The recent Massachusetts v. EPA decision concluded that the EPA has authority to regulate CO2 emissions. It is now up to the EPA to determine if there is truly a link (empirical vs. theoretical) between anthropogenic CO2 and global warming. It also must determine if the problem is serious enough to devote its resources to developing standards for CO2 emissions.
Some are urging congress to pass legislation to reduce CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050. A first step could involve corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards. How many lives are worth how many tons of CO2 reduction? The National Academy of Sciences 2001 report on CAFE standards estimates that the lethal impact of CAFE related changes in automobile designs results in the loss of 1300-2600 lives per year. Ford's share of the blame for the Explorer/Firestone debacle can largely be linked to CAFE related factors. Amendments to the Clean Air Act brought us the poisonous oxygenate-groundwater pollutant MTBE. These are just some instances of what could result from an overzealous reaction.
Legislated CO2 reductions that slow economic growth would disproportionately affect low-income people. This legislation also has the potential to create ‘rent seeking’ opportunities for big business. Enron was a top corporate supporter for the adoption of the Kyoto Treaty because of the expected profits that would result. When California was developing regulations for reformulated gasoline, Unocal influenced the legislation to mirror some of its own refining patents.
Instead mandating the pollution of our groundwater with energy additives, increasing the fatality rate in automobile accidents, or creating profit opportunities for big business, perhaps a better approach for dealing with climate change or any environmental problem is to develop resilient market based economies that are able to invest in the technology necessary to adapt to ever changing resource constraints.