Entries Tagged as 'climate change'

Americans Tuning Out Climate Change

May 22nd, 2011 at 2:19 pm 24 Comments

According to a recent Gallup poll, thumb Americans are less concerned about climate change than in the past.  Has the environmental movement dropped the ball on keeping the issue in the public eye?

The poll reports:

Americans continue to express less concern about global warming than they have in the past, generic with 51% saying they worry a great deal or fair amount about the problem — although attitudes appear to have stabilized compared with last year. That current level of worry compares with 66% just three years ago, mind and is only one percentage point higher than the low Gallup measured in 1997.

There are any number of theories that explain why Americans seem less interested in this issue now than they were in the days when Al Gore told inconvenient truths. Perhaps the protracted recession has pushed all other concerns from the minds of most Americans. Perhaps the effort by the conservative/libertarian pundit class to add doubt and scorn to the political environment surrounding this issue has had an effect.

Or, perhaps, it’s because there is no sustained media effort by the environmental movement to keep its ideas in the political forefront. Gore’s movie helped to push the conversation in the eco-conscious direction, but it obviously wasn’t enough.

We simply do not have an ideologically focused green media in the United States. The environmental movement is at risk of dying out in this country if eco-conscious people don’t borrow a few tactics from their adversaries in the conservative/libertarian pundit class.

The critics of today’s environmental movement are sustained by a conservative media apparatus specifically created to keep the right’s ideas in perpetual prominence. Conservatives had a compelling interest in building this media empire, as they believed their contenders were too often getting adverse rulings from biased referees in the arena of ideas.

It’s not enough to complain about this conservative media apparatus, to attack it for peddling misinformation about climate science, to denounce it for its smears of those concerned about this issue. Why not replicate the right’s tactics? Why not work to build up an environmental media apparatus geared to promoting green policy initiatives and obtaining specific political outcomes?

Clearly, environmentalists can no longer rely upon the mainstream media to devote sufficient time to these issues. As economist Bruce Bartlett noted in 2009:

[The mainstream press] no longer has the resources to pay reporters to look into things deeply and write about issues authoritatively. Reporters even at the best newspapers often seem like glorified bloggers who get their basic facts from the Internet instead of their own research, substitute speed for thoroughness and accuracy, and have no time to become experts on the subjects they cover because they are covering the waterfront. And since television news has always depended upon newspapers as their basic sources of material, the decline of newspaper reporting led inevitably to a decline in television reporting.

Bartlett was speaking of progressives generally, not environmentalists specifically, when he noted, “I think they need to abandon the mainstream media and create their own alternative media just as conservatives have done. That will help redress the imbalance that now exists in the media which benefits conservatives.” However, his advice is critical for environmentalists in particular.

No movement can survive for long if its core issues are not constantly reinforced in the American political conscience. Conservatives understand this: it’s why we have right-leaning think tanks, pro-Republican publications, Rush Limbaugh, Fox News. These entities may be a source of irritation for environmentalists—but why can’t they be a source of inspiration?

It’s long past time for the environmental movement to focus on its own political sustainability—to push for nationally syndicated commercial radio shows dealing with green issues, to lobby for wider distribution of documentaries on our planet’s peril, to subject the hardcore climate deniers to the same sort of public rebuke Van Jones was subjected to in 2009, to convert the environmental movement into an interest group that politicians from both parties are profoundly reluctant to antagonize.

Americans’ decreasing concern for green issues should increase the motivation of environmentalists to press harder to integrate their concerns into the national discourse. After President Lyndon Johnson destroyed Senator Barry Goldwater in the 1964 election, it seemed that Americans weren’t interested in conservatism either. The outcome of that election galvanized the American right, which spent the next four decades working to ensure that the products from their idea factories were always on the average American’s shopping list.

The green movement needs to study what worked for the conservative movement, and use those same tactics to regain the political momentum they’ve lost. Of course, environmentalists have to move much faster than conservatives did decades ago. With the physical and political climate deteriorating, environmentalists must make the ironic choice to turn up the heat.

