Commentary: The Climate Action Commission Goes A-Listening (September, 2017)

By John McClaughryJohn McClaughry

On July 20 Gov. Phil Scott issued an executive order creating a 21-member Climate Action Commission. Scott named as co-chairs his Deputy Secretary of Natural Resources Peter Walke and Vermont Council on Rural Development Executive Director Paul Costello.

The governor charged the Commission to come up with at least three tangible proposals by the beginning of 2018. By next July he expects an “action plan” that reduces the state’s greenhouse gas emissions “while driving economic growth, setting Vermonters on a path to affordability, and ensuring effective energy transition options exist for all Vermonters.”

As I and others observed at the time, the governor’s ground rules severely constrict the range of proposals available to the commission.

Consider the most heavily promoted greenhouse gas emissions proposal of the past few years, the VPIRG carbon tax. This is now described by its advocates as “pricing carbon pollution”, since the idea of a $500 million tax and a promised $450 million worth of rebates to selected beneficiaries did not produce the hoped-for groundswell of support from tax-sensitive voters.

Ask yourself: Would such a tax and rebate scheme “drive economic growth”, other than for the subsidized renewable energy and insulation businesses? Some advocates make that argument, but it’s a hard sell.

Would “pricing carbon pollution”, even if the promised rebates materialized (not at all certain), make Vermont more affordable for ordinary people dependent on gasoline, diesel, propane, natural gas and heating oil?  Or would it increase their costs of food, shelter, and transportation? Another hard sell.

Would a carbon tax bring some kind of transition option, like paying thousands of people to drive electric cars or abandon natural gas and oil heat for their homes?  What about the other taxpayers and ratepayers who are forced to do the paying?    

Of course, the carbon tax is off the table, since Gov. Scott has repeatedly promised to veto any such proposal. So is industrial wind, which Scott has emphatically rejected. But there are many other less glaringly controversial proposals than “pricing carbon pollution” that would have to pass Scott’s acceptability filter.

There are energy efficiency and conservation proposals that make sense, but I can’t think of any of the numerous proposals put forth by VPIRG and Gov. Shumlin that would not make a small number of lucky people better off, at the expense of the large majority of ratepayers and taxpayers.

But, say the climate action advocates, every human being on the planet will be better off when enlightened government policies – taxes, mandates, subsidies and the like – stabilize the carbon dioxide concentration of the earth’s atmosphere at the present 4 molecules per ten thousand, instead of increasing it to six or eight per ten thousand. Or better yet, when we adopt heroic measures to reduce CO2 concentration to fewer than 3 molecules per ten thousand, the level in pre-industrial (and significantly colder) years, like 1850.

The Climate Action Commission’s initial “listening tour” session took place in St. Johnsbury on September 13. It was totally unstructured. Chairman Walke, joined by three of the other 20 members who sat mute through the first 90 minutes (at which point I left), offered no opening statement , no context, no conditions, no ground rules – only an invitation to the audience of 60 to “tell us what you want us to consider”.

The result was that fifteen or twenty attendees launched into their personal wish lists, fears, and apprehensions, notably about the rapidly approaching global climate catastrophe. “Just look at the Sunday papers. Climate change is here!” One young VPIRG staffer said that she had serious doubts about having children to grow up in Earth’s ruined climate. 

Perhaps the least favored proposal was industrial wind, popular only with a VPIRG employee from Orleans who viewed the Sheffield Heights wind towers as “a symbol of hope”.

Paul Brouha of the Sutton Planning Commission offered a droll counterproposal: creation of a Champlain Wind Park to extract power from the westerly winds off the shores of Burlington.

Significantly, none of the speakers explained how their proposals conformed to Gov. Scott’s criteria, or who was going to benefit, who should be made to sacrifice, who was going to be made to pay, and exactly what positive result would ensue, other than Vermont claiming climate action bragging rights.

John McClaughry is the founder and vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Barry Kade September 28, 2017 at 1:00 pm

John – Do you believe, first that climate change is actually happening? And if so, that is caused my human activity, namely activities – industrial and otherwise – that release carbon dioxide and other “greenhouse gases”?
If you do believe the above, are your objections based on your libertarian, free market views?
I may have a follow up depending on your response to the above.
BTW, I’m the old hippy that was sitting next to you at that forum. I asked you if you were “the infamous John McClaughry.”
Thanks in advance for taking the time to respond.
Barry Kade


