Why a climate national emergency declaration is ill-advised
At the heart of the climate emergency discussion is the National Emergencies Act of 1976. It’s a statute that delegates broad authorities to the president to declare a national emergency.
The NEA reads: “With respect to acts of Congress authorizing the exercise, during the period of a national emergency, of any special or extraordinary power, the President is authorized to declare such national emergency.”
Presidents have invoked the national emergency authority on many occasions from COVID-19 to the border wall to international crisis events. The critical question is whether there is a climate change emergency. Simply saying it is so does not make it so.
The definition of “emergency” is a serious, unexpected, often dangerous situation that requires immediate action.
is serious, but it is not unexpected. The measure of its danger is a point of contentious debate. Moreover, climate change does not require immediate U.S. government action. Nothing the United States does at home with regards to climate change will affect the global climate in a material way. The atmosphere carries greenhouse gases around the globe. If the U.S. shutters all of its coal-fired plants, but the major countries of Asia continue to build new coal facilities, then the net effect of U.S. action would be de minimis.
The only clear effect would be a weaker U.S. economy. Coal is a 24/7 fuel. Wind and solar are not. In almost all cases, green energy requires backup carbon energy. That backup power must be included in the fundamental cost calculus. If the U.S. economy were green, the U.S. would be a high-cost producer of goods and services. Jobs would migrate to Asia, not to Tennessee, Florida, and Texas. Just look at Germany’s
failed attempt to go green.
That country’s heavy industry may be forced to close this winter. Hundreds of thousands of Germans would be unemployed and without heat in their homes. And this is aside from the security implications posed by Germany’s energy dependence on Russia.
It is thus clear that declaring a climate change emergency is a “signaling” device only. Democrats want President Joe Biden
that climate is important. But an emergency declaration is not necessary for signaling effects. The president can use his bully pulpit to persuade the people that action is necessary.
Just because Congress fails to act does not mean that extra executive actions are legitimate. Saying climate change is an emergency is a bit like the Chicken Little fable. The public will soon lose interest. Moreover, emergency action without real effect undermines trust in the government. Expectations are raised. Expectations are not realized. The public becomes further alienated.
James Rogan is a former foreign service officer who later worked in finance and law for 30 years. He writes
a daily note
on finance and the economy, politics, sociology, and criminal justice.