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Commentary: Like politics, all climate is local

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 16, 2009 - When Barack Obama took the oath of office, he inherited a house on fire. Two interminable foreign wars notwithstanding, his most pressing challenge was how cope with the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that the president and his Democratic colleagues on Capitol Hill are attempting to douse the flames with gasoline. Pending Cap & Trade legislation provides a case in point.

Cap & Trade would require domestic industries to purchase carbon emission credits from the government. These credits would be capped at progressively lower levels with a goal of reducing carbon emissions 80 percent by the year 2050.

In the meantime, a given company that has exhausted its annual emission credits is free to "trade" for unused credits.

Question: if Company A has already reached its cap, what does it have to trade for Company B's unused credits?

Answer: money.

A capped-out industry would have to either cease production for the balance of the year or purchase credits from the open market. If it chooses the latter option, the price of the additional credits will be passed along to the consumer, thus inflating the prices of the products it produces.

This legislation would impact every domestic enterprise, but the hardest hit figures to be energy producers. It will immediately cost more to heat and cool your home or drive your car. This inflation is anticipated and is intended as an incentive to get consumers to buy more energy-efficient appliances and automobiles.

From a macro-economic perspective, the hazards of Cap & Trade are twofold: By forcing consumers to pay more for necessities, it will further restrict cash available for discretionary spending. As two-thirds of the American economy consists of consumer spending, this will prolong a recession for which there's already no end in sight.

Worse, developing nations -- like China and India -- will be unaffected by Cap & Trade. These countries have been stealing American jobs by the thousands with the lure of cheap labor. They can now add inexpensive energy to their menu of seductive charms.

The one-two punch of reduced consumer spending and escalating domestic job losses will serve to transform our current economic miseries from a transitory crisis into a way of life.

The House has already passed Cap & Trade and sent it on to the Senate, where it is under consideration. Mr. Obama is an enthusiastic proponent and has vowed to sign the finished bill into law, should it reach his desk.

Readers will be excused if they're puzzled as to why their elected representatives seem intent on lowering their already shaky standard of living. That explanation can be summed up in two words: polar bears.

Although these fearsome predators enjoy human beings as a staple of their diet, they look cute in Coca-Cola ads and have thus become the poster children for the hazards of global warming.

Assessment of the bears' plight depends on the political bias of the assessor. Liberals contend that the beasts are endangered because of warming precipitated by enhanced CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere. Conservatives contend that the bears are flourishing.

One study looked at 15 distinct populations in the Hudson Bay area. It found 2 to be thriving, 5 stable, 2 in decline and 6 for which there were insufficient data to accurately determine their condition. That's about as inconclusive a result as one could ask for.

There is general agreement that the individual bears tend to weigh less than they did in the past. Predictably, liberals attribute this diminution to destruction of the animals' natural habitat; conservatives claim it's the result of a growing population sharing a static food supply. For all I know, they may have slimmed down by switching to Diet Coke.

But the climatic and economic impact of global warming and its proposed remedies is no laughing matter. Ice core studies indicate that in the year 1000, atmospheric CO2 concentrations were 275ppm. By 2000, that value had risen to 375ppm -- a 36.3 percent increase.

Before you put your head in the oven, consider that the unit of measurement here is ppm, which stands for parts per million. Expressed as a percentage of the total atmosphere, there is now 100 more parts of CO2 for every million parts of atmosphere -- a change of .01 percent (one-hundredth of 1 percent) over 1,000 years.

To better gauge the impact of global warming on actual taxpayers, I consulted a National Weather Service table that ranked the average annual temperature in St. Louis from 1870 (the first year for which official records were kept) through 2005.

The five warmest years in descending order were 1921, 1991, 1990, 1998 and 1938. Temperatures ranged from 60.1F to 58.7F. All of the hottest years occurred in the 20th century, with three of the top five in the previous decade.

The coldest year was 1978, followed in ascending order by 1872, 1873, 1961 and 1917, with temperatures ranging from 53.2F to 54F.

The five median years (#'s 66 through 70) fell between 65 years that were warmer and 65 colder. These were 1915, 1880, 2000, 1971 and 1891. The temperature variation here was a mere 56.3F to 56.2F.

These data clearly indicate that the decade of the 1990s was hot. But if CO2 concentrations were the primary cause of warming, one would expect subsequent years to be even hotter as these as yet uncapped emissions continue to accumulate. This has not occurred.

In fact, every year since 1998 has been significantly cooler. The average annual temperature for 2008 (not included in the NWS chart) was 56.3F, placing it squarely within the most moderate of years.

The climatic impact of CO2 emission on St. Louis weather appears to be uncertain. The economic impact of its proposed remedy will be anything but.

M.W. Guzy is a retired St. Louis cop who currently works for the city Sheriff's Department. His column appears weekly in the Beacon.