Do Rick Perry’s misinformed statements about global warming make him stupid or merely cynical?

When you say, “I think” or “I believe,” you haven’t really told a lie, since it’s what you “believe.”  So we can’t call Texas Governor Rick Perry a liar for having said over the weekend that he thinks that limiting carbon emissions would devastate the economy.  I suppose we’ll have to settle for calling him misinformed or stupid. 

Or perhaps we could connect his statements to the fact that he comes from a state dominated by oil and gas interests from whose financial troughs he has been feeding like a ravenous pig for years.  In that case, he’s a cynical politician who puts his own best interests above addressing a pressing threat to the entire world community.

Perry’s false claim that limiting carbon emissions will hurt the economy is one that many have bandied about for years, but just because you keep repeating something doesn’t make it so. 

To be sure, complying with stiffer pollution standards will cost money, but no one is going to burn that money or bury it in the ground.  It will be spent to create, buy and operate new technologies.  And that means jobs.  Other new jobs will be created for industry to manage and for government to oversee compliance.  FYI, I wrote “create” new technologies, but I want to point out that many of the technologies needed to  address the carbon-emissions challenge already exist; industry flacks tell us they’re too expensive, but isn’t that what the car companies said for years about seat belts and airbags? 

There is no doubt that the cost of many things will increase as the cost of producing electrical energy and running carbon-emitting industrial processes rises, just as the cost of phone service rose when phones were made Internet-capable and the cost of food rose when we began to institute safety and health standards more than 100 years ago.  Often, though, what happens when a new feature is added to existing goods and service is not a rise in the cost to the consumer, but a decrease in the profit made by the companies selling the goods and services.

At the end of the day, establishing new environmental regulations will lead to a transfer of wealth from the profits of oil companies, electrical utilities and heavy industry to pollution abatement companies and the people holding the many new jobs that will be created. To the degree that consumers will pay more, they will benefit from the new regulations, which will slow down global warming and enable everyone to breathe cleaner air.  Of course, cleaner air will lead to fewer lung ailments, which will hurt the medical industry.  The real threat to the economy then will be that with fewer people ill, our healthcare sector will shrink.  But is that such a bad thing? I don’t think so.

Of course, when I write, “Is that such a bad thing?” I am referring to society in general.  It will be a bad thing for Perry and the people who are backing him financially.

Before signing off, I want to consider one of the comments in Cowboy Rick’s most recent pronouncement on global warming that shows that there is some subtlety in this former C student: “Are we as a country willing to take this science as incontrovertible and put in place cap and trade legislation that will devastate this country economically?”

Cap and trade sets up a marketplace for pollution in which polluters buy “credits” from non-polluters instead of actually ending their own pollution.  For example, let’s say Company A has lowered its emissions.  Company B pays Company A for the right to consider the decrease in Company B’s pollution its own.  Multiply these transactions thousands of times and you have a new marketplace in which “credits” are bought and sold like stocks and bonds.  If it sounds confusing, complicated, inefficient and unnecessary, that’s because it is.  But it has the “advantage” of being a “market-based” solution in an area in which a market is not needed.  To my mind it would be far easier just to make the polluters spend the money to stop polluting. 

Perry’s either/or is not “either we continue to pollute or we regulate,” but “either we continue to pollute or we establish cap and trade.”  I suppose he figures that if we’re going to tackle global warming, we might as well at least uphold his cherished myth that markets always work and are always right.


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