NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 13, 2008

Environmental activists and some politicians are now promoting the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 60 percent or more by mid-century.  CEO William O'Keefe and President Jeff Kueter, both of the George C. Marshall Institute, investigate whether this proposition is achievable and what this would cost Americans.   


  • In 2005, the United States emitted just below 6 gigatons of carbon dioxide (a gigaton is one billion metric tons, or 509,400,000,000 cubic meters).
  • By 2030, U.S. emissions will rise to 7.9 gigatons; global CO2 emissions are projected to rise to 43 gigatons during this period, according to the U.S. Energy Administration.
  • Analyses of various cap and trade proposals put the annual economic cost somewhere between $160 billion and $250 billion in 2015 and $800 billion to over $1 trillion by mid-century.

How efficient are cap-and-trade schemes?

  • According to Yale economist William Nordhouse, they are highly inefficient because they imply carbon taxes rising to around $300 per ton in the next two decades; this would be the equivalent of adding 75 cents to the price of a gallon of gasoline.
  • The U.S. population is expected to increase from 296 million in 2005 to 325 million in 2020, and economic growth is projected to expand gross domestic product (GDP) to $16 trillion.
  • There is no way to accommodate nearly 30 million more people and add $5 billion in economic growth without CO2 emissions growing, say O'Keefe and Kueter.

The bottom line is that a growing population and growing economy are not compatible with lower emissions, given the state of today's technology and the technologies that could be in the market in the next decade, say O'Keefe and Kueter.

Source: William O'Keefe and Jeff Kueter, "The Myth of Vanishing CO2 Emissions," George C. Marshall Institute Policy Outlook, June 2008.

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