The bloodcurdling National Climate Assessment is here and it portends catastrophe; floods, clouds and other assorted weather events are imminent! … but , says the report, “there is still time to act to limit the amount of climate change and the extent of damaging impacts.”
Have you noticed that we’re always at the cusp of a cataclysm, yet the deadline to act always moves to a politically convenient not-too-distant future? I guess when the time to act runs out – it will at some point, right? — we can begin thinking about defunding all these panels and reinvesting in something more productive: like figuring out how we can adapt to the future.
For now, though, the congressionally mandated report claims we’re no longer merely dealing with impending disaster. The United States, it asserts, has already incurred billions of dollars in damages from severe weather-related disruptions due to climate change. The political hope is that some of this ugly weather will generate more urgency to do something. President Obama will use the report to bolster his case for unilaterally enacting carbon dioxide regulations, neglecting, one imagines, to mention that while there is consensus regarding anthropogenic climate change, there isn’t much agreement on whether severe weather has actually gotten worse over the past years, or, if it has, that climate change is the cause.
“We’re committed to moving forward with those rules,” John Podesta said in a bit of an anti-democratic rant the other day. “We’re committed to maintaining the authority and the president’s authority to ensure that the Clean Air Act is fully implemented.” Don’t worry, though. Podesta says this is “actionable science” so separation of powers and consent of the governed and other trifling concerns are no longer applicable.
But really, after all these years, admitting that executive power is the only way to move (tepidly) forward on environmentalist policy is basically admitting defeat. Has there ever been a movement that’s spent as much time, energy and treasure and gotten so little in return? I suspect there are three reasons for this failure: 1. It’s difficult to fight basic economics. 2. On energy, Americans, despite what they say, have no desire to try (nor should they.) 3. It’s getting more difficult, not less, to believe environmental doom and gloom.
“There will always be people in this country who say that we’ve got to choose between clean air, clean water and growing the economy, between doing right by the environment and putting people back to work,” President Obama said a couple of years ago. “I’m here to tell you that is a false choice.” Well, actually, we already have cleaner air and water and we (typically) have a growing economy. The thing is there is consensus among economists that regulations do have a cost. Sometimes the price tag is worth it. Oftentimes it’s not.
We already have a test case for Obama’s proposition in California, the state with the most aggressive renewables portfolio standard. A mandated 33 percent of its power must be renewable energy by 2020. According to the Energy Department, residential electricity prices have already spiked 30 percent between 2006 and 2012 (when adjusted for inflation), and studies show that cost of electricity is likely to jump 47 percent over the next 16 years. Those are real-world costs that every Californian has to divert from their health care or groceries or education or investments to pay for artificially inflated energy prices.
The truth is that even if Americans believed that scientists had seer-like abilities and the models were accurate, they would still be hesitant to embrace 19th century technology because they simply can’t afford it. Though I suspect most people instinctively understand that the environment has gotten better by almost every measure over the past 40 years, climate change activists ignore the massive benefits of carbon emitting fuels and technology that helps us become more productive and increasingly efficient.
Now, you can try and guilt trip everyone into compliance. You can batter them with distressing hypothetical scenarios. You can “educate ” them on the issue from kindergarten onward, you can mainstream an array of Luddite ideas, you can browbeat society so they never utter a word of skepticism, but we still want to drive our cars everywhere. This is probably why over-the-top warnings and preposterous analogies have hit peak levels of absurdity.
And that’s saying something. Dr. John Holdren, Obama’s Science Czar, who was on media call for the National Climate Assessment release, once predicted global warming could cause the deaths of 1 billion people by 2020 and that sea levels would rise by 13 feet by the end of the century (not to mention, he co-authored a book with Paul Ehrlich in which he explained that “population-control laws, even including laws requiring compulsory abortion, could be sustained under the existing Constitution…”). Malthusians never admit they’re wrong, they simply push the apocalypse out a couple of decades. I just don’t think people believe them anymore.
Yes, when asked, Americans perfunctorily tell pollsters that climate change matters to them. A recent Pew Research Center poll found that 40 percent of Americans believe that climate change is a major threat. A Gallup poll survey found that around a third of Americans personally worry about climate change. But when they’re not asked specifically about global warming, voters never bring the topic up. Their most important concerns are the economy, jobs and debt. There is always strong support for the abstract idea of environmental regulation and “clean energy,” but when it comes some concrete policy it is nearly always unpopular. Few people want to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline. Few people support new emissions regulations. And I doubt another scaremongery study will change that reality.