Policies and Politics in the Climate Change Dispute

By Dave Emanuel 

The remnants of Hurricane Zeta arrived in Georgia Thursday. The Category 2 hurricane, the fifth named storm to slam into Louisiana this year, had lost much of its punch by the time it reached Georgia, but still left almost a million Georgia homes without power as high winds and heavy rain downed trees and blocked roads.

It was the 27th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season; there were 28 in 2005. Predictably, “climate change” reared its head in reports. In an article highlighting the lifesaving accuracy that technology has brought to storm tracking and forecasting nowadays, a National Geographic writer this week segued: “If another storm does materialize, we’ll officially break the record for number of named storms in a single season, passing the storm-stuffed year that was 2005. And if climate change continues unabated, scientists predict that more intense hurricane seasons like this one are on the horizon.”

Indeed, climate change always “continues unabated.” It is as real today as it was hundreds and thousands of years ago. According to LongRangeWeather.com, global temperatures have made 78 major changes in the past 4,500 years. That pattern will certainly continue. The Chinese city of Shimao, once a bustling fortress city with thousands of residents, is deserted today, an apparent victim of climate change. High atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) caused by human activities are not likely the cause of its demise more than 3,500 years ago.

Climate change was an issue in both presidential debates. The relevant question, however, should not be whether climate change will continue, but to what degree human activity contributes to climate change and how best to minimize its impact. Thus far, political agreements between nations to limit carbon emissions – and the resulting government regulations – have proven largely ineffective.

Equally ineffective and quite possibly counterproductive are political schemes such as the “Green New Deal,” essentially a socialist manifesto masquerading as a climate change initiative. Much of the 14-page resolution dictates massive government (taxpayer) spending on socialist programs that have little to do with the environment. Included are: “providing resources, training, and high-quality education, including higher education, to all people of the United States;” “guaranteeing a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security to all people of the United States;” and “providing all people of the United States with high-quality health care; affordable, safe, and adequate housing; economic security; and  clean water, clean air, healthy and affordable food, and access to nature.”

It comes as no surprise that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have increased at a relatively consistent rate, even during periods when CO2 emissions have declined. In fact, a graph produced by climate.gov shows CO2 levels steadily increasing during and immediately after periods of notable drops in CO2 emissions.

Two things are abundantly clear: Human activities aren’t the sole driver of climate change, and significant reductions of greenhouse gas emissions will not result from government regulations and climate agreements that are thinly veiled tax schemes. Old technology creates greenhouse gas emissions; new and improved technology is required to reduce them so people can improve (or maintain) their lifestyles while reducing emissions.

To date, many “green technologies” lauded by politicians simply move emissions to another time and place. Electric vehicles (EV) are one example. Rather than coming out of a tailpipe, EV emissions hit the atmosphere during the manufacture of batteries and the generation of the electricity needed to charge them. According to a peer-reviewed study published by the Journal of Industrial Ecology, when a new EV appears in the showroom, it has already caused 30,000 pounds of CO2 emission. The equivalent amount for manufacturing a conventional car is 14,000 pounds.

In the years ahead, technology will advance and greenhouse gas emissions will decline. That may or may not have a positive effect on climate change. As Zeta and this year’s storms demonstrate, it all depends on whether the forces of nature cooperate.


Dave Emanuel is mayor pro tem of Snellville and a regular contributor to the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. Established in 1991, the Foundation is a trusted, independent resource for voters and elected officials. The Foundation provides actionable solutions to real-life problems by bringing people together. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before the U.S. Congress or the Georgia Legislature.

© Georgia Public Policy Foundation (October 30, 2020). Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and his affiliations are cited.