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Columbia Missourian

COLUMN: Forsee right to question cap-and-trade idea

By J Karl Miller
December 15, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST

University of Missouri System President Gary Forsee’s letter to federal lawmakers urging opposition to “cap-and-trade” legislation as a much too costly venture has earned him a world of critics, few of whom are favorable or even constructive. Those in disagreement include organized (Coal Free Mizzou) and individual students, members of the faculty, the Sierra Club and the Kansas City Star..

Forsee and his opposition have one thing in common: the right to express their opinion. However, he alone is confronted with issues not faced by his dissenters — that of leadership and responsibility. He is responsible to UM students and faculty, the community, the Governor, the legislature and to taxpayers for the operation of the university system. And, in asking the legislature to oppose cap-and-trade, he has exercised that responsibility we expect from our leaders.

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Those who oppose carbon-generated energy have something in common also — exactly zero responsibility for the consequences of their opinions and recommendations. It is relatively easy to sit on the sidelines and demonize “Big Coal,” “Big Oil” and “Wall Street” and equate profit with greed while advancing no solution other than vague references to “alternate energy sources.” Thus far, not one “green” (wind, solar or biofuel) energy source has demonstrated cost effectiveness nor efficiency, while each poses measurable environmental consequences also.

For example, meteorologist Mark Johnson and Green Econometrics have placed the cost of solar energy at 35 times the cost per kilowatt hour of that of coal while wind power’s cost estimate varies from more than 50 percent more to 7 times that of coal generated electricity (variations caused by subsidies and by intermittent nature of wind). When balanced against the fact that but 1.4 percent of global electricity demand is provided by wind and 0.8 by solar energy (more then 80 percent of Missouri's electricity is coal-fired), there obviously is no economically feasible quick fix to a carbon-free MU.

Additionally, either unwittingly or by design, carbon dioxide is overdemonized. The percentage of CO2 in our atmosphere is approximately 0.04 percent of the Earth’s atmosphere and is essential for photosynthesis in trees and other vegetation. The vast majority of the “greenhouse gases” are water vapor and clouds, which includes CO2 — it is difficult to keep a straight face while declaring a vital-to-all-that-is-green chemical compound, one that each of us emits in the process of exhaling, a dangerous pollutant.

Now, this in no way intimates that reducing the demand for and use of carbon-based energy sources is neither desirable nor necessary. No one in his or her right mind endorses pollution of air, land and sea – having served a tour of sea duty in Long Beach (Los Angeles County) in the smog-infested early 1960s, I can attest to the discomforts in breathing noxious fumes. But, lessening the demand for carbon energy will not be accomplished by well-meaning but all too often illogical, uninformed or impractical protests and movements.

The notion that we have reached a point of no return, necessitating drastic measures which, while they might cause temporary higher costs and reduced services, are justified as a means to a glorious, carbon-free end, is devoid of logic or common sense. The costs of cap-and-trade will be passed on to the consumer. Anyone who believes the added cost of doing business will be absorbed by the provider is in need of a reality check. To remain in operation, businesses must pay employees, maintain equipment and inventory, provide for research and development and show a profit.

To anyone who believes the promise that government subsidies will defray the initially higher energy costs to individuals, one must ask the obvious: How does the government fund this “temporary” relief as carbon is phased out? The answer is simple — those monies come from you and I and all taxpaying citizens. Picking the pocket of citizen “A” to pay for the needs of citizens “B” and “C” is an illusionary feat practiced only by governments and is not available to those bound by budgetary constraints.

Consequently, President Forsee has demonstrated courage and foresight in recognizing and calling attention to the realities of cap-and-trade legislation. The impetus for cap-and-trade is largely driven by the alternative fuels industry, which stands to lose money for itself and its investors unless governments raise carbon prices arbitrarily. These industries owe their very existence to vast billions in subsidies, yet they remain unable to compete economically with carbon.

Although President Forsee tracks a reasoned and responsible course, that does not negate the obligation of honest disagreement: "Freedom is hammered out on the anvil of discussion, dissent and debate" (Hubert Humphrey). However, informed dissent requires realistic and objective alternatives — these are not yet apparent.

J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.