Gov. Jared Polis did a very good thing for the state’s business community earlier this week when he vetoed a handful of bills which unnecessarily increased state licensure requirements for certain industries. Unfortunately, that happy event came a few days after he signed into law a larger package of bills which could strain the state’s economy more than sufficiently to erase the benefit gleaned from the entrepreneurially commendable vetoes.
Democratic lawmakers promised their base that they would Do Something regarding climate change. More accurately they promised to rearrange the economy in a manner that would satisfy the demands of the left-wing environmental movement, and there is no question that they delivered — particularly so with HB 1261 which sets utopically aggressive emission targets for the state. It would be unfair, and inaccurate, to suggest that the bill sponsors and legislative supporters harbored purely political motivations for advancing 1261 and the other bills offered in their Pandora’s Box of climate legislation; but it would also be disingenuous to suggest that the bills were offered with the economic health of the state being anything more than, at best, a secondary consideration.
So it is now Colorado law to require us to reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent of 2005 levels by the year 2025 (less than six years away), by 50 percent of those levels by 2030, and by 90 percent by 2050.
That’s all well and good, but it leaves a few pertinent questions unanswered: a) are those lofty goals achievable? b) how? c) what will it cost to even make an honest attempt to do so? And d) what happens if (when) we don’t make them? (I presume the entire state will be collectively guilty of a crime at that point?)
Setting aside for a moment any consideration of the manner in which we might get there, just how significant a social and economic change do these targets reflect? Well, according to Common Sense Policy Roundtable — the local think tank that has earned considerable acclaim for its economic modelling of public policies — probably more than anyone cares to admit.
CSPR released a brief late last week which includes an emissions reduction calculator to help put this in perspective. Using the state’s data from 2014 (the last year for which the relevant numbers are thus far available), greenhouse gas emissions increased by about 7% between 2006 and 2010, and are estimated to increase another 8% by 2030, coming out to a 15% increase from the 2005 levels the state’s new targets are based on. That translates into a requirement for total state emissions to decrease by 65 percent to meet the 50 percent reduction target by 2030.
The calculator allows the user to adjust the amount of emission reductions by sector to see how much of a net reduction you get, and ergo how much reduction is required by each sector to comply with the new mandate.
What it reveals is that to even come close to compliance would require something akin to a repeal of the Industrial Revolution. For instance, even completely eliminating emissions from both electric power generation and transportation would only achieve a total emission reduction to 58 percent of 2005 levels. Similarly, reducing emissions from all sectors by half would have us come up short.
So to comply with the new law, we would have to figure out how to emit virtually nothing from electrical generation, farming, getting ourselves from A to B, manufacturing, and so on. How? Well, proponents are a little quiet on that.
Concerning electrical generation, we could achieve zero-emissions through the use of nuclear power, but we have somehow talked ourselves out of considering that as an option. That leaves us with pinning all of our hopes on phantasmagorical technologies — particularly energy storage technology — that do not exist today, and which may or may not exist 15 years from now.
Besides leaving the “how” unanswered, the climate bills fail to consider the economic costs to society of trying to reach such zealous targets. Then, of course, we are still left with the question of what those costs and disruptions to our way of life buy us — what net climate impact will result from Colorado adopting a Luddite economy?
It’s one thing to set ambitious policy goals in pursuit of a utopic objective; it is entirely another to chart a path for achieving them, and that is something that state lawmakers have fallen lamentably short of doing, consigning us to ultimate social and financial costs we can only guess at.
Kelly Sloan is a political and public affairs consultant and a recovering journalist based in Denver.