Climate Change Policy Won’t Prevent Twister Deaths

May 13th, 2011 at 9:57 am 17 Comments

By any reasonable measure, the windstorms that ravaged the South in April present a massive tragedy: the most disaster-caused deaths in a single day since 9/11 and more deadly than all but three post-World War II natural disasters. Communities will mourn, ponder what-ifs, and rebuild. Federal, state, and local authorities as well as dozens of community organizations will do everything they can to help those now left without homes, neighbors, and loved ones. And many of those involved in the public policy debate over global climate change will use the storms to push for agendas that they support anyway.  In particular, groups that favor controls on carbon emissions will point to research showing that such emissions could produce the conditions that cause tornadoes; groups that oppose restrictions will point out that strong tornadoes have become less frequent in recent decades by some measures. And the debate will rage on. For all of the argument, there’s a good case that climate change and its politics should have nothing to do with the way America responds to tornado activity.

Here are the facts: the United States’ overall response to tornadoes through stronger building standards, better technology, and improved insurance practices has made the nation much safer. Even with the recent deaths taken into account, total death rates from tornadoes have dropped every decade since accurate statistics are available in the early 20th century and have fallen at least 80 percent in all: more than as many as a thousand died from tornadoes in a typical year in the early 20th century while few years in the 00s saw more than 100 deaths. If America wants to make sure the tragedy doesn’t repeat itself, continuing efforts to improve building, technology and insurance—not an emphasis on climate change—will save the most lives.

Building standards around the country have made most buildings in tornado-prone areas much safer over the past century. Tying roofs to house frames so they won’t blow away, required in many wind-storm prone areas, means that even people who fail to take shelter in basements will usually remain safe when storms roll through. Siding secured directly to home frames rather than simply nailed on also helps. But these efforts aren’t as widespread as they should be; most houses predate standards that require them. Buildings all across the country need reinforcement.

While strengthening building standards simply represents commonsense, developing better technology has saved even more lives. Some developments like Doppler weather radars that convey information about the velocity of funnel clouds have obvious direct applications to tornado forecasting. But even bigger declines in tornado deaths have happened as a result of broadly useful technologies like radio broadcasts that allow for advance warning and automatic gas line shutoffs that prevent storm-caused fires.   But there is more to do. For example, although smartphone technology makes it possible to send most people severe weather alerts for their exact locations (current tornado warnings cover huge areas so many ignore them), there’s no system that actually does so.

Lastly, insurance, although less directly, has also saved many lives. Over the past several decades, most states have moved towards “open competition” systems for setting insurance rates that let market forces rather than government agencies determine what people pay for insurance. These prices convey information about safety because people who live in dangerous places pay more. But this trend, like the others, could still go farther. Although the sheer number of factors involved with tornado damage makes it nearly impossible to draw firm conclusions, it’s interesting to note that the states with the most damage—North Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippi—have not historically allowed for much choice for flexibility in their insurance markets.

In short, we have good evidence for what works. The climate change debate matters quite a lot in many areas of public policy. But the evidence about what has worked to deal with tornadoes indicates that public policy should focus on things other than climate change if we want to make America safer against severe windstorms.

Don’t Force Trial Courts To Do EPA’s Job

April 22nd, 2011 at 8:51 am 7 Comments

Things aren’t looking good for states and environmental organizations hoping to persuade the Supreme Court to uphold a lower court ruling that green-lighted a public nuisance claim against five utilities over their greenhouse gas emissions.

At oral arguments April 15, justices weighed a nuisance claim filed in 2004 by eight states – now six, since Wisconsin and New Jersey bailed – New York City, and three environmental organizations against five utilities with big coal appetites – American Electric Power, Duke Energy, the Southern Company, Xcel Energy, and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

The liberal justices said EPA should deal with greenhouse gas emissions. In rather purple language, Elena Kagan declared that the emissions reduction remedy that the nuisance claim seeks is “the paradigmatic work of agencies.”

The conservative justices said opening courthouse doors to climate change nuisance claims would result in unmanageable cases. Samuel Alito wondered how a judge could balance the tradeoffs involved with limiting emissions and what standards judges would apply in the attempt. Antonin Scalia mused about suing every farmer who owns a flatulent cow.

Are greenhouse gas emissions a public nuisance? When they get to a point at which they’re altering the global climate system, you might say so. Carbon dioxide traps heat, a fact established in the 19th century. When you emit a heat trapping gas into the atmosphere, it will trap heat. When such gases are emitted faster than natural processes can scrub them out, the gases accumulate, like water rising in a bathtub with a faucet on full and a slow drain, resulting in an energy imbalance that can perturb the global climate system.

