security threat, the California program would provide no protection unless China, India, and the rest of the developing world adopt it too. Adm. McGinn’s unstated assumption is that if California leads, the rest of the world will follow. But leading by example was supposedly what the Kyoto Protocol would do. Yet at last year’s Copenhagen conference, developing countries as a bloc continued to reject any agreement that would subject them to emission limitations.

The last refuge

Michaels brought up the phrase of English writer Samuel Johnson, “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” Dr. Johnson was the ultimate intellectual British patriot. But he meant that, when scoundrels can’t argue an issue on the facts, they turn to patriotism.

Michaels said, “This is as good an example of that as any.”

John Seiler, an editorial writer with The Orange County Register for 20 years, is a reporter and analyst for CalWatchDog.com. Although not rising to the rank of admiral, he served in the U.S. Army from 1978-82 as a Russian linguist and intelligence analyst in the U.S. Army. His email: [email protected].

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