British lessons for Wisconsin

British lessons for Wisconsin

Yeatman Op-Ed in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
May 20, 2008

Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, who says that global warming
"demands aggressive action," last week signed an agreement with the United
Kingdom "to share experiences and strategies" in the fight against rising
temperatures. Given the diffuse language of the agreement, it would be easy to
dismiss Doyle's climate diplomacy as a stunt, but there is in fact a great deal
that Wisconsin can learn from Britain.

For
example, the British government has performed extensive economic analysis on a
renewable energy policy that is remarkably similar to Doyle's plan to generate
25 percent of Wisconsin's electricity from clean energy sources, such as wind
and solar, by 2025. In early May, the United
Kingdom's Department for Business, Enterprise &
Regulatory Reform reported that Britain's renewable energy target -
15 percent by 2020 - will cost the average household about $400 a year in higher
utility bills. To listen to politicians wax lyrical about "green jobs," one
might think that reducing America's carbon footprint would be
painless. The British study serves as an important reminder that there's no such
thing as a free lunch.

If
they value their jobs, politicians in Wisconsin
would do well to analyze London's May 1 mayoral election. The incumbent,
Ken Livingstone of the liberal Labour Party, tried to make the election a
referendum on the need to "do something" about climate change. He put a $40
"green" congestion charge at the heart of his campaign, and he even told
reporters that "the outcome of this election will determine whether
ground-breaking policies to build on London's commitment to the Kyoto agreement
on climate change will proceed or not." When it comes to political orientation,
the capital of Great Britain
is similar to the capital of Wisconsin, but on
election day, London's 5.5 million voters rejected the
progressive candidate and his climate agenda. The new, conservative mayor
quickly announced that the congestion tax would be
abandoned.

Wisconsin's sizable paper, machinery and transportation equipment industries can
learn from their British counterparts how to avoid environmental regulations.
Energy-intensive industries in Britain and across Europe have lobbied hard against the European Union's
proposed "cap and trade" climate strategy, claiming that it would force them to
move operations abroad by increasing energy costs. The advocacy appears to have
paid off: In February, the European Commission announced it likely will exempt
the metal and paper sectors from Europe's
climate plan because "it is not in the interest of the European Union that in
the future production moves to countries with less strict emissions
limits."

The
British experience with climate policy suggests that fighting climate change is
popular but that paying for it isn't. American politicians have gotten around
this contradiction by promising the moon. Doyle, for example, tells voters to
join him "to fight climate change and secure a shared, prosperous
future."

The
sooner that politicians like Doyle start leveling with voters about the costs
and benefits of fighting climate change, the better. Until then, the people of
Wisconsin will
have to make due with the British example.