All manner of risky consequences follow – heat stress on crops, dwindling snow and ice fields that supply drinking water, rising sea levels that erode coastlines – that if left unaddressed, would alter the warp and woof of ecological processes that underpin global civilization.

The question, however, is whether nuisance litigation is the right way to fix the problem. Typically, nuisance claims involve conflicts that are discrete and local in scale.

It goes like this: a dirty mill makes the lives of nearby townsfolk miserable by wafting an evil stench out its exhaust stack. The town fathers allege a public nuisance and file a claim. The court considers a tort that has a clearly identifiable perpetrator, a distinct group of victims suffering injury, and a clear remedy. The jury finds that the mill’s stink is a public nuisance, and the court orders the mill to clean up its act. The mill complies, the stench goes away, and the case is closed.

Not so straightforward with climate change. Here, you have a tort in which both perpetrators and victims number in the millions. Perpetrators are also victims and vice versa; e.g. a coastal dweller whose home is threatened by rising seas also uses electricity and consumes fossil fuels. The consequences of the tort are global, and the remedy is nothing less than rethinking and redesigning the energy economy that makes modern life possible.

In their brief asking the high court to take their appeal, the sued utilities said that jurists adjudicating such claims would be “asked to design, enforce and (over time) modify a set of piecemeal regulatory decrees of great intricacy and enormous consequence for the nation’s energy supply and economic security (and for the international climate change negotiations in which the United States is presently engaged).”

As Chief Justice John Roberts observed, that’s a hell of a job to give a trial judge.

It’s an appropriate job for Congress, which could craft legislation that balances competing interests through a mix of emissions standards, cost mitigation provisions, compliance schedules, economic incentives, and technology R&D. Many in Congress, however, don’t like that idea, so there is little prospect of a climate bill for at least the next two years, and likely longer.

So, EPA is doing the imperfect next best thing of regulating emissions via its authority under the Clean Air Act. Many in Congress don’t like that either, and have proposed legislation that would decree scientific findings about climate change dangers to be null and void.

If Congress sniffs in withering disapproval at climate legislation and regulation, what’s left at the federal level is the impractical, unmanageable remedy of seeking abatement of greenhouse gas emissions through common law nuisance claims.

The direction of justices’ comments during oral arguments indicates that the Supreme Court will likely close that door.

The court will send the ball back to Congress and the EPA, which is where it belongs.

Confessions of a Climate Change Convert

April 19th, 2011 at 11:00 am 134 Comments

I was defeated by facts.

It wasn’t all that long ago when I joined others on the right in dismissing concerns about climate change. It was my firm belief that the science was unsettled, buy viagra that any movement associated with Al Gore and Van Jones couldn’t possibly be trusted, recipe that environmentalists were simply left-wing, online anti-capitalist kooks.

It wasn’t until after I read Stanford University professor Morris Fiorina’s book Disconnect (2009) that I started to reconsider things. Fiorina noted that while environmentalism is now considered the domain of the Democratic Party, for many years it was the GOP that was identified with conservationist concerns. I was curious as to how the political climate shifted with regard to environmentalism—and whether there was something to all this talk about climate change.

I’m very fortunate to have acquaintances in the environmentalist movement, and I began discussing my concerns with them last fall. One friend recommended that I read the 2007 Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, suggesting that it might resolve some of the questions I had about the science behind climate concerns.

I began reading the report with a skeptical eye, but by the time I concluded I could not find anything to justify my skepticism. The report presented an airtight case that the planet’s temperature has increased dramatically (“Eleven of the last twelve years [1995-2006] rank among the twelve warmest years in the instrumental record of global surface temperature [since 1850]”), that sea levels have undergone a dramatic and disturbing increase since the 1960s (“Global average sea level rose at an average rate of 1.8 [1.3 to 2.3]mm per year over 1961 to 2003 and at an average rate of about 3.1 [2.4 to 3.8]mm per year from 1993 to 2003”) and that climate alteration is having an unusual impact on avian and sea life (“…recent warming is strongly affecting terrestrial biological systems, including such changes as earlier timing of spring events, such as leaf-unfolding, bird migration and egg-laying…observed changes in marine and freshwater biological systems are associated with rising water temperatures, as well as related changes in ice cover, salinity, oxygen levels and circulation”).

