Tuesday President Obama announces steps to address global warming. The Economist, a magazine which has heretofore been an advocate of drastic action, suggests that less convincing evidence of rising temperatures may make political acceptance of new initiatives a tough sell.
Cohn does his best to affirm that the urgent necessity of acting to retard warming has not abated, as does Brad Plumer of the Washington Post, as does this newspaper. But there’s no way around the fact that this reprieve for the planet is bad news for proponents of policies, suchMr as carbon taxes and emissions treaties, meant to slow warming by moderating the release of greenhouse gases. The reality is that the already meagre prospects of these policies, in America at least, will be devastated if temperatures do fall outside the lower bound of the projections that environmentalists have used to create a panicked sense of emergency. Whether or not dramatic climate-policy interventions remain advisable, they will become harder, if not impossible, to sell to the public, which will feel, not unreasonably, that the scientific and media establishment has cried wolf.
The article includes a refreshing admission that the science of climate warming is hardly settled. A refreshing admission given that there never has been such a thing as settled science, climatological or otherwise.
But never fear, the true believers are banging the drums. Brad Plummer at Ezra Klein’s place explains.
Over the past few years, U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions have been falling rapidly, thanks to the recession, improved energy-efficiency, and a shift from coal to natural gas. But those trends have bottomed out recently, and coal started making a comeback in 2013.
That means the United States is no longer on track to reduce its carbon-dioxide emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, as Obama pledged under the Copenhagen Accord. To hit that target, the White House report argued, new “policy steps” will be needed. (These cuts are seen as a necessary first step, but far from sufficient to tackle global warming— there are still longer-term cuts, China needs to get on board, etc.)
OK, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but can we at least agree that US presidents don’t go around the world committing the country to anything. Whatever utterances the President made at the Copenhagen conclave he never submitted anything resembling a treaty or similar type of binding legislation to Congress for ratification. There may be a case for further policy initiatives but it’s not because we’re obliged to do so.
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