John McClaughry September 28, 2017 at 2:46 pm

When you amiably asked if I was the “infamous John McClaughry”, I believe I answered “Yes – all the others are impostors.”
I have explained my views on climate science for twenty years, and it has nothing to do with my generally libertarian views on other issues. My basic statement (to the Senate in 2007) was: “Planet earth warms and cools in many cycles, influenced by variations in the earth’s orbit, the tilting and precession of the axis, solar irradiance, cosmic ray flux, solar magnetic fluctuations, oceanic decadal oscillations, cloud cover variations, and terrestrial emissions of water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, volcanic ash and other gases.
From 1850 to 1940, long before anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions became significant, the planet warmed significantly as it emerged from the Little Ice Age. Again since 1977 earth has experienced a slight global warming trend in the lower troposphere, where the greenhouse gas effect is greatest.”
“There is no scientific evidence for detectable anthropogenic global climate forcing that produces these recurring effects; and there is little or no prospect that human intervention, even at enormous economic and social cost, can detectably alter the result of these natural processes.”
John McClaughry [AB physics 1958 , MS nuclear engineering 1960]
Addendum 2015:
These two articles are reasonable and moderate critiques of the “Climate Change” belief, and explain why the authors find that belief unsupported.
Matt Ridley (UK), “The Climate Wars’ Damage to Science”, Quadrant OnLine (Australia), June 2015.
David Siegel (Switzerland), “What Should We Do About Climate Change?” RealClearPolitics 11/30/15
My latest explication was my column of June 7, 2016:
Making Sense of the Climate Change Battle
Citizens without a physical science background naturally find it hard to know what to believe about the claims put forth by those who believe in a coming human-caused climate catastrophe.
The climate alarmists – for want of a better description – define “climate change” as increasingly serious and potentially catastrophic changes in global temperatures, sea levels, sea ice, glacier melt, hurricanes, droughts, floods, and species extinction, caused by the carbon dioxide released by humans who burn fossil fuels to power their economy and lifestyles.
With increasing urgency, they declare that “climate change is real!”, “97% of scientists agree that the science is settled,” and there’s nothing left to discuss. They paint those who ask for credible scientific evidence not merely as “skeptics” – fair enough – but as contemptible, ignorant, right-wing anti-science “deniers” – as in “Holocaust deniers” – most likely on the take from the evil fossil fuel companies.
The deliberate intent of this vitriolic onslaught is not only to mock the skeptics, but to deny them any opportunity to make their case, and to destroy the reputation of anyone who isn’t willing to subscribe to the frightening pronouncements of Al Gore, Bernie Sanders, Peter Shumlin, and VPIRG.
Last year a survey by the Oxford University Press’s Climate Change and Society found that “by the end of 2010, 467 unique organizations had been identified as part of the national climate change movement. The Climate Action Network, with its 900 global member groups, formed the largest coalition”. This public relations machine is amply funded by lots of government, liberal foundation, and special interest dollars.
Which special interests? Mainly the renewable energy industry, that thrives on subsidies for themselves and expensive burdens placed on their competitors. They are supported by a sizable number of politicians who understand that when governments take control of energy, they get control of the whole energy-dependent economy, which liberals find very agreeable.
The party’s getting rough. Last September twenty government-supported academics, including Dr. Alan Betts of Pittsford, Vermont, demanded that the Obama Justice Department launch an investigation of climate skeptics and their organizations, under the Racketeer Influenced Criminal Organization (RICO) act.
Then on March 29 a group of Democratic state attorneys general, prominently including Vermont’s William Sorrell, joined Al Gore to announce a coordinated effort to explore litigation against fossil fuel companies for the questionable offense of not telling the world whatever they knew about climate thirty years ago.
There are of course many sincere individuals and organizations with a justifiable concern about the climate effects of fossil fuel combustion, who won’t stoop to vilifying skeptics and demanding their prosecution. They are however far less visible in the media than the heavily funded organizations denouncing “climate deniers”.
What particularly annoys informed skeptics is that they are dedicated defenders, not deniers, of science. They all agree that the Earth’s climate is always changing, and that the human-caused increase in carbon dioxide emissions makes some contribution to increased global temperatures. But as scientists, they ask that the proponents of catastrophic climate change produce observational evidence – not merely their own contrived (and increasingly failed) supercomputer programs – for the proposition that human-caused greenhouse gas emissions have been the dominant cause of a global temperature increase since 1950, and it will get worse over the next century unless curtailed.
The skeptics also ask that the alarmists explain why the global climate at the end of the Little Ice Age (around 1850) was better for humanity than today’s one degree C warmer climate. They refuse to accept, without evidence, the “positive feedback” conjecture that the alarmists say transforms slow, naturally variable temperature changes into a climate catastrophe. And they observe that atmospheric carbon dioxide gives us the immeasurable benefit of the growth of plants that feed animals and humans.
The skeptics are indignant that some prominent climate scientists have refused to make public their data – a serious scientific no-no. Some have been caught actually falsifying data, such as the “hockey stick graph” of the 1990s.
Big money is riding on the climate change debate. That’s why big money is being spent so lavishly to bankroll the climate change propaganda campaign, and also by the fossil fuel industry defending itself against extinction. A win for the alarmists means more reliance on high-priced, subsidized, and non-dispatchable energy sources like Big Wind and Big Solar, plus billions more in taxpayer dollars that Obama’s Paris Agreement requires the West to ship to struggling third world countries to compensate them for forswearing the cheaper energy they want for economic growth and well-being.
A rational person needs to focus on the actual science, not what the warring interests, the UN’s IPCC, and headline-seeking politicians and media claim about the science. He or she should insist that all scientists submit their work to open debate and respond to the hard questions, instead of heaping abuse on the questioners.
That’s a tall order for most readers. A fallback alternative is to discount the alarmist claims, oppose their tax, subsidy and mandate prescriptions, and hope that this highly politicized episode soon blows over before we’re taxed-poor and energy-starved.

I hope this satisfies your request!


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