The report highlighted the key role carbon emissions played in climate alteration, noting, “The largest growth in GHG emissions between 1970 and 2004 has come from energy supply, transport and industry, while residential and commercial buildings, forestry [including deforestation] and agriculture sectors have been growing at a lower rate” and that “[c]hanges in the atmospheric concentrations of GHGs and aerosols, land cover and solar radiation alter the energy balance of the climate system and are drivers of climate change. They affect the absorption, scattering and emission of radiation within the atmosphere and at the Earth’s surface.” I was stunned by the report’s claim that “[t]he observed widespread warming of the atmosphere and ocean, together with ice mass loss, support the conclusion that it is extremely unlikely that global climate change of the past 50 years can be explained without external forcing and very likely that it is not due to known natural causes alone.”

If carbon-fueled climate alteration continues at its current rate, the report noted, we will bear witness to unprecedented health horrors: “The health status of millions of people is projected to be affected through, for example, increases in malnutrition; increased deaths, diseases and injury due to extreme weather events…increased frequency of cardio-respiratory diseases due to higher concentrations of ground-level ozone in urban areas related to climate change; and the altered spatial distribution of some infectious diseases.” In addition, “For increases in global average temperature exceeding 1.5 to 2.5°C and in concomitant atmospheric CO2 concentrations, there are projected to be major changes in ecosystem structure and function, species’ ecological interactions and shifts in species’ geographical ranges, with predominantly negative consequences for biodiversity and ecosystem goods and services, e.g. water and food supply.”

The report did provide some hope, noting that “[s]ocieties can respond to climate change…by reducing GHG emissions [mitigation], thereby reducing the rate and magnitude of change… Policies that provide a real or implicit price of carbon could create incentives for producers and consumers to significantly invest in low-GHG products, technologies and processes.”

I came away from the report convinced that climate alteration poses a critical threat to our health and way of life, and that “policies that provide a real or implicit price of carbon” are in fact necessary, from an economic and a moral standpoint, to mitigate that threat. Such policies—most notably the much-maligned concept of cap-and-trade—should not be considered job-killers but life-savers.

There’s a part of me that understands why libertarian pundits seem to have so much scorn for those who support state action to combat carbon emissions. Modern libertarianism is suffused with skepticism of government, and supporting state regulation of carbon emissions requires, on some level, a belief in government to get things right. Is it even possible to be a libertarian and an environmentalist—or a conservative and an environmentalist, for that matter?

I’m a bit skeptical myself. I’d argue that conservatives and libertarians should strongly support regulation to reduce carbon pollution, since pollution by one entity invariably infringes upon the rights of others (including property rights), and no entity has a constitutional right to pollute. It does not put America on the road to serfdom to suggest that the federal government has a compelling interest in protecting the country from ecological damage. If anything, it puts America on the road to common sense.

Since reconsidering climate science, I’ve had a number of debates with conservative and libertarian friends, who oppose government regulation of carbon emissions in part because they believe those regulations will cost too much. Of course regulations cost; limiting ecological damage and preserving public health requires money. The issue is whether those costs are moral to impose. If no entity has a constitutional right to pollute, and if the federal government has a compelling interest in reducing carbon pollution, then how can those costs not be moral?

In the months following my acceptance of the conclusions in the IPCC report, I’ve had a change in my emotional climate. I go back and forth between disappointment and hope—sadness over seeing Republicans who once believed in the threat of climate change (such as Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown and former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty) suddenly turn into skeptics; optimism about efforts by such groups as Republicans for Environmental Protection and Citizens Climate Lobby to sound the alarm about the need to combat climate pollution. I struggle with the urge to give in to cynicism and bitterness, to write off the American right for its refusal to recognize scientific facts. Thankfully, there’s a stronger urge—an urge to keep working until the American right recognizes that a healthy planet is required to have the life and liberty that allows us to pursue happiness.

Inhofe’s Wild Flying

April 17th, 2011 at 7:31 am 35 Comments

Ever wonder why Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) is so intractable in his insistence that global warming is a hoax?

Thanks to a revealing incident that took place in Texas last fall and whose details were made public this week, the answer could be that Inhofe is either incapable of perceiving the obvious or chooses to ignore it.

Inhofe is a licensed pilot who owns a twin-engine Cessna. Seems that the Oklahoma Republican was flying his plane into the Port Isabel-Cameron County Airport, a small, general aviation facility near the southernmost tip of Texas, last October 21. Inhofe approached a runway that had a big yellow X painted on it. Every licensed pilot knows that a big yellow X painted on a runway means “THIS RUNWAY IS CLOSED. DO NOT LAND HERE.”

Inhofe landed anyway, forcing workers doing a construction job on the runway to run for their lives and nearly barreling into a work truck whose driver apparently soiled his trousers in fright. “He just went right over a huge yellow X,” construction supervisor Sidney Boyd told the Federal Aviation Administration, according to audio of Boyd’s call to the FAA that was released by TheSmokingGun.com web site on April 13. “He was determined to land on that runway, come hell or high water, evidently.”

The airport manager, Marshall Reece, told the FAA, according to the released audio, that in his long years of flying experience, “I have never seen such a reckless disregard for human life in my life.”

According to Boyd’s call, Inhofe stormed around after his landing, insisting he should have had “unlimited airspace” – as if he were President Inhofe.

Check out audio samples here.

Oh, and according to the FAA incident report, Inhofe hadn’t bothered to check relevant Notices to Airmen indicating that the runway was off limits.

In lieu of getting a fat FAA ticket, Inhofe agreed to the aviation equivalent of traffic school – four hours of remedial classroom training, which covered basics like preflight planning, operating at uncontrolled airports, and runway signs, and three hours of flight instruction, including cockpit management.

Too bad that Inhofe hasn’t been required to get remedial training from the National Academy of Sciences after taking off on his scientifically illiterate flights of fancy about the supposed global warming hoax.

Natural Gas: Not as Green as We Thought?

April 12th, 2011 at 6:54 pm 10 Comments

A forthcoming paper from Cornell University researchers suggests that gas is more of a bad actor in climate change than coal. The gas industry is not taking kindly to the suggestion.

It’s the latest PR challenge for the industry and one more reason why gas producers need to get ahead of the curve on environmental issues if gas is to fulfill its promise as a clean, diagnosis secure energy source.

Gas, medicine for decades the quiet little brother of oil and coal in the fossil fuel family, diagnosis has come out from beneath its siblings’ shadows with a reputation as an environmentally friendlier, domestically abundant energy source that could serve as the foundation for America’s energy economy for decades to come.

Gas is feeling its oats. Thanks to expanding discoveries in deep shale formations, the industry is boasting that a century’s worth of clean burning fuel is available securely within U.S. borders. Take that, dirty coal! Take that, scheming OPEC oil barons!

Now, along comes the Cornell study, which suggests that shale gas production has a bigger carbon footprint than coal because of fugitive methane releases from production. Molecule for molecule, methane packs a bigger heat-trapping punch than carbon dioxide.

Whoa, Nellie, says the gas industry, pushing back with castigations of what industry spokesmen call errors of fact and methodology in the study.

This, along with continuing controversy over the feared impacts of hydraulic fracturing chemicals on drinking water aquifers and the divisions among townspeople that gas drilling has spawned in production areas, is keeping the gas industry’s PR mavens working overtime.

Time for the gas industry to do more than play defense in a battle of press releases.

First, the methane issue. Leaving aside the issue of whether the Cornell study has merit, there is no reason not to minimize fugitive methane emissions, if only to maximize product in the pipeline. As EPA’s deputy administrator testified today at a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing, there are practical technologies available today to keep methane releases to a minimum, and many gas producers already employ them. Those that don’t ought to take a look.

Next, the water issue. The gas industry and its regulators at the state level argue that hydraulic fracturing, “fracking” for short, poses little danger to drinking water supplies. At today’s EPW hearing, Senator James Inhofe hoisted a chart showing more than a mile of solid rock separating Marcellus shale gas formations in the Northeast from aquifers that supply domestic water wells.

“The fluid migration can’t happen and it doesn’t happen,” Inhofe declared. Perhaps he’s right. Still, worries about surface spills of fracking chemicals and handling of produced water drawn from gas wells should not receive a brush-off that sounds too much like “we’re the experts, you’re not, so keep quiet and go away.” Intended or not, when such a high-horse message goes out, people worried about their drinking water are not inclined to keep quiet and go away.

The gas industry could do itself a favor by agreeing to full disclosure, well by well, of all fracking chemicals. Transparency helps build trust, and trust is a tool that is just as essential for the gas industry as drill bits and tubing tongs.

NH GOP Splinters in Climate Fight

April 7th, 2011 at 5:24 pm 18 Comments

Andrew Jackson once noted that one man with courage makes a majority. In New Hampshire, one woman could do the same.

Republican State Senator Nancy Stiles is fighting to preserve New Hampshire’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multistate effort to cut down on carbon emissions. Since joining RGGI in 2008, New Hampshire has become a model of energy efficiency in the Northeast: according to RGGI.org, proceeds from the initiative “are projected to reduce consumer energy costs by $60.6 million over the lifetime of the installed measures.”

However, last week the Republican-led New Hampshire House voted to abandon its commitment to RGGI, due to what one Republican legislator called the “shaky climate science” that supposedly led New Hampshire to join the effort. In other words, because some members of the New Hampshire House want to pretend scientific facts don’t exist, the entire state must suffer.

Luckily, Sen. Stiles isn’t willing to throw away New Hampshire’s commitment to fighting carbon pollution. She says she prefers to revise certain RGGI requirements rather than walk away from them. It’s a common-sense statement—but considering the political environment she’s in, it’s one that requires tremendous courage.

Already, a libertarian outfit plans to apply pressure on the state Senate by running ads labeling RGGI a “cap and trade scheme.” The folks who put these ads together seem to have forgotten that it was a Republican, C. Boyden Gray, who originally came up with cap-and-trade as a means of limiting sulfur dioxide emissions. The “scheme” worked to reduce pollution then, and what these libertarians call a “scheme” is working now for the people of New Hampshire. That’s a truth Sen. Stiles recognizes.

What we are seeing in New Hampshire is a proverbial conflict of visions, a fight between an old-school Republican who remains true to the party’s wrongfully abandoned conservationist legacy and new-school Republicans who believe private industries have a divine right to pollute. This fight pits sensible conservatism against misguided libertarianism—and sensible conservatism has to win.

As New Hampshire resident Jim Grady recently noted, “What RGGI’s cap-and-trade revenue generation actually amounts to is a tiny tax on all — with all getting the benefit. The RGGI law requires the majority of its revenue to be invested back into our state to help reduce aggregate demand for electricity. This works for all of us because the price of electricity tends to decrease when we decrease our need for it.” Sounds pretty reasonable, no?

Sen. Stiles is behaving with absolute moral courage in her effort to maintain New Hampshire’s involvement in RGGI. She recognizes that the initiative is, if not perfect, than the least imperfect way to address the threat posed by excessive carbon emissions. She understands that caving in to the demands of hardcore libertarians could have catastrophic effects decades from now. She sees that the push for “limited government” ought not to be a suicide pact.

Yes, the opponents of RGGI believe that New Hampshire must abandon this commitment in the name of “limited government.” I respect their passion, but they are passionately wrong. Sometimes, government can be too limited—so limited that it doesn’t take necessary action to protect the health of human beings and the environment in which they live, so limited that it doesn’t make the strategic investments to benefit the economy, so limited that it ignores clear and present dangers to our ecology.

Sen. Stiles is cut from that old-school Republican cloth, the kind Teddy Roosevelt was cut from. It’s a vision that says capitalism cannot function if the capitalist doesn’t have clean air to breathe. It’s a vision that says no industry has a constitutional right to pollute. It’s a vision that is, in the truest and purest sense of the word, pro-life.

I have no idea which side will win in New Hampshire. The new-school vision—the one that rejects climate science as some vast left-wing conspiracy, the one that turns a blind eye to the dangers of pollution, the one that spits upon those who believe that conservation is conservative—is prosperous, pugnacious and powerful. Yet it is not right, not on this issue.

Best of luck to Sen. Stiles in her fight—and give me that old-school vision any day of the week.

Pawlenty’s Cap and Trade About-Face

David Frum March 30th, 2011 at 7:52 am 16 Comments

Here is what I don’t understand about Tim Pawlenty’s reversal – not only on cap-and-trade – but also on any concern for climate change whatsoever:

It would make sense to say:

“Back in 2007, I supported cap-and-trade. That was before the recession. In these difficult times, our economy cannot support an additional burden. Let’s get back to full employment and strong economic growth. Once our economy is prospering again, it will be time to decide what to do to protect our environment.”

Or else:

“Cap-and-trade is a conservative idea, originating with free market economists, that was successfully used by the first Bush administration to stop acid raid. But the actual cap-and-trade bill that emerged from the Democratic House of Representatives was stuffed with gimmicks and giveaways to Democratic constituencies. I could not support that. So as president I’ll be looking for other ideas to protect our environment.”

But whoever is president after 2013 will inherit both an improving economy – and also an accelerating climate-change problem. Why put yourself on record now in ways that will inhibit responding to environmental challenges in the future?

The Dems’ Climate Change Dodge

March 25th, 2011 at 3:10 pm 4 Comments

Leave it to the Democrats to come up with weasly alternatives to Senator James Inhofe’s bill that would prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions and repeal a scientific determination on which regulations would be based.

Instead of pushing back against the Inhofe bill by calling it what it is – a crass attempt to substitute a political agenda for science – the Democrats are likely to allow a Senate vote on two alternatives to Inhofe’s bill – Jay Rockefeller’s legislation to delay regulations for two years and Max Baucus’ amendment that would exempt agriculture and small industrial facilities from greenhouse gas emissions rules.

While Inhofe and others are hell-bent on swimming upstream against science and the laws of physics, cure Rocky and Baucus are simply content to dig up some cover for themselves and the other coal-state Democrats who fret that Mr. Peabody’s coal train will haul away their political careers.

Instead, remedy the weaving and dodging Democrats who purport to support the Clean Air Act should take the dose of calcium offered by former EPA Administrator Russell Train, whose March 16 letter to Senate leaders bluntly said, “Arguments that it should be left to Congress solely to decide how to regulate greenhouse gas pollutants ring hollow, since Congress has consistently failed to take meaningful action in spite of the clear scientific evidence of the dangers these pollutants pose.”

Further, Train continued, arguments that the Clean Air Act was not intended to regulate greenhouse gas emissions “misrepresent Congress’ original intentions in passing the act. Precisely because existing knowledge of air pollutants and their potential effects was so limited at the time, Congress did not enumerate the pollutants that should or should not be regulated under the Clean Air Act.” Instead, the term was defined broadly and discretion was left to EPA scientists to evaluate pollutants and determine whether regulation was necessary.

Train, who headed EPA during the Nixon and Ford years, was present at the Clean Air Act’s creation. He has no patience for the revisionist historical smog that the climate change denial crowd is spewing about the Clean Air Act, and neither should the law’s supporters in Congress.

GOP Votes Against Climate Change Reality

March 15th, 2011 at 4:45 pm 70 Comments

Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee have just voted to deny reality. In particular, they voted against an amendment offered by ranking Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman that stated the following:

Congress accepts the scientific finding of the Environmental Protection Agency that ‘warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level.’

This amendment, failing on a party-line vote of 21-30 on March 15, was one of three amendments proposed by Democrats in a wrangle over Republican-backed legislation that would block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases.

The other two amendments affirmed that human-caused emissions are causing climate change, and that such climate changes poses threats to human health and welfare. Both of these too failed on party-line votes. Of course, worrying about whether climate change is anthropogenic or harmful makes little sense if you don’t believe climate change is occurring at all.

However, the position that climate change isn’t occurring is utterly untenable. The positions that it isn’t anthropogenic or harmful aren’t much better, but at least on those you could find small minorities of scientists who agree with you.

But outright denial that warming is taking place is a position that has virtually no support among scientists anywhere. It’s a position that puts one at odds not just with the scientific mainstream but also with those “climate skeptic” scientists who argue that solar fluctuations or other natural phenomena are causing climate change, or that human-caused climate change is happening but may not be so harmful.

And of course, one might acknowledge that global warming is real, anthropogenic and harmful, and still not think a particular policy proposal to mitigate it would be effective or affordable. There can be reasonable debate about what should be done about climate change. But the Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee have opted for something else: a pathetic denial